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Canada expands pathway to residency for work permit holders

Canada will allow former international students with post-graduation work permits to apply for open work permits after Covid-19 "jeopardised" opportunities for them to gain the work experience needed for permanent residence applications.
January 11 2021
5 Min Read

Canada has announced a policy for former international students with post-graduation work permits to apply for open work permits in a bid to retain talent as it seeks more international graduates to become permanent residents.

As part of the plan, individuals who hold or held a PGWP on or after January 30 will have the opportunity to apply for an open work permit lasting an additional 1.5 years.

“This new policy means that young students from abroad who have studied here can stay and find work, while ensuring that Canada meets the urgent needs of our economy for today and tomorrow,” said Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino.

“Our message to international students and graduates is simple: we don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here.”

“We don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here”

International students contribute over $21 billion annually to Canada’s economy and support the vitality of the country’s communities, the government highlighted.

“Whether as nurses on the pandemic’s front lines, or as founders of some of the most promising start-ups, international students are giving back to communities across Canada as we continue the fight against the pandemic,” Mendicino noted.

The government estimates that up to 52,000 graduates could benefit from the new policy.

Covid-19 has presented “myriad challenges” for international students the government acknowledged, most notably for PGWP holders for whom the pandemic has jeopardised work experience opportunities.

The “unique chance” for foreign nationals to apply for another open work permit will allow them to “remain in Canada, continue to seek employment and build their future in this country” for an additional 18 months, IRCC noted.

In a statement to The PIE News, executive director of York University International Vinitha Gengatharan and international student advisor and immigration specialist Amy Ahn said the “new 18-month open work permit is an excellent opportunity for our international students looking to get Canadian work experience”.

“Many international students want to make Canada their home after graduation and use the PGWP as a route to make this a reality,” the explained, and agreeing that finding qualifying work has been a struggle during the pandemic.

“They are racing against time to get the work experience they need before their work permits expire. After putting in years to accomplish their goals, this new open work permit, we hope this is a welcome relief to many international students who thought their dreams may be ending because of the pandemic.”

Canadian Bureau for International Education welcomed IRCC’s “openness and receptivity” in seeking solutions to support international students throughout the pandemic.

“International students will play a critical role in Canada’s and the global community’s social and economic recovery post-Covid-19,” CBIE CEO and president Larissa Bezo said.

The OECD 2020 Education Insights at a Glance Report noted that the crisis had caused concerns about missing out on international exposure and input into foreign job markets and networking, among other issues, the organisation highlighted.

Additionally, a 2018 CBIE survey demonstrated that 75% of survey respondents indicated that their ability to work in Canada was “essential” or “very important”, and post-graduation employment was seen as an attractive and desirable post-graduation pathway, it said

“The newly announced policy flexibility pertaining to the PGWP program is important in ensuring the presence and viability of this important pathway for international students who seek to gain Canadian work experience post-graduation,” Bezo noted.

“It is hoped that this policy flexibility shall position Canada as a continued trusted partner and key destination for learning and work experience.”

CBIE’s Immigration Advisory Committee has been advocating for flexibilities, accommodations and extensions to the PGWP program, including accommodations to the Open Work Permit application process for international students, the organisation added.

“There remain further challenges faced by international students with regard to post-graduation work permit eligibility. CBIE will continue to work collaboratively with IRCC to find viable policy solutions in the days and weeks to come.”

Gengatharan and Ahn at York University in Toronto, Ontario, explained the institutions across the country have “worked tirelessly” to support international students in and outside the country with virtual orientation and transition programs, financial aid packages, asynchronous learning and technology support to finding ways to build community.

“Universities have also been at the forefront of advocating for policies to support the return of international students as well as to create flexibility for study permits and work permits so that students have minimal impact as a result of the pandemic.”

The government has supported international students since the beginning of the pandemic and continues to do so with the re-entry of students from October 20, they noted.

The immediate financial support by the country and its institutions have been “tremendous”, but continued financial support “will be key, along with mental health and wellness, academic and immigration related support”.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party administration has made “significant efforts” to encourage international students to settle permanently in Canada, with more than 58,000 graduates successfully applying to immigrate permanently in 2019.

A 2020 government target seeks to welcome over 1.2 million new permanent residents between 2021-2023, while a Colleges and Institutes Canada report suggested international talent will be “critical” in supporting the country’s economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19.

“This new measure acknowledges the significant impact that the pandemic has had on international students and graduates and provides an additional option for students to remain and work in the country post-graduation,” said president and CEO of CICan Denise Amyot.

Students are drawn to Canadian colleges and institutes for their quality of education and the relevance of the skills they are able to obtain, she continued.

“Being able to acquire work experience in Canada is incredibly valuable for new graduates and we are glad that IRCC is being flexible and accommodating.

“More generally, it is a great signal that international students are valued for, among other things, the contributions they make to Canada’s labour market and are seen as essential to Canada’s future prosperity.”

Abacus Data polling carried out on behalf of Universities Canada in October 2020 found that 89% of Canadians believe it is important for the country’s universities to play a role in attracting top talent from around the world.

Those choosing to remain in the country post graduation “create jobs and fill labour shortages so our businesses can thrive”, bring strong employment and language skills which are bolstered by their Canadian education and work experience, IRCC added.

International graduates are “typically well positioned” to apply for permanent resident status, and the new policy will “help even more former international students build their futures in Canada, contributing in ways large and small to our short-term recovery and long-term prosperity”.

“We hope this is a welcome relief to many international students”

Around half of the 61,000 PGWP holders whose work permit expired between January and December 2020 have either already become permanent residents or have an application in processing, according to IRCC statistics.

Applicants must hold a PGWP that expired on or after January 30 or have a permit that expires in four months or less from the application date to be eligible.

Additionally, applicants must still be in Canada and have a valid temporary status, or be applying to restore their status.

Applications for the new policy will be open from January 27 to July 27, 2021.

Update: this story has been added to with comment from CBIE and CICan on January 12, 13:15 GMT.

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