In January of 2015, the government of Canada introduced a system called Express Entry to manage applications for three popular Canadian immigration programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC), Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC), and Canadian Experience Class (CEC).
Whereas the old system treated applications on a first-come, first-served basis, Express Entry involves the government selecting candidates from a pool on a priority basis, according to a ranking score, using a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Points are awarded differently under the CRS than under the three immigration programs, and candidates have a large incentive to gain as many ranking points as possible. Doing so increases their chances of receiving the all-important Invitation to Apply (ITA) for Canadian permanent residence.
Express Entry candidates should know that increasing their score beyond the eligibility requirements is key, and that being eligible to enter the pool is a different thing than having enough points to obtain an ITA.
Distribution of Points within the CRS
The CRS awards points for a candidate’s age, level of education, language ability in English and/or French, work experience (both in Canada and abroad), whether he or she has a job offer in Canada, and whether a Canadian province has issued him or her a nomination certificate through one of the enhanced Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) categories. Additional points may be awarded to candidates who obtain a province-recognized certificate of qualification in a trade.
Certain factors, as well as combinations of factors, are rewarded more than others. Moreover, candidates with an accompanying spouse, common-law or conjugal partner (hereafter ‘spouse’) see a slight difference in how the various factors are weighted, as certain spousal factors are also taken into account.
There is a total of 1,200 points available, of which 600 may be awarded for a job offer or provincial nomination. Of the remaining half, up to 500 are available for human capital factors in their own right, and 100 for skills transferability combinations of those human capital factors. Of the 40 Express Entry draws that have taken place so far, 35 draws have seen ITAs issued to candidates who had neither a job offer nor a provincial nomination.
Increasing CRS Score
The nuances of the system dictate that there are numerous ways in which a candidate in the pool can increase his or her ranking. These nuances are important, as even a seemingly slight change in one factor—for example, improving a language ability from intermediate level to initial advanced—can have hugely positive effects on one’s ranking. Although many potential improvements may seem obvious, others are not so obvious.
Let’s first look at education, a highly valued factor under the CRS. There is much to consider on this front, but we’ll begin with candidates who enter the pool under the CEC program. Although FSWC candidates who studied outside Canada must prove their education credential(s) by way of an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA), CEC candidates may enter the pool without an ECA or Canadian credential. Some CEC candidates might enter the pool, sit back, and wait for an ITA. They could be waiting a long time, however, and often in vain, but they can increase their score by having their level(s) of education assessed. Doing so can bring up to 200 points—150 for human capital, with a bonus 50 in combination with Canadian work experience and/or language ability. Having a bachelor’s degree assessed can bring up to 170 points. So, educated CEC candidates in the pool with no ECA, I have a simple question: what are you waiting for? Get your ECA as soon as possible.
There are other potential ways in which candidates from all three programs may claim additional points through education. For candidates with more than one post-secondary credential, getting each credential assessed is recommended. Canadian equivalencies may vary from one credential to another, the CRS awards points for multiple credentials, and any credential may help a candidate become eligible under a PNP. If an Express Entry PNP category opens and you need to react quickly, it is crucial to have a fully updated education section in your profile. Proving all your education, and not just what might be deemed the highest level, can be important in this regard.
Furthermore, completing an additional level of education can also be beneficial. Some candidates are only a few courses or months away from completing a degree, diploma or certificate that, when assessed, would help to improve their ranking under the CRS. Other proactive candidates may consider enrolling in a higher level of education, knowing that completing the program would increase their chances of realizing their Canadian immigration goals.
Language is another crucial factor, as it is worth up to 260 points. Fluent English and/or French speakers may have maximized their points potential on entry to the pool. Candidates with room for improvement in language test results, however, should consider preparing for and re-taking a test. Any improvement across any of the four abilities (speaking, writing, reading, and listening) may bring a corresponding improvement in CRS ranking, but the big payoff occurs when a candidate reaches initial advanced level (Canadian Language Benchmark 9) across the board. When this happens, he or she may trigger a higher threshold in the combination factors and receive up to 100 points, in addition to the points received for the language factor in its own right.
A final note on language—bilingual candidates should take language tests in both English and French. By not doing so, they are leaving up to 24 points on the table, unclaimed.
