Transparency and Efficiency Please:  Making the Express Entry System Work for Canada

by Ronalee Carey Law

March 2021

Last month, I told you about a historical draw from the Express Entry pool, where 27,332 Canadian Experience Class (CEC) applicants were invited to apply for permanent residence.

Unsurprisingly, thousands of people have submitted Express Entry profiles in the past weeks, hopeful that another large draw would occur.  162,120 individuals were in the pool in mid-March; only 152,714 were in the pool prior to the February draw. 

                             CRS score distribution of candidates in the Express Entry Pool

    CRS score range                                                        

 Number of candidates as of February 8, 2021 (prior to the large draw held on February 13, 2021)

Number of candidates as of March 15, 2021 (prior to the CEC draw held on March 18, 2021)          























































Taking into consideration the number of people drawn from the pool in February, and the Provincial Nomination Program draws earlier in March, a total of 37,592 individuals set up profiles between February 8 and March 15. 

Unfortunately, many of those hopefuls were disappointed with the draw on March 18th, when IRCC issued 5,000 invitations to apply to individuals eligible for the CEC.  The lowest-ranked candidate had a score of 449.  That wasn’t much lower than the January 21st CEC draw, which saw the lowest score of 454.

It is difficult to understand the government’s strategy.  In a news release the day of the February draw, IRCC stated that a large number of invitations were made in an ‘effort to help more skilled workers stay in Canada and bolster our economic recovery’.   On February 16th, RBC Economics predicted that Canada would only approve 275,000 new permanent residents in 2021, far short of its 401,000 target.  It is unfortunate that IRCC does not publish data on the breakdown of candidates in the Express Entry pool by program of eligibility.  This would give us a better understanding of how many CEC candidates were in the pool prior to the last draw.  But surely there were more than 5,000.  If IRCC is committed to reaching its immigration goals for 2021, why weren’t more than 5,000 CEC applicants invited? 

Further, I fail to understand why approved permanent resident applicants cannot travel to Canada, so long as they respect quarantine measures upon arrival.  Excluding qualified Federal Skilled Worker Program applicants, while allowing temporary foreign workers and international students to continue arriving in Canada is nonsensical. 

This is not the time to be turning off the taps.  The pandemic has created a major hurdle in the government’s original plan to increase permanent residents in the upcoming years. According to Statistics Canada, immigration is at its lowest since World War I.  As my favorite columnist Doug Sanders recently wrote, populations are declining in the countries we rely on for immigrants.  We have a limited time to bring our population to a level that will support future economic development.

What we need is transparency.  Enough with uncertainty in Express Entry draws.  Give me the information I need to honestly advise prospective immigrants about whether they should invest their resources into setting up an Express Entry profile.  Then, provide information about when applicants will be invited to apply for permanent residence, and how many will be invited for each program.  This will allow applicants the time needed to write the language test and have their education assessed.  Hire enough staff and invest in the technology needed to process applications in a timely fashion.  Let those who were approved come to Canada, after their pre-flight and arrival negative COVID tests, mandatory government-approved hotel quarantines, and self-quarantines.  With transparency regarding intake and efficiency in processing, Canada will continue to attract the skilled immigrants it needs.

Addendum: Large Canadian Experience Class Draw may have been a ‘one-time draw’

March 2021

In a recently published transcript of the March 10, 2021 meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Caroline Xavier, associate deputy minister, made a statement which will be devastating news for many:

Mr. Han Dong (Don Valley North, Lib.):
I was very excited about the announcement about cleaning up the express entry pool, our inventory, back at the beginning of, I think it was mid-February or the first week of February. I was really excited about that because I know over 20,000 applicants have been waiting patiently and were very anxious about the effect of COVID.

They are now actually receiving a surprise invitation from the ministry. I know that over 70% of those applicants scored over 400 points, which is quite impressive. This means that they have a lot of work and study experience in Canada. It will help them integrate really well into our workforce.

I guess my concern is whether we have enough staff power to process, I think, upwards of 27,000 applications. Is it going to cause a lengthy delay or backlog in the system?

Ms. Caroline Xavier:
As the minister stated, and as you are well aware, we have a very ambitious mandate to meet in this calendar year. We're committed to achieving it as much as we can. The call that was just put out in the express entry, as you mentioned, involved 27,000 invitations. It's definitely going to help achieve that goal.

As you've outlined, these are very qualified candidates who have been in Canada and who will be able to continue to assist us in improving our recovery and our economic prosperity.

Absolutely, we continue to see this as a priority. With regard to ensuring that we meet the levels planned, we feel comfortable that we are going to be able to continue to process those applications for those we sent the invitations to, and do so in the time necessary to be able to achieve the landings in this calendar year as per the expectation of the plan.

Mr. Han Dong:
That's really good to know.
Are we expecting this type of announcement will be going forward as a normal practice by the ministry?

Ms. Caroline Xavier:
At this point in time, this was a one-time draw, because of the times we're in. These are not normal times as you can all appreciate. Our hope is that the border restrictions will eventually ease because the public health measures will permit it. We will be able to resume being able to bring others from overseas to come and land in Canada. They are also feeling that their lives have been disrupted, as I know you can appreciate. At this point in time, it was a one-time draw. I do feel that our provincial and territorial colleagues who have provincial nominee programs and really want to be able to draw from those in Canada, in particular, are happy to know that this was a one-time draw.

It is great to hear that the 27,332 individuals who were invited to apply for permanent residency in February will have their applications processed in 2021.  Hopefully, those who applied previously, like my client who submitted an Express Entry application in December 2019, will also see their applications processed by the end of this year.

However, those who missed out on the February draw will be heartbroken to hear this news.  Once again, draws will number only a few thousand, and candidates in the Canadian Experience Class will have to either compete against those from outside Canada or for limited provincial nominations. 

But how will they hear this news?  IRCC has made no announcement.  Very few people read House of Commons committee reports.  Hopeful individuals will continue to set up Express Entry profiles, even if their score is too low to be competitive.

Inviting 27,332 applicants to apply for permanent residency, in one swoop, with no advance warning, does not come across as coherent immigration policy.   Even Ms. Xavier alludes to what the draw was really intended to do – help the Canadian government meet its immigration targets for the year.  Fairness has taken a back seat to political expediency.