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How to improve your Express Entry score

Kathleen Leighton

Express Entry system

Express Entry is a system that enables skilled foreign nationals who are looking to settle in Canada indefinitely to apply for permanent residency status. This system prioritizes individuals who are likely to make positive contributions to the Canadian economy based on their skills and experience. There are three economic immigration programs that can be applied for through the Express Entry system:

  • Federal Skilled Worker Program;
  • Canadian Experience Class; and
  • Federal Skilled Trades Program.

It is also possible for provinces and territories to issue nominations to applicants in the Express Entry system through the Provincial Nominee Program (“PNP”) where those individuals would help meet local labour market needs or to individuals who have prior experience in the region.

While applicants must meet the minimum eligibility criteria for one of the applicable programs to successfully apply through the Express Entry system, they also must be able to obtain sufficient points to be invited to apply for permanent residency through the Express Entry system to begin with. This is further discussed below.

Express Entry process

To begin an application through the Express Entry system, an individual first must create an Express Entry profile. The submission of a profile, which is done electronically through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”)’s online portal, enters the individual into a pool of candidates seeking to immigrate to Canada permanently.

The individual will be awarded points based on various human capital and similar factors, including for age, education level, work experience, language ability, and more, as derived from the information included in their profile. This points assessment is the Comprehensive Ranking System (“CRS”) that allows IRCC to evaluate candidates in the Express Entry pool.

IRCC then periodically holds rounds of invitations where certain candidates in the pool will be invited to apply for permanent residency under one of the applicable Express Entry programs. Specifically, in each round there will be a minimum CRS points score that candidates will need to possess in order to receive an Invitation to Apply (“ITA”). For example, the most recent few rounds have seen ITAs issued to those with 471-475 CRS points.

Note that IRCC also occasionally has targeted draws focusing on an individual Express Entry program. When the draws target the Federal Skilled Trades Program, the minimum required CRS points will typically be lower in those rounds.

Once a candidate receives an ITA, they have 60 days to submit an application for permanent residence (though this has been increased to 90 days during the COVID-19 pandemic), and most applications will take approximately 6 months to process.

CRS score make-up

Candidates in the Express Entry pool will first be awarded up to 600 CRS points for a combination of factors including core/human capital factors, spouse or common-law partner factors, and skill transferability factors. Specifically, the principal applicant will be awarded points for their age, level of education, official languages proficiency, and Canadian work experience. If the principal applicant has a spouse or common-law partner, their significant other can also be awarded points for education, official language proficiency, and Canadian work experience. Finally, certain combinations of factors, like a post-secondary degree coupled with either strong official language proficiency or Canadian work experience can result in additional points for the “skill transferability factors”.

There is also a second category of up to 600 points that can be awarded for “additional” factors, including if the applicant has a Canadian citizen or permanent resident sibling living in Canada, French language skills, post-secondary education in Canada, arranged employment, or a PNP nomination. In fact, IRCC recently announced an increase in the number of points that French-speaking and bilingual candidates can receive under the Express Entry system.

Improving a CRS score

Once an individual submits an Express Entry profile, their profile will remain in the pool of candidates for a period of one year, or until an ITA is received, whichever is sooner. It is possible to update a profile that has already been submitted. This provides an opportunity for candidates to try to improve their CRS score while they wait for an ITA, which will increase their chances of being invited to apply for permanent residency. There are a number of ways a candidate can attempt to improve their CRS score, including by taking the following steps:

  • Studying for and re-taking an official language test to improve their language test score.
  • Studying for and taking a second official language test if this has not already been done (i.e. a French test if English was the main test taken, or vice versa).
  • Pursuing a qualifying job offer of arranged employment from an employer in Canada. The job offer will provide either 50 or 200 points depending on the skill level of the job offer. To be awarded CRS points for a job offer, the offer must meet certain requirements as further outlined here by IRCC.
  • Undertaking additional education to gain a greater number of points for education level.
  • Working for an additional year, either outside Canada to improve foreign language work experience points, or inside Canada to improve Canadian work experience points. Note that in either case, the work experience must be paid full-time work experience (or equivalent paid part-time work experience) with one or more employers that occurred in the past 10 years, and the work must have been in one or more occupations in the National Occupational Classification matrix skill type 0, A, or B. Points for work experience will max out after five years for Canadian experience and after three years for foreign work experience.
  • Applying to a province or territory for a nomination under the PNP that can be added to the Express Entry profile (which provides an additional 600 CRS points). For example, in Nova Scotia, a Nova Scotia Experience Class nomination can be added to an Express Entry profile.
  • Having their spouse work to improve language ability, pursue additional education, or gain a year or up to five years of Canadian work experience.

It is also important to note that points totals decrease in most cases when applicants age, so it is a good idea to keep total points in mind when future birthdays come about.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no guarantee that an individual will eventually be issued an ITA or successfully receive permanent residency status, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to improve the odds. Where possible, obtaining a provincial or territorial nomination that works in conjunction with the Express Entry system is one of the best ways to dramatically increase CRS points. Of course, there are also other permanent residency programs that can be considered if individuals are finding it difficult to qualify for an Express Entry program and/or to obtain sufficient points.

Our immigration group would be pleased to advise on permanent residency options, including regarding the Express Entry system, and we are able to provide more tailored advice to individuals looking improve their CRS points.


This article is provided for general information only. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Immigration group.

Click here to subscribe to Stewart McKelvey Thought Leadership articles and updates.

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