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Understanding Canada's Express Entry System and Improving your chance of selection

Express Entry is Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) electronic system for applications for permanent residence. Potential applicants must complete an Express Entry profile to be entered into the pool of candidates. Once an application is accepted into the pool, the candidate is ranked based on a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Points are awarded using the information in a candidate’s Express Entry profile. Candidates with the highest scores in the pool will be issued an Invitation to Apply. There is no guarantee that a candidate will be issued an invitation to apply. Invitations to Apply are based on draws that happen sporadically every few weeks.


Once an Invitation to Apply has been issued, the candidate will have 60 days to submit an online application for permanent residence. If a complete application is not submitted within 60 days, the Invitation to Apply will be retracted and the candidate will have to re-submit their profile to the pool. If the candidate does not get an Invitation to Apply for permanent residence within 12 months of submitting an Express Entry profile, their profile will automatically be deleted. They may then submit a new profile and re-enter the pool. There is no guarantee that a candidate will be issued an Invitation to Apply. Candidates can increase the likelihood that they will be issued an Invitation to Apply by increasing their score.


In order to qualify for Express Entry, foreign workers must first qualify under one of the existing pathways to permanent residence: Federal Skilled Worker (“FSW”); Canadian Experience Class (“CEC”); or Federal Skilled Trade (“FST”). Foreign workers are then assessed based on their age, education, language skills, work experience, whether they have a provincial nomination, Canadian educational credentials or a qualifying job offer in Canada. Based on this information, which is populated into the Express Entry profile, foreign workers are then given a score and ranked in the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) against other candidates.


Candidates with a provincial nomination under Express Entry are awarded an additional 600 points. Provincial nomination programs select candidates from among those in the Express Entry pool based on score and various other criteria.


Candidates with a qualifying offer of employment are now eligible for either 50 or 200 points depending on their NOC (National Occupational Classification). Foreign workers working in NOC TEER 0 major group 00 positions are eligible for 200 points for having a qualifying offer of employment, while those in NOC TEER 1, 2, 3 and other 0 occupations are eligible for 50 points.


In order to have a qualifying offer of arranged employment for the purpose of CRS points, candidates must have one of the following:


  • An Offer of Employment from a Canadian employer where the employer has committed to employing them for a period of at least a year after they are granted permanent residence + a valid LMIA; or

  • A valid LMIA supported work permit + an Offer of Employment from a Canadian employer where the employer has committed to employing them for a period of at least a year after they are granted permanent residence in a NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 position; or

  • An LMIA exempt employer specific work permit issued under IRPR 204(a) or (c) or 205 + have at least one (1) year full-time or equivalent in part-time experience, over a continuous period of work for the employer who made the offer + an Offer of Employment from a Canadian employer where the employer has committed to employing them for a period of at least a year after they are granted permanent residence


The employer must confirm their intention in a letter that must be included with the application for permanent residence.


Having an LMIA exempt employer specific work permit means that the foreign worker’s employer is named on the work permit. LMIA exempt employer specific work permits include but are not limited to:

  • International Trade Agreements

  • CUSMA Professional

  • GATS Professionals

  • Intra-Company Transferees

  • Significant Economic or Cultural Benefits

  • Entrepreneurs

  • International Experience Class Young Professionals

  • Canada Research Chairs

  • Francophone Mobility

  • Medical Residents

  • Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • Charitable or Religious worker (who are paid a wage)


Candidates can also obtain additional points for having an eligible Canadian educational credential. Points are only awarded for the highest level of Canadian education achieved. Candidates can receive 15 points for having completed a one or two-year Canadian post-secondary program. They can receive 30 points for having completed either: a 3+-year post-secondary program; a master’s level university level program; an entry-to-practice professional level program for a NOC A position; or doctoral degree.


In order to enter the Express Entry pool, the foreign national will have to complete an IRCC approved language test (IELTS General Training, CELPIP-General, PTE Core, TEF Canada, or TCF Canada). Language test results are only considered valid for two years, after which the foreign national must retake the test. The test must still be valid at the time of submission of the application for permanent residence.


