As Canada grapples with COVID-19, amidst new and more infectious variants entering the country, with no vaccine in sight for most of the population, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) made an unprecedented move towards the goal of 400,000 new permanent residents in 2021. On February 13, in the latest round of invitations issued to candidates in the Express Entry pool, 27,332 applicants were surprised with the highly coveted Invitation to Apply. To put this in perspective, a usual number of invitations ranges from 3,500-5,000 per draw. The cumulative score required for a successful candidate is usually somewhere in the high 400s. On February 13, the lowest-ranked candidate invited had a score of 75.

What is the catch? As usual, it's complicated.

Only candidates in the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) were eligible for this draw. This means that all skilled workers currently outside of Canada had no access to the pool. The reasoning behind this decision is likely twofold. Firstly, and most obviously, increased concerns from all levels of government around the risks of COVID-19 spreading further led to the implementation of strict travel restrictions. From this perspective, it made sense to limit the invitations to include only people already in Canada. The second likely reason can probably be gleaned from recent statements made by the Honourable Marco E.L. Mendicino, Canadian Minister of Immigration, who had emphasized on a few occasions that adaptability plays a key role in the selection of future permanent residents. Put bluntly, foreign nationals who are in the CEC have already been living here for a few years. They have likely come here either to study at a Canadian post-graduate institution or have been working in professional jobs in Canada. They have high language scores in English or French and have already made several steps toward building a community in Canada.

This was not the first time that IRCC has restricted the pool to CEC candidates. In 2020, applicants who were not in Canada had no access to the draws that took place between March and September. Those draws, however, featured the usual number of invitations and eligible ranking scores. This begs the obvious questions of what prompted such a drastic change to the Express Entry pool process, and whether this may happen again? A likely answer is that IRCC is trying to clear the large backlog accumulated in the early months of the pandemic, when the Ministry struggled to equip its employees with proper tools to continue working remotely, while simultaneously rushing to automate as many processes as possible. IRCC's goal of 400,000 new permanent residents by the end of 2021 is rather lofty by usual standards, so this may signal a move towards easing restrictions for candidates with Canadian experience. Whether or not this kind of generous single Express Entry draw happens again is anyone's guess, but what is definitely clear is that there will be many more permanent residency hopefuls receiving good news in the coming months.

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