How does the IRCC determine when to hold draws?

The Immigration and Refugees and Protection Act does not stipulate how often Express Entry draws must take place.

In recent weeks, Express Entry draws have changed. They usually take place every two weeks on Wednesdays. IRCC paused its applications process for six weeks starting November 23, then reopened it on January 11 after inviting 5,500 candidates to apply. A week later, another draw of the same size was held.

The change in routine has not been confirmed. According to an IRCC spokesperson, the pause was caused by a system glitch caused by the implementation of NOC 2021. As a result of technical issues with the implementation of the new classification system on November 16, 2022, Express Entry invitation rounds on November 23, 2022, were adversely affected. A round of Express Entry invitations was successfully implemented on January 11, 2023, despite these technical issues, which were a great inconvenience to IRCC clients."

IRCC is beginning a series of regularly scheduled Express Entry invitation to apply (ITA) rounds. However, the unexpected pause and following draw in quick succession are so out of character for IRCC that there has been speculation on how IRCC decides on the frequency of draws and the number of candidates.

Candidates in the Express Entry application management system are targeted by three programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP). Economic immigrants who qualify for these programs are highly skilled.

Candidate profiles are uploaded to the IRCC website and given a score under the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Candidates with the highest CRS scores will be invited to apply for permanent residency.

Express Entry trends

IRCC created Express Entry in 2015 to target potential permanent residents with in-demand skills who could quickly integrate into the economy and strengthen Canada's workforce. It typically sees 23-30 draws per year.

Most draws during 2015-2019 were all-program drawings, with one or two being specifically for the FSTP. Initially, these typically only invited fewer than 2,000 candidates; however, this began to change in 2017 when more than 3,000 candidates were typically selected at each draw. This increase was due to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) transitioning from its paper-based FSWP, CEC, and FSTP applications to an online Express Entry system. As part of navigating this transition, IRCC complemented its existing inventory of paper-based applications by making gradual ITAs until January 2017.

The COVID-19 pandemic put Canada's immigration system into chaos in 2020, with travel limitations, border closures, and workers unable to stay in their places of employment leading to a pile-up of applications. Consequently, IRCC halted draws for the FSWP and FSTP in December 2020, before suspending draws for the CEC at the same time in September 2021. However, Express Entry hopefuls were still able to receive invites via Provincial Nominee Programs.

As the number of draws declined, those that were still running continued to occur regularly.

All Express Entry draws resumed in July last year, draw sizes increased every two weeks, and CRS scores dropped to allow more candidates to receive ITAs. Express Entry draw sizes reached 4,570 by November 23, the largest since December 2020.

Rules that govern Express Entry


There is no set law that dictates how often Express Entry draws need to be held under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). IRCC and the immigration minister determine the frequency of Express Entry draws at their discretion. Through ministerial instructions, the immigration minister determines the number of candidates invited, and the minimum CRS score required.

To strengthen the labour force, the minister is mandated to invite candidates based on Canada's economic priorities. This includes:

  • Positioning for the future and addressing chronic labour shortages; and
  • Encourage Canadian immigration to Francophone minority communities and economic development in those communities.

In addition to allowing the invited candidates to easily integrate into the workforce, ministers have the flexibility to issue ministerial instructions that will benefit Canada's workforce.

Number of ITAs

A yearly target is outlined in the Immigration Levels Plan for Express Entry, as are all immigration pathways. For 2022, the target, referred to as Federal High Skilled Workers, was 55,900. The target for 2023 is 82,880, meaning IRCC will need to invite more candidates over the coming year to meet it. IRCC plans to invite 109,020 Federal High Skilled candidates in 2024.

In order to plan for the number of candidates to invite, the minister and IRCC need to examine these targets and decide on CRS scores that are high, but not so high as to limit the number of candidates.

There are no laws in IRPA that dictate how Express Entry draws should be conducted, and it is entirely at the discretion of the government and immigration minister.

Changes to come for Express Entry

Starting this spring, IRCC may invite candidates through categories that target attributes such as occupation, work experience—or fluency in French or English.

Since the passage of Bill C-19 last summer, IRCC has been working to create new draw categories for Express Entry candidates. The new method will prioritize immigrants' skills and abilities, rather than focusing solely on their credentials. The minister of immigration has said that this approach would allow Canada to focus on economic priorities—such as shortages in the labour market or specific industries—" whereas before we could not do that because our system was focused only on points".

Candidates will still need to be eligible for an Express Entry program and submit a profile on IRCC’s website, where it can receive their CRS score. In targeted draws, the chances of being invited to apply for Canadian permanent residence will increase as CRS scores go up.

It is too early to tell what impact, if any, targeted draws will have on the schedule of regular draws. In light of the government's commitment to increasing immigration levels, it is likely that IRCC will continue its policy of holding regular draws.

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