Express Entry and Canadian Immigration Targets in 2021


A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern and a skilled litigator, Lev focuses exclusively on immigration and refugee law. His immigration practice is focused on complex corporate and personal immigration and refugee law matters.

The April 2021 edition of Lawyer Monthly magazine features an interview with myself and Ksenia Tchern regarding the latest developments in Canadian immigration. In this article, we discuss the ambitious Canadian immigration targets announced by Marco Mendicino in October of 2020 as well as how these targets can be met.

At the time of the announcement, many expected the Minister to adopt a dovish and pragmatic approach given the economic uncertainty, the absence of timelines with respect to domestic as well as global vaccination programs (as well as vaccine efficacy studies), and the Liberal government’s border policy.

Instead, in October 2020, Mendicino announced that Canada aims to bring in more than 400,000 new permanent residents each year over 2021-2023: 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and, 421,000 in 2023. Most of these immigrants would be in the economic class. 

Details with respect to how the Minister planned to meet such ambitious targets were not provided. In my view, the right approach entails relaxing restoration of status criteria, increasing the quota for humanitarian and compassionate applications, and adjusting existing economic pathways (particularly those managed by Express Entry) to account for the situation created by COVID-19. 

To this end, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will have to utilize what is referred to as Ministerial Instructions, an extraordinary instrument that amongst other things allows IRCC to make substantive changes to the Express Entry selection criteria, thereby effectively changing Canada’s immigration policy without going through the normal parliamentary procedure and/or public consultation.

Below are a few basic changes to the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) that could allow IRCC to select a great number of economic candidates while maintaining the integrity of the Express Entry system:

  1. Changing the arrangement employment point allocation (for non-NOC 00 positions) from 50 to 100.
  2. Increasing arranged employment points to those in critical care (those helping Canada fight or contain COVID-19) from 50 to 125.
  3. Awarding 50 “current employment” points to those who who are currently legally working in Canada (or will continue working subject to Provincial restrictions being lifted) on a full-time basis but do not qualify for arranged employment points (ex: students on Post-Graduate Work Permits), provided that the employer confirm that it intends to continue employing the person for at least one year.
  4. Decreasing the importance of age and language proficiency as well as lowering the minimum language threshold for those with Canadian work experience, a job offer, or current employment.
  5. Promoting the Federal Skilled Trade Worker program and holding more regular draws with low CRS cut-offs.

Outside of Express Entry IRCC can:

  1. Introduce a program allowing individuals in certain NOC “C” (and possible D) positions to apply for permanent residence provided that they have at least two years of Canadian work experience, have a valid work permit, and a job offer for at least a year.
  2. Increase the quotas for the Agri-Food Pilot.
  3. Increase Provincial quotas. 

Despite readily available tools and options, IRCC appears to be adopting a numbers driven approach, as without any prior notice, on February 13, 2021, those with active Express Entry profiles were issued an Invitation to Apply if their CRS score was 75 points or higher and they qualified under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). This resulted in 27,332 invitations to apply being issued, when the typical draw invited around 3,000-5,000 people.

By way of background, since the travel ban introduced on March 16, 2020 prevents Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders from landing unless their COPR was approved prior to March 18, 2020 or they meet one of the entry exemptions, IRCC has not held an Express Entry draw that included those invited to apply under the Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW). Instead, Express Entry draws have largely been focused on the CEC based on the presumption that those with Canadian work experience are likely already in Canada, and are therefore not affected by the travel ban.

Prior to February 13, 2021, Express Entry was a tightly managed system with the low-end of the 2020 pre-COVID-19 CRS cut-off being in the 460 point range, with the lowest COVID-19 period CRS score being 431 points on June 25, 2020. However, prior to the travel ban, Express Entry draws included both CEC and FSW candidates, and the high CRS cut-offs were in part based on a continually replenished CEC pool. Given that the number of foreign workers coming into Canada has been greatly reduced as well as the exclusion of the FSW candidates, in order to meet its 2021 targets IRCC has to either implement some of the suggestions listed above, or drastically reduce the cut-off score for some of the draws, which is what happened on February 13, 2021.

The fact that subsequent draws have been more or less in line with the COVID-19 range, and that to date no amendments have been announced suggests that future “outlier” draws may be on the horizon and while it is difficult to foresee another draw with a 75 point CRS cut-off, cut-offs in the 200-300 point range are not outside of the realm of possibility. Leaving aside broader immigration policy related considerations, if you are reading this post, and are either close to or do currently meet the CEC criteria, you should prepare and submit an Express Entry profile as soon as possible.

It is important to note that an Express Entry profile can be modified (before an ITA is received) which allows candidates to increase their CRS score after the profile is accepted into the pool. So if you are awaiting the receipt of an Educational Credential Assessment or have decided to increase your language score, you should submit your profile irrespective of your current CRS score to ensure that you do not miss another outlier draw, and update it (if necessary) once additional documents are received.

If you have any questions about Express Entry or other pathways to Canadian permanent residence, feel free to contact our office

Lev Abramovich

A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern and a skilled litigator, Lev focuses exclusively on immigration and refugee law. His immigration practice is focused on complex corporate and personal immigration and refugee law matters.