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Is it worth entering the Express Entry pool if your CRS is low?

Express Entry-managed programs are among the most popular options for skilled newcomers who want to immigrate to Canada.

This is because Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has a published service standard of six months for Express Entry applications making it, as the name implies, one of the fastest ways to become a permanent resident of Canada.

Receiving an invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent resident status through Express Entry is heavily dependent on a candidate’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score. The higher a candidate scores, the more likely it is that they will receive an ITA.

A CRS score is based on a combination of human capital factors such as age, work experience, occupation, language ability and education.

Recent Express Entry draws, especially general draws, have seen minimum CRS scores above 500. However in the current make-up of candidates in the Express Entry pool (as of February 28), there are 18,106 candidates with scores above 500.

For context, the same data shows there 211, 487 Express Entry candidates in the pool. Put another way, less than one-tenth of Express Entry candidates have high enough CRS scores to be considered for a general Express Entry draw so far in 2024.

This may lead those who have a CRS score less than 500 to wonder if it’s still worth entering the Express Entry application pool or if they are better off pursuing a different pathway to Canadian immigration.

Recent Express Entry draws

The minimum CRS score required to receive an ITA changes in each Express Entry draw and can be influenced by the type of draw (general, program-specific, or category-based).

CRS scores have shown some wide variation throughout Express Entry draws in 2024. As of March 12, there have been ten Express Entry draws.

Six of the draws were general, meaning candidates were considered from all Express Entry programs and categories. Scores for the general draws ranged from 525 to 541.

CRS scores for these draws have typically been lower than general draws, ranging from 336 to 437, depending on the category. Category-based selection draws were introduced in May 2023 as a means for IRCC to target Express Entry candidates who possess specific in-demand attributes. Five of the six categories are occupation-based for:

  • Healthcare occupations
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions
  • Trades occupations, such as carpenters, plumbers, and contractors
  • Transport occupations
  • Agriculture and agri-food occupations

The remaining category is for Express Entry candidates with strong French language proficiency.

Candidates in this category saw the lowest score of the year so far (336) in a February 29 draw for 2,500 candidates. Another draw in the same category on February 1 was comparable at 7,000 ITAs issued to those with a CRS of 365.

What this means is that candidates with a CRS score that is too low for a general draw may still have a chance at getting an Express Entry ITA if they are eligible for category-based selection. Last year IRCC invited more than 16,000 Express Entry candidates in category-based draws.

What is Express Entry?

Express Entry is an application management system that oversees the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) or the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

Those interested in applying for one of these programs must first self-evaluate if they meet the eligibility criteria for their desired program.

If so, the candidate will then need to complete and upload their Express Entry profile to obtain their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score. Once they get a CRS score, they must wait for an ITA from IRCC.

How to improve your score

Express Entry candidates with lower scores can work on improving it while they wait for an ITA. Any update to human capital factors can be updated in their profile.

Language skills

Statistics Canada has recently published a study on the economic outcomes of skilled newcomers based on their language abilities. It found that more than any one factor, language was the biggest predictor of successful economic integration. For example, it said that immigrants who had obtained a level 10 (CLB or NCLC) reading ability earned 25% more than their counterparts with a level 7 ability.

The maximum CRS score a candidate without an accompanying spouse can get for language ability is 136 (34 points for each of the four evaluated language abilities: reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Candidates can take any of the IRCC-recognized language tests ( the Canadian Language Benchmark or Nivea de competence linguistique canadine) as many times as necessary to get their desired score, in either or both English and French.

Eligible tests include:


IRCC also gives points for increased levels of education. Candidates without an accompanying spouse who obtain a post-secondary degree of one year will receive a score of 90 for education while those who have a post-secondary degree of three years or more get 120 points.

This means that, depending on an individual’s circumstances, going back to school may be a good option for increasing an overall CRS score.


Candidates who are considering applying to an Express Entry program are advised to do so sooner rather than later because younger candidates receive more points than those who wait until their 30s or 40s.

Those who enter the pool between the ages of 20 and 29 (without an accompanying spouse) will get 110 points. After a candidate turns 30, this goes down to 95 points and continues to decrease each year until 40, when the maximum points for age goes down to 50.

Provincial Nomination

Express Entry candidates who also receive a provincial nomination automatically get an additional 600 CRS points, which almost guarantees an ITA in an upcoming draw.

Those already in the Express Entry pool can apply for a nomination directly to the province in which they wish to reside or wait for the provincial government to issue an Expression of Interest (EOI) in a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) draw before applying. EOIs for nomination are similar to an ITA for Express Entry.

Through the PNP, provinces nominate the candidates who are viewed as the most likely to successfully integrate into the provincial workforce and contribute to the local economy by filling urgent job vacancies.

Each province has multiple streams that target in-demand attributes within the province. For example, provinces may target candidates with specific occupations, international graduates, entrepreneurs and some even have PNP streams for candidates who are willing to work in rural areas or on farms.

Express Entry candidates should note that the PNP is a separate immigration program and they will be required to submit a separate application and fee to the nominating province.

A nomination is not the same as getting PR but it signals to IRCC that an individual is potentially a strong candidate, which is an advantage on a PR application.

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