Why is the passing score in Express Entry so high and what do you do with that?

On December 6, 2023, the immigration department finally held a new invitation round in Express Entry. Yet, the public and professional community was deeply shocked as the cut-off score of this round was incredibly high – 561 points! Many prospective immigrants feel desperate, as obtaining such a high score looks impossible for most of them. That’s why it is important to analyze the situation to understand better why the passing score in Express Entry is so high and what you do with it.

What causes the fluctuation of the passing score?

Since the launch of the Express Entry system and until COVID-19, this was a perfectly balanced mechanism with extremely predictable trends. The pandemic shifted and changed everything, while IRCC’s policy changes added to the mess.

The four main factors that have an impact on the Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS) are (1) the number of invitations in the round, (2) the number of new registrants in the system, (3) the frequency of invitation rounds conducted by IRCC, and (4) the type of invitation rounds conducted by the government.

Number of Express Entry invitations in the round

In most cases, the number of invitations in a single round is stable. IRCC designates its annual quota for Express Entry and splits it equally during the year. On average, it is always within the range of 3000-7000 invitations to apply every two-week cycle. The more invitations are issued, the lower the score in a single round could be.

Number of new registrants in the Express Entry system

On average, the number of new candidates registering their profiles in Express Entry is similar during the year. There are several periods in a year when we can observe fewer registrations – usually holidays, as well as there are moderate spikes in registrations – usually those are international graduates, who tend to graduate in May-June, and the next summer after that, most of them get one year of Canadian work experience, so they naturally register in the system. In conclusion, the number of new registrants has a smaller impact on the points changes.

The Frequency of Express Entry Draws

Before COVID caused the closure of the Canadian borders, Express Entry draws occurred every second Wednesday. This schedule was respected throughout the year, except for the winter holidays. On average, we had 23-25 draws annually, and it was easy to predict the points. Every time the government holds Express Entry draws more rarely, it causes an increase in points, as more candidates register between the rounds, and more new registrants may have high CRS points. Therefore, a shorter pause between the draws leads to fewer points required for ITA.

Various types of invitation rounds

Before the COVID, almost all invitation rounds in Express Entry were general draws. All profiles competed for the ITAs. Usually only once or twice a year, IRCC held a separate draw for Federal Skilled Trades candidates, as their points are usually way lower, and it is much harder for them to get an ITA in regular rounds.

During the pandemic, the government concentrated only on two programs – the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program, as 95% of those candidates were inside Canada. As such, they didn’t need to cross the border to do the ‘landing’. As a result, the government ignored candidates under the Federal Skilled Worker program even if they had high scores. When IRCC started conducting regular all-program draws, the cut-off score skyrocketed. However, with the more regular draws, the score started to drop gradually, and the professional community already expected the passing score to return to pre-COVID figures of 470+ points.

Unfortunately (but fortunately for some candidates), in June 2023, IRCC introduced the targeted selection rounds in Express Entry, targeting Francophone candidates and five specific industries. When candidates are invited based on additional criteria, it causes fewer other candidates to get the invitation. Consequently, more high-scoring candidates are stuck in the pool, leading to higher cut-off points in the following draws.

Read also: How can you increase your CRS score in the Express Entry system?

Glitches in Express Entry Builder

The last factor worth mentioning in this article as a reason for 561 points is glitches in the Express Entry Builder. IRCC is one of the departments with a very high budget, and it looks bad when the IT department fails. Earlier this year, it became known that after introducing the new TEER NOC system, plenty of candidates were granted points for factors they shouldn’t have. Several hundreds of candidates were invited while they shouldn’t be. According to the Nov 2023 Issue of Richard Kurland’s Lexbase, 99 ITAs were sent in error (the ITA was issued under CEC instead of FSW); CRS points were awarded to NOC 00 job offers (200 points) even if the candidate did not meet all the parameters for arranged employment under R82. The IT department investigated and confirmed an issue with CRS points for job offers in NOC 00 that arose due to the NOC 2021 switchover. IRCC cared the most about whether the story “will lead to some erosion of the public’s trust in our selection processes should repetitive refusals in relation to current selection process errors enter the media.”

More glitches occurred during this November, but at least this time, IRCC communicated with the public more efficiently. Yet, it didn’t look good when, on November 17, 2023, IRCC sent the letter that “some applicants have been experiencing issues using the Express Entry Profile Builder and have been unable to submit their application. Specifically, this issue has been impacting applicants with dependents (spouses and/or children) residing in Canada. This issue has now been resolved. If you have received an invitation to apply, you can now submit your application for permanent residence.”

In reality, the problem was not solved. On the same day, they sent another letter stating that “some applicants have been experiencing issues using the Express Entry Profile Builder and have been unable to submit their application. While this was partially fixed, an issue continues to impact applicants who have dependent children over 18 and are residing in Canada.”

These glitches appear to have been fixed by now, yet they damaged the reputation of IRCC and Express Entry. Moreover, a month of fixing the glitches without the new draws was another reason for 561 points, as the pause between the rounds was six weeks.

Engineers tend to say that if something works well – don’t touch it if you are unsure how it works. This seems to be the case with Express Entry, and, unfortunately, the IT department of IRCC doesn’t do their work well enough.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

I wish IRCC would be more transparent in its operations, announcing its plans and strategy in regard to Express Entry. We know that IRCC plans to concentrate on its target to increase French-speaking and bilingual immigration to Canada to meet the goal of 4.4% of Francophone immigrants outside Quebec.