One way that foreign nationals can increase their points is by studying and retaking the language test and scoring higher. Candidates get extra points from having all scores higher than CLB 7 or 9. Candidates can also increase their CRS score by taking a language test in the other official language of Canada. Candidates who take tests in both languages and score an NCLC (CLB) of 7 or higher in all four French language skills are also eligible for 25-50 additional points.


In order to obtain points for foreign educational credentials, or to qualify under the Federal Skilled Worker program, candidates have to undertake an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) of their Canadian educational equivalency from an IRCC approved agency in Canada. Without an ECA or Canadian educational credentials, candidates cannot qualify for points for their education. ECA results are only considered valid for five years, after which the foreign national must have their credentials reassessed.


Foreign nationals can also increase their points under Express Entry by having their spouse complete an IRCC approved language test and/or by having them undertake an IRCC approved Educational Credential Assessment.


The foreign worker should take the language test and apply for their Canadian equivalency as soon as possible as these preliminary processes can take months to complete.


Since October 2023, the draws have pulled candidates with progressively higher scores. All general program draws since October 2023 have been for candidates with CRS scores above 500. In 2024, the lowest general draw has been for candidates with a CRS score of 524. The minimum CRS score being drawn depends on the CRS scores of the top candidates in the Express Entry pool as they are top-down draws.


IRCC is also now conducting category specific draws for candidates with at least 6 months of continuous work experience in a single listed occupation in the previous 3 years, or with an NCLC of at least 7 in all 4 language abilities. These category specific draws generally have lower minimum CRS scores as there are less candidates in the pool who qualify. You can read more about category specific draws here.


As candidates with LMIAs are only granted 50 to 200 additional points (depending on their NOC), an LMIA is not a guarantee of a selection under Express Entry. However, for foreign workers on non-employer specific work permits, such as Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) holders and International Experience Class Working Holiday work permit holders, or for those without a work permit, having an LMIA will provide an additional 50 to 200 additional points which will increase their chance of selection. An LMIA will also provide foreign workers with an LMIA exempt employer specific work permits an additional 50 or 200 points if they wish to obtain points for having a qualifying offer of employment prior to their have obtained one year of work experience in Canada.


Consequently, employers with foreign workers who do not require LMIAs, but who need additional points to qualify or whose work permits will soon expire and require an LMIA, should complete an LMIA application. An LMIA is an employer driven application and must be paid for by the employer. No part of the LMIA (legal fees, government processing fees, or recruitment) should be paid for by the foreign worker. An LMIA is supposed to be an indication that there is a labour shortage for the position and that the employer requires the foreign worker in the position.


Alternatively, foreign workers may be eligible for one of the various provincial nominee programs. In Ontario, foreign nationals may be drawn under the Ontario Provincial Nominee Program’s Express Entry Human Capital Stream or the Ontario French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream. Those candidates issued a nomination under a provincial nomination program are granted an additional 600 points. Check with each individual provincial nomination program to find out more about their selection criteria.


As the Express Entry system is run through an online platform, it is subject to frequent technical glitches, which can make these applications more difficult to complete as the applicant is required to submit a perfect and complete application. Failure to submit a perfect application can result in the application being refused. Computer glitches causing incomplete applications can also result in the application being refused.


Most applications under Express Entry are processed within 6 months of the submission of the complete application for permanent residence. Provincial Nominee Applications under Express Entry are currently taking slightly longer (8 months) to process, though processing times are constantly changing.


The lawyers of Lighthouse Immigration Law are committed to keeping up-to-date on the latest updates and changes to Canadian immigration. The government has recently (March 2024) announced that they will be focusing more on candidates in Canada. What this will mean for CRS scores remains to be seen. More details about the changes to the program will be posted once they are released.


 


A woman standing in front of Emerald Lake, Alberta
A woman standing in front of Emerald Lake, Alberta

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