Canada’s Express Entry system has now become more competitive than ever, with the Comprehensive Ranking System’s (CRS) score jumping to a record high. While the system’s primary objective has always been to select the best candidates to meet Canada’s labour market needs, the timing of Express Entry draws and the frequency with which they occur have evolved. Express Entry draws are now unpredictable with the introduction of new category-based rounds of invitations in 2023 and the frequent skipping of biweekly draws. This article delves into how the IRCC decides when to hold Express Entry draws as well as the next Express Entry draw expectations.

Pandemic Effect On Express Entry Draws

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Express Entry draws followed a relatively predictable pattern. IRCC typically used to announce the draws every two weeks, usually on Wednesdays. Each draw would feature around 3,000-5,000 Invitations to Apply (ITAs) for permanent residence, with Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) cut-offs hovering around 470 points. This consistency was not officially mandated but was a reflection of stable policy objectives and operational efficiency.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the regularity of Express Entry draws. The frequency, type, and number of ITAs and CRS cut-offs became less predictable. For instance, after 2020, there were periods when IRCC held draws more frequently to address immediate labour market needs or paused them entirely due to processing constraints.

Category-Based Selection and Increased Draws

A significant shift occurred in 2023 with the introduction of category-based selection. This change aimed to address specific labour shortages and demographic goals, such as increasing Francophone immigration. Between June 27 and August 15, IRCC held an unprecedented 12 Express Entry draws, compared to the typical 4–8 draws in previous comparable periods. This increase highlighted IRCC’s adaptability in using the Express Entry system to meet a broader array of policy goals, but it also raised hopes for the candidates in the pool. However, then IRCC paused the draws briefly before resuming issuing ITAs, conducting nine more draws between September 19 and October 26. IRCC did not disclose reasons for the subsequent pause in draws, leaving candidates to speculate about the factors influencing IRCC’s decisions.

2024 began with regular draws in the first four months, but the IRCC paused the draws again in May for a brief period before resuming with PNP and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) draws. In June, so far, only one draw has been announced, and that too only for profiles with provincial nominations. It was expected that IRCC may follow the same pattern as they did during the pandemic, i.e., announcing the PNP draw first, followed by the CEC or all-program draw on the next day. But that did not happen after the June 19 draw. Not even a category-based round of invitations.

Key Factors Influencing Draw Frequency

Several key factors are taken into consideration when IRCC holds Express Entry draws:

1. Immigration Levels Plan

Each year, the IRCC releases an Immigration Levels Plan outlining the targets for permanent resident admissions over the next three years. The Express Entry system is one of the categories used to break down these targets. For example, IRCC plans to admit 110,770 immigrants through Express Entry in 2024 and 117,550 in both 2025 and 2026. These figures include principal applicants as well as their eligible partners and dependents. To meet these targets, IRCC continuously evaluates the number of permanent residence applications in the processing queue. If the queue has enough applications to meet current and future targets, IRCC may skip a biweekly round of invitations. Conversely, if there are insufficient applications, IRCC will likely hold more draws or issue a higher number of ITAs in a single week.

2. Processing Capacity

IRCC’s processing capacity is a crucial determinant of draw timing. The department must balance the inflow of new applications with its ability to process them within the six-month target. IRCC has now achieved official service standards for processing Express Entry applications within 6 months for most of the applications. During periods of high application volumes or operational constraints, IRCC may pause or reduce the frequency of draws to prevent backlogs and maintain processing standards.

3. Policy Objectives

IRCC’s policy objectives also play a significant role. The introduction of category-based selection is a prime example. This approach allows IRCC to target specific skills and demographics, such as Francophone immigrants or those in other occupation-based groups. The timing and frequency of draws can be adjusted to align with these objectives, ensuring that immigration policies meet Canada’s evolving needs. However, the distribution of candidates in the pool under these category-based draws can also influence the frequency of the next category-based draw.

4. Labour Market Needs

Canada’s labour market needs are dynamic and can influence the timing of Express Entry draws. During the pandemic, for instance, there was an increased emphasis on healthcare workers. IRCC may prioritize draws that target specific occupations or sectors experiencing shortages, affecting the frequency and composition of ITA issuances. For example, IRCC has not announced any trade-occupation targeted draw so far in 2024. A recent report by Statistics Canada indicates that the number of job openings in trade and transport occupations has significantly reduced, which could be a possible reason for the IRCC not conducting a trade draw. Having said that, we are still expecting a trade occupation-targeted draw (at least one in 2024).

Next Express Entry Draw Expectations

Looking ahead to 2024, several trends and predictions can be made based on recent patterns and policy announcements:

1. Higher CRS Cut-off Scores

For general or all-program draws, the CRS cut-off scores are expected to remain high, likely above 550 points. This reflects the competitive nature of the Express Entry system and the emphasis on having highly skilled individuals in pool.

2. Frequent Francophone-Focused Draws

Category-based draws targeting candidates with high proficiency in French are anticipated to be more frequent to meet francophone targets. This aligns with Canada’s goal of increasing Francophone immigration outside of Quebec to promote linguistic diversity.

3. Targeted Draws for Specific Sectors

Express Entry draws targeting specific sectors such as STEM and healthcare should continue, but the cutoff score is expected to be higher as compared to previous similar draws. These targeted draws help address labour market gaps and support Canada’s economic growth.

4. Potential for Larger Draws

While draws in 2024 are likely to remain competitive, the possibility of larger draws is less since the IRCC might be planning on reducing immigration targets in November. If this happens, the CRS cut-off scores will spike higher, making Express Entry even more competitive.

CRS Score Cutoff Prediction

While it is now more difficult than ever to predict the CRS cutoff score in the next Express Entry draw, below are our projections:

When was the last Express Entry draw?

The last Express Entry draw was on June 19, 2024, which invited 1,499 candidates with a CRS score of 663 and above to have provincial nominations.

When is the next Express Entry draw date?

The next express entry date is expected to be around July 3, based on a biweekly schedule.