Although Canadian work experience is more valued than non-Canadian work experience, the latter is nonetheless a factor within the combinations. For example, a candidate with strong language skills (CLB 9 or better across the board), but who only has one or two years of skilled work experience outside of Canada, may be awarded 25 points. As soon as he or she adds a third year of experience, however, an additional 25 points may be awarded. So, a word to the wise—keep working!
For candidates with Canadian work experience, similar principles apply, only the potential for obtaining points is greater because of two things: Canadian work experience is valued as a factor in its own right (i.e., not only in combination with something else, as non-Canadian work experience is), and points may be gathered for up to five years of experience. If you’re working a skilled job in Canada, keep at it and ensure you maintain your legal work status throughout.
I would also advise candidates to update their profile with any additional work experience, even if it does not directly increase CRS score. I say this because doing so may help to make a candidate eligible for a PNP category. You may not increase your score by a few points today, but you may increase it by 600 points tomorrow.
Couples Increasing Their Chances
The improvements outlined above are applicable to all candidates, whether they have an accompanying spouse or not. Candidates with a spouse, however, may have additional potential for improving their CRS score because the spouse’s level of education, language ability, and Canadian work experience may all be rewarded. Up to 40 points may be awarded for the spouse’s factors, 20 of which may be awarded for language ability (and 10 each for education and Canadian work experience). Having a spouse sit a language test and/or obtain an ECA could bring hugely valuable points. Moreover, some PNP categories reward the spouse of an applicant for his or her education, work or study experience and/or language ability.
Furthermore, every couple should carefully review who should be the principal applicant. Indeed, there is nothing to stop both partners from each creating a profile. Consider the following scenario: a 36-year-old rocket scientist and his or her 29-year-old partner, who works as a cook, want to immigrate to Canada. The rocket scientist may appear to be the superior candidate, but, other things being equal, it is, in fact, the cook who would be awarded more points, simply because he or she is younger. We could substitute surgeon for rocket scientist and plumber for cook and the result would be the same. In addition, it should be noted that three years of skilled work experience is worth the same as 10 or 15 years, as the number of points awarded ‘caps out’ at three years. With this in mind, it is worth seeing if a candidate’s spouse can obtain more points as the principal applicant.
Provincial Nominee Programs
Each of the above sections has touched on the reality that every improvement to a candidate’s profile may also bring the candidate closer to being eligible to apply to an Express Entry PNP category—and this is really where the big gains are to be found. We’re talking about 600 points, an ITA at a subsequent draw, and a straight pathway to permanent residence. To achieve this, however, it’s important to display your full education and work record, stay up to date on Canadian immigration news, and have all your documents ready and reviewed in preparation to make an application promptly. PNP categories often open and close quickly, sometimes within days or even hours.
Saskatchewan’s Express Entry-aligned PNP category, for example, has opened and closed seven times since it was first introduced last year. Not only that, but it recently changed its eligible occupations list—a change that came with no prior warning. Candidates who are not ready to apply to a PNP, or who do not keep their profile up to date, are in a far worse position than organized, knowledgeable candidates.
Combinations Are Key
As I have outlined above, the skills transferability factors (also known as combinations) are an oft-forgotten or underestimated area for boosting a CRS ranking. I can’t stress enough how much these combinations may be the key to success. Very often, candidates are so wrapped up in one or two areas that they miss the forest for the trees, so please consider combinations when looking at improving your CRS score.
Obtaining a Job by Networking and Visiting Canada
Obtaining a Canadian job offer from abroad is a difficult, though not impossible, task. The task becomes far more realistic, however, if you network, make connections, and secure interviews. Employers generally prefer to meet with potential employees in person, and therefore potential candidates in Canada have an advantage. Serious candidates for immigration to Canada should consider taking the time to make a visit to Canada in preparation for the major life decision they are taking. Before coming, they can set up interviews and networking opportunities, perhaps even coordinate the visit with a job fair or similar recruitment event.
Not only would visiting Canada increase a candidate’s chances of landing a skilled job, it may also increase their PNP options, as certain PNPs reward individuals for their previous visit(s) to a province.
A Final Note
If I was to offer only one piece of advice to Express Entry candidates, it would be to not lose heart. Explore all your options across human capital factors, combinations, work in Canada a PNPs, and give this everything you’ve got. It will be worth it in the end.