Express Entry
Canadian permanent residence for Californians

Table of Contents

So, you want to come to Canada, eh? I don't blame you! Canada is an ethnically and culturally diverse country with a low violent crime rate, high income and gender equality, a strong record on human rights, and a long average life expectancy. It is the among the best places to raise a child and has the highest quality of life in the world, if you believe in rankings. US News ranks it the #2 "best country in the world" after Switzerland, which is both a ridiculous thing to quantify and vaguely too generous to Switzerland.

Through the Express Entry program, you can get permanent resident (PR) status with your degree and your skilled work experience. PR status confers all benefits of Canadian citizenship, save the right to vote or run for office. You can apply for citizenship after only three years of living in Canada as a PR, as of this writing.

You do not need to be in Canada to apply for your PR, and your PR does not obligate you to establishing residence right away.

If you are thinking about Canadian PR, I recommend applying. You can always back out later, but taking the first step is easy. There is no downside. If you're invited to apply for a visa—at which point you'll almost certainly be accepted—you'll have to pay about $1000 USD.

Make sure to fact-check this guide along the way. Policies change. Do all your own research at every step of the process. This is not legal advice. You have been warned.

Express Entry: The basics

Express Entry is a skilled-based immigration system that works via a point system called CRC. You can use this online tool to calculate your CRC score. Go ahead and fill out that tool, listing your degree, and three or more years of skilled work experience outside of Canada. Give yourself the highest points on the English standardized tests. You can check the minimum threshold CRS score for invitation.

Before I dive in, let's go over the basic mechanics of the Express Entry system. Once your Express Entry application is submitted, you will enter the Skilled Worker pool. Immigration Canada will invite the top-scoring applicants from this pool to apply for permanent residence in ongoing rounds of invitations. Once you are invited, you will have 60 days to submit your application.

This guide walks you through each step of this application process. I will tell you what documents to prepare, and when, to maximize your chances of a successful application and, ultimately, permanent residence status in Canada!

Initial application

Make an account on the Express Entry platform. It's very quick. Just take a look around and see what's required of you.

1. Establish your qualifying work experience

To determine if your work experience is ``skilled,'' Canada uses the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system, a categorization that relates jobs to skill levels. For Express Entry, your work experience needs to be of skill type A or 0.

Your work as a graduate research or teaching assistant during graduate school counts as NOC code 4012, skill type A.

If you are or have ever been a Postdoctoral Scholar, this experience also counts as NOC code 4011, skill type A.

You can use the same system to look up NOC codes for your past work experience.

Note that all of your foreign (non-Canadian) work experience must be in a single NOC code. That will be your main profession, listed on your application. So pick the NOC code that best describes your work, and contains your most experience.

Check out how many points you're getting with your work experience. If all looks good, continue on!

1. Get your education credential

First, you will need your US PhD certified within Canada. This certification is called an Education Credential Assessment (ECA). I used WES, which was cheap and fast (follow the links on that site to be safe). Once processed, this credential is valid for five years, and can be renewed.

What I did

  1. I made an account on WES (follow the link on the Canada government website).
  2. I made an account with my personal email address and filled out my biographical details. I paid them the 200 CAD fee, and received my WES reference number.
  3. I went to the registrar's office in 120 Sproul and asked for my transcripts, including the degree I received, in an envelope with a seal on the back. I had the administrator sign along the envelope's seal (referring them to this youtube video from WES).
  4. I placed a sticker on the front of the envelope with my WES reference number and the WES mailing address in Toronto.
  5. I went to the post office and sent the envelope. To add tracking was expensive ($30), and I would have had to fill out a customs form, so I sent it without tracking on [2018-10-10 Wed].
  6. I checked my WES profile now and again to see when they received my documents. WES said they received my documents on [2018-10-18 Thu].
  7. On [2018-10-25 Thu] I received notice that WES had ``received all required documents.'' and would ``now begin to prepare [my] evaluation report.''
  8. On [2018-11-07 Wed] I received an email that my ECA was complete.

Total cost: 220 CAD (172 USD) (as of [2020-09-30 Wed])

2. Take an English competency exam

English and French are the two official languages in Canada. Canada establishes language proficiency through standardized testing. Your test results will be good for two years, so it makes sense to take this test after you know your degree and work requirements are looking good.

The IELTS has testing centres in San Francisco and Hayward. Use their online tool to see which one might be free. Alternatively, you can take the CELPIP in San Jose or Los Angeles. Comparing the two tests, CELPIP may be a bit more forgiving. It is also done in a single, 3-hour session (IELTS is often done over multiple sessions). Whichever test you take, make sure you select the correct test variant (refer to the Canada government website).

What I did

I was going to Vancouver to give a talk at UBC. I used this opportunity to take the CELPIP at a center in Vancouver. I registered three months before the date, as spots seemed to fill up.

No preparation was required. I got the highest points without preparation, and so would you. The point of CELPIP is to make sure you're comfortable in everyday settings, and to test that you're comfortable with Canadian values (they showed me a picture of a trans couple with a child, for example, and asked me to describe what was happening in the image).

I got my results in a few days.

Total cost: 280 CAD (215 USD as of [2018-10-15 Mon])

(Optional) French competency

Since you can increase your score with French competency, you might consider taking the TEF, Canada's official test of French proficiency. With an ace score on the TEF, you can eek out an extra 54 points!

I did not speak any French before starting the Express Entry process. I used the Michel Thomas method, and some angel posted the French version on YouTube.

Many Californians speak English and some Spanish. If you speak both of these languages, then French will be surprisingly easy (you'll already know most of the words!). You can also watch French films if you don't mind that sort of thing.

What I did

My CRS score was high enough without the French boost, so I didn't take the test in the end.


Once you've got all of your materials together, submit that application!

Right after you submit

After you submit your application, it will be processed. If you meet the criteria, you will receive an official "invitation to apply."

To minimize lag time, you'll want to get your documents in order right before you apply

Proving past work experience

You will need to provide proof of this work experience via letters from employers. I adapted these directly from Canada's own language under NOC code 4012. Email me if you'd like to see the examples.

Here's an example:

Nick Merrill worked as a Graduate Student Researcher under my immediate supervision from May 2014 until June 2016 (during which his annual salary plus benefits were $XX,XXX.XX), and from August 2016 until July 2018 (during which his annual salary plus benefits were $XX,XXX.XX). He worked twenty (20) hours per week.

During his employment, he conducted laboratory experiments and other research, compiled and analyzed results, and prepared articles and papers for scholarly journals and conferences. He also organized reference materials, and conducted seminars, discussion groups, and laboratory sessions.

Nick specialized in… [topic of my dissertation].

I printed those letters with my former employers' names and asked them to sign and return. It was easy.

You may also be asked for payroll stubs or W2s. These should be easy to find. Again, if you want UC Berkeley PhD-specific advice, email me.

Getting police certificates

You'll be asked for a police certificate. Here's how to get one for the US.

I submitted a request via this website (make sure it's still linked to via the Canada PR form). It took only five business days to process.

You'll then need to send in fingerprints on form FD-258 to some address in Clarksburg, WV. It's not as complex as it sounds. They'll send you a link to the form, and I got my fingerprints taken at the UPS store on Shattuck in Berkeley. They even mailed it for me.

Eventually, you'll get a letter in the mail (and a digital copy I believe) with your sparkling clean record.

Once you're invited

Soon, you'll get an email that you are invited to apply for Express Entry.

Your application

This application will be a bit more thorough than your initial one, but you will be well-prepared by now. By now, you'll have all the documents you need to fill it out.

The only tricky question is one where you're asked for everywhere you've traveled and everywhere you've lived in your entire life. An old passport may be handy here. It took me about three hours of concerted effort.

Once your done, submit the application!1

Giving biometrics

After submitting my application, I got a message asking for my biometrics. There was a location in Oakland to give biometrics—a US Immigration Services place out by the airport (OAK).

Here is information from CIC on where to give biometrics. And here is a scheduler website for US Immigration Services. You'll need a code; your code should be on page 2 of your "Biometric Instruction Letter" under "FOR OFFICIAL USE AT BIOMETRIC COLLECTION SERVICE POINTS."

I made an appointment a week out, and brought printed out copies of my biometrics letter and my appointment confirmation. I also brought my passport (the travel document I used for my application).

My experience there was very pleasant. I arrived about 11am, waited for about 10 minutes, and got my fingerprints taken on a digital machine, assisted by a government employee. Everyone was very professional and the whole thing took about thirty minutes.

"The Golden Email": Sending in your passport (scan) and photos

I got an email on [2019-06-03 Mon] that I was "Ready For Visa / Pret pour Visa." According to the forums, this is "The Golden Email." It means that your application is all but accepted—you will just need to send in your passport, or scan of your passport, and photos.

Read the email carefully—it may be truncated (because it's long, in both English and French), so make sure you're reading the entire email.

What I did

On [2019-06-07 Fri], I went to A1 photos on University Ave, who said they do Canadian passport photos specifically. I got my photos done there and shipped them overnight via FedEx. The photos arrived [2019-06-10 Mon].

PROTIP: I signed up for SMS tracking alerts on the return envelope I sent them. That way, I'd get notified when IRCC ships me my certificate.

On [2019-07-01 Mon] I got a letter in the mail with my certificate of PR (CoPR)! They also sent me my passport scan and my photos back.

Landing in Canada

Finally, it will come time to "land." This means rolling up to a port of entry (e.g., on a plane) with your CoPR in hand.

This process was extremely chill in Edmonton.

I listed my friend's address for them to mail my PR card, which is no problem. It doesn't have to be your home address. You can use online tool to provide an address within 180 days:

The only "gotcha" I did not know about is that the border guard handed me a form that allowed me to declare stuff to bring over without duties. You can bring over whatever personal posessions you want without duties. They hand you a form, which you can use in the future—you don't even have to have all of your goods there.

Think about everything you may want to even eventually bring into Canada (antiques, furniture, personal objects, family heirlooms, etc). Maybe do a bit more research to see what the limitations are of this form/system.



If you really want to "look twice and cut once," you can hire an immigration consultant for a quick consultation. I did it, and they didn't really catch any errors, but they did say that this outcome was relatively rare.

Date: 2020-08-03 Mon 00:00


Created: 2021-02-24 Wed 10:56