Article: New work permit option represents lifeline for some post-graduation work permit holders

International Students who have completed their studies and are in Canada on post-graduation work permits that have recently expired or are soon to expire have been given a lifeline in the form of a new work permit program.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced on January 8, 2021 that international students who had post-graduate work permits that have recently expired or are soon to expire would be given the opportunity to receive an additional open work permit for an additional 18 months.

The new policy helps to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on international graduates who have completed their studies and received post-graduation work permits but have been unable to complete the period of work experience necessary to allow them to achieve permanent residence status. 

Many international students have had their plans disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With businesses shuttered and lay-offs being common, many holders of post-graduation work permits have been denied the opportunity to gain valuable Canadian work experience and as a result have found themselves without a viable pathway towards Canadian permanent resident status.

The new 18-month open work permit represents a critical second chance for many former international students who have graduated and obtained post-graduation work permits but have been unable to use those work permits to gain the experience necessary for a successful permanent residence application.

To understand the significance of this new policy, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the post-graduation work permits that are available to international students.

International students who have graduated from a Canadian post-secondary institution have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply for a post-graduation work permit provided that certain conditions are met. 

Since not all studies will result in post-graduation work permit eligibility, it is important for international students to carefully plan and manage their studies if their goal is to remain in Canada after graduation. In order to be eligible, international students must have completed a program of studies at an eligible designated learning institution in Canada – many private schools are excluded so it is important to check whether an institution’s graduates are eligible for post-graduation work permits before registering (Immigration maintains an online list of eligible institutions for this purpose), the program must be at least 8 months in duration and must lead to a degree, diploma or certificate, the applicant must have maintained full-time student status during each academic session of their program – with the possible exception of their final academic session, and the majority of their credits must not have been obtained via distance learning.

Post-graduation work permits must be applied for while the applicant is within 180 days of holding valid authorization to study in Canada and the validity period of the issued post-graduation work permit will depend on the length of the underlying course of studies.  If the length of the eligible program of study is a least 8 months and less than 2 years, the length of the post-graduation work permit will match the length of the program.  If the program of study is 2 years or longer, the length of the post-graduation work permit will be 3 years. No matter how many programs of study an individual completes in Canada, they can only receive one post-graduation work permit in their lifetime.

As with many other aspects of Canadian immigration law, the pandemic has resulted in the introduction of limited exceptions to some of the usual post-graduation work permit eligibility requirements; for example, there has been some targeted easing of the restrictions on distance learning.

The period that a former international student holds a post-graduation work permit is a crucial time that must be used strategically and with foresight. In most cases, the post-graduation work permit represents the international student’s best, and often only, opportunity to gain the Canadian work experience required by some of Canada’s permanent residence programs. 

For example, eligibility for permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class requires one year of skilled Canadian work experience; similarly, skilled Canadian work experience is also an important factor in the calculation of the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points which are used to determine an individual’s ranking under the competitive Express Entry System. 

In order to best use a post-graduation work permit to position themselves for permanent residence, it is important for individuals to recognize that not all types of work experience will be considered “Canadian work experience” for the purposes of Canadian Experience Class eligibility or the CRS points calculation – for the work experience to qualify for these purposes, it must be paid work, the work must be in a skilled position (an occupation listed in Skill Type 0, A, or B of the National Occupational Classification matrix), and it cannot have been self-employment, unauthorized work, or work that was gained while engaged in full-time study.

We are often consulted by individuals who are nearing the expiry of their post-graduation work permits and who are hoping to apply for permanent residence status.  It is sometimes discovered that the individual has unfortunately not made the best use of their post-graduate work permits and find themselves without enough qualifying work experience – usually because they were unable to find employment or because they have engaged in the wrong type of employment – rendering them unable to apply for permanent residence until more work experience can be accumulated. Since a post-graduation work permit is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, individuals are often left scrambling to try to obtain another type of work permit – a task which is often onerous and difficult.

Given the economic upheaval brought on by the pandemic, it is not surprising that many international students on post-graduate work permits have had their plans derailed and by no fault of their own have been unable to accumulate the work experience necessary for a permanent residence application.  In this context, it was sensible for the government to grant such individuals an avenue to obtain an additional open work permit and hopefully giving them a second opportunity to gain the work experience necessary to successfully apply for permanent residence. 

I welcome the new policy and think it will be a great help to many international students who have graduated from Canadian institutions. 

This new policy is part of a suite of creative solutions that the government has introduced during the pandemic to facilitate the immigration process for individuals currently inside Canada.

The need for these types of policies is driven by the fact that immigration to Canada and the entry of international students and foreign workers has been and will continue to be curtailed by the pandemic, and creative solutions are necessary to keep immigration levels up around the government’s target levels. 

The government has often tried to encourage international students to settle in Canada after the completion of their studies.  International students are seen as good candidates for immigration as they have received Canadian educations, typically have strong language skills, and have had the opportunity to integrate significantly into Canadian society. 

Recognizing that international students who have completed post-secondary studies in Canada are well positioned to make significant contributions to Canada, and recognizing that the pandemic has limited the number of international students who will be entering Canada in the near future, it was prudent for the government to introduce this new work permit option as it will allow many of the international students who are already here to get back on a pathway towards permanent residence.

Any individuals who have had post-graduation work permits that expired on or after January 30, 2020 or are expiring soon (expiring four months or less from the date of application), should consider applying for the18-month open work permit available under the new policy.  In order to be eligible, the applicant must still be in Canada and have valid temporary residence status or be eligible for and applying for a restoration of their status.  Applications under this new policy will be open from January 27, 2021 to July 27, 2021.

McCuaig Desrochers LLP is a general practice law firm with Edmonton’s largest group of immigration lawyers (www.mccuaig.com). This article first appeared in the January 2021 edition of the Millwoods Mosaic – the Multicultural