In addition, we can expect the continuation of the targeted draws, putting some candidates in a better position while ignoring the other groups. This transforms Express Entry from a purely merit-based system into a targeted mechanism for meeting the departmental goal. Overall, it makes the system way less predictable, transparent and trustworthy.

Moreover, we can clearly state that the IRCC’s policy ignores and disadvantages two specific categories of candidates – international students and foreign workers in Canada. Coming to Canada as a student or worker was once a safe way to secure a PR once you got at least one year of work in Canada. Today, to qualify for ITA, one needs to be a ‘super candidate’: to be younger than 30, to have a Master’s degree (ideally in Canada), obtain one year of Canadian Experience with three years of foreign work experience, and finally to be fluent in English (no less than CLB 9). And yet, this may be not enough.

What should you do to get the ITA in Express Entry in 2024?

If you don’t speak French or have a targeted occupation, I recommend maximizing your points in all possible ways! Improve your English! Try to obtain an LMIA from a Canadian employer. Try learning French from scratch. Or think about other ways to immigrate to Canada through the provincial programs.

To sum up, the situation is not promising any good changes for all of us in the coming months, and we have to admit that immigrating to Canada via Express Entry is now way harder than in 2015-2019. At the same time, the system will eventually balance itself. If the government acts predictably, it will allow us to better forecast the scores by analyzing the patterns of invitation rounds. Hope Springs Eternal…

Addendum on how to achieve a high score in Express Entry

What are the maximum points in Express Entry?

Since we now understand the reasons for high points in the recent draws, it is good to understand the breakdown of the points better. The main factors are:

  • Age – The maximum score for age is for those who are 21-29 and is 100 points for candidates with spouses and 110 points for singles. Starting from age 30, the points drop by 5-6 points each year.
  • Education – The education points can be obtained from two parts of the assessment – (1) direct points for the highest level of education + indirect points for education in the transferability factors. For instance, having a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree + one more academic diploma of at least one year gives an opportunity for maximum points in the transferability factors. The difference in points between a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree is only 14-15 points; however, it also impacts transferability factors and an extra 25 points. The maximum direct points for education is 140 points for candidates with spouses and 150 points for singles.
  • Foreign Work Experience – Foreign work experience does not give any points directly. It can only award points in combination with other transferability factors. Yet, to qualify for them, you need three years of foreign work experience in a skilled position in National Occupations Classification (NOC) TEER 0, 1, 2 and 3 jobs.
  • Canadian Work Experience – gives direct points for the number of years in any skilled occupations TEER 0-3. One year of Canadian work experience gives 35 points for candidates with spouses and 40 points for singles. The points for two years of Canadian work experience are 46 and 53, respectively. And so on. Moreover, Canadian work experience is also a factor in transferability, which can help get maximum points in combination with education and foreign work experience.
  • English – CLB level 9 is a crucial milestone for language testing as it also gives a chance for maximum transferability points. CLB 9 equals IELTS General 7.0 and 8.0 for Listening or CELPIP 9 for all bands (in 2024, the Pearson test will be added by IRCC). The maximum direct points for the first official language are granted for CLB level 10 (12 points higher than CLB level 9).

Let’s sum up – the maximum points for the main factors are:

  • age – 100 points (110 points for singles)
  • education – 140 points (150 points for singles)
  • language – 128 points (136 points for singles)
  • Canadian work experience – 70 points (136 points for singles)

Transferability factors

Transferability factors for those who have never been in Canada are:

  • Education + Language – 50 points
  • Education + Canadian work experience – 50 points
  • Foreign work experience + Language – 50 points
  • Foreign work experience + Canadian work experience – 50 points
  • Certificate of qualification (trade occupations) + Language – 50 points

The maximum points for transferability factors cannot be more than 100. Therefore, several combinations of factors can help to reach the maximum.

Spouse’s points can add to a high score in Express Entry

Spouses of the main candidates can bring only 40 points. Ten points are granted for Canadian work experience (no points for foreign work experience). The education level of spouses is worth 10 points, and the maximum is awarded for a Master’s degree. Finally, English or French can give up to 20 points (CLB 5-6 brings 1 point per skill, CLB 7-8 gives 3 points per skill, and CLB 9 gives 5 points per skill)

Additional factors to achieve a high score in Express Entry

  • French – the second official language, does not provide very high points directly – the maximum is 24 points for CLB 9. Yet, CLB level 7 gives a bonus of 50 points for bilingualism!
  • Job Offer supported by Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) brings 50 points. This is a special document a Canadian employer can obtain to support a worker’s PR application. If you are offered a job as a high-level manager, and your NOC starts with 00, it can result in 200 bonus points!
  • Siblings who are citizens or PR can bring an extra 15 points.
  • Past Study in Canada – 1-2-year programs in college give an additional 15 points, while programs lasting two years or more and all Master’s Degree programs give an additional 30 points.
  • Provincial Nomination – there are 19 provincial streams linked to Express Entry. Nomination of the province can get 600 points.

Oleg Schindler, RCIC R706744

President of Schindler Visa Services

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