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Express Entry 2020: Record-breaking year despite COVID | Colin Singer

Friday, January 15, 2021 @ 8:26 AM | By Colin Singer

Colin Singer %>
Colin Singer
The Canada Express Entry system enjoyed a record year in 2020, despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued 107,350 Invitations to Apply, smashing the record for a calendar year by nearly 20,000 ITAs. IRCC also broke the ITA record for an individual draw several times throughout the year, with a record 5,000 invitations issued in each of the last four draws of the year. Prior to 2020, the most ITAs issued in a single draw was 3,900.

The year also saw three of the top four quarters for ITAs, with 29,000 invitations issued in the fourth quarter, 28,450 in the third and 27,300 in the second. None was able to eclipse the record of 29,885 ITAs issued in the third quarter of 2017.

ITAs were issued in their tens of thousands, despite officials not knowing when Canada’s immigration system would resume at full capacity, as the coronavirus crisis dragged on into 2021. They could do so with confidence given Canada’s plan to significantly boost immigration over the coming three years, with Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino setting a target of more than 400,000 newcomers per year in his 2020 Fall Levels plan.

Minimum Comprehensive Ranking System scores — the cutoff at which candidates are invited — remained above 470 for all program draws for all but the final three draws of the year, when scores of 469 (twice) and 468 were recorded. 

Despite the high number of invitations, the number of permanent resident arrivals plummeted in 2020 compared to 2019. Canada welcomed 158,565 new permanent residents in the first 10 months of this year, down from 295,180 in the corresponding period of 2019, according to the latest available figures.

What is Express Entry?

Express Entry is an immigration system implemented by Canadian immigration authorities on Jan. 1, 2015, which manages skilled worker applications under federal economic programs. This includes the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, the Canadian Experience Class and parts of the Provincial Nomination Program.

Express Entry and COVID

Canada was able to show the flexibility of its immigration system in the way it pivoted within the Express Entry system because of COVID. Initially, IRCC switched to inviting only Canadian Experience Class (CEC) and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates, considering them more likely to already be in Canada and therefore not subject to travel restrictions. All-program draws became the norm again from September onwards in 2020.

This appeared an easy switch to make, but it was only possible because of the remarkable flexibility Express Entry gives Canadian immigration officials. There is probably only one other country in the world — Australia — with the flexibility to make such a switch in a time of crisis. The switch to the CEC and PNP meant a record number of individual draws were conducted in 2020. The year saw 37 draws take place, seven more than the previous high of 30 in 2017. Whereas previous years saw less than a handful of program-specific draws, 2020 saw 21 take place between March and August, when the first wave of the pandemic was at its worst in Canada.

Due to the pandemic, candidates receiving an ITA were also given 90 days to submit a full application, up from the usual 60. While IRCC continued to accept applications throughout the pandemic, it still says it can provide no estimate of processing times.

Those submitting applications are putting themselves at the front of the line for when border and travel restrictions are eventually relaxed, although with Canada currently in the grip of a second wave of the virus, it is not clear when that will be. International travel and Canada-U.S. border restrictions are currently in place until Jan. 21, 2021, but are almost certain to be extended.

Comprehensive ranking system scores

Minimum CRS scores were higher for all-program draws in 2020 than they have been in previous years, ranging between 468 and 478, compared to a range of 438 to 475 in 2019. Scores began to creep down towards the end of the year, as regular draws invited 5,000 candidates were taking place. The lowest minimum CRS scores of 2020 were to be found in the 10 CEC draws that took place between March and August. Here, minimum scores ranged between 431 and 467.

In the 10 PNP draws that took place, minimum CRS scores ranged from 687 to 808. It should be noted that candidates with a provincial nomination in hand receive 600 additional points, hence the higher minimum scores.

More points for French-speaking immigrants outside Quebec

In October, Canada announced an increase in the number of Express Entry points available to French-speaking and bilingual candidates. The decision, announced by Mendicino, saw the points for French language increase from 15 to 25, and for bilingual candidates from 30 to 50. Specific points for French language skills were first introduced in June 2017.

Mendicino said the move was aimed at helping French-speaking communities outside Quebec.

Canada is working towards a target of French-speaking immigrants making up 4.4 per cent of the intake outside Quebec by 2023. Officials said the current points available were not sufficient to meet that target. In 2019, 2.82 per cent of Canada’s total immigration intake spoke French. The number of Express Entry Invitations to Apply issued to French-speaking candidates rose to 5.6 per cent in 2019, up from 4.5 per cent in 2018.

Express Entry in 2021

The impact of COVID on Canada’s immigration system makes Express Entry in 2021 difficult to predict. Given IRCC has continued to issue invitations through the thick of the pandemic, it is reasonable to expect continued high numbers of ITAs. However, if travel and border restrictions remain in place deep into 2021, as seems likely, it may be that at some point invitation numbers begin to drop.

Immigration officials, like seemingly everyone at this point, will be eagerly watching the impact of vaccines on COVID-19 case numbers. Only as case numbers are brought fully under control for a prolonged period will Ottawa be able to consider removing restrictions.

One thing that can be said with clarity is that when restrictions are removed, immigration arrivals to Canada will surge. IRCC may be unlikely to hit 400,000 in 2021, but permanent resident arrivals are set to rise significantly later in the year.

Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for He can be reached via Twitter: @immigrationca.

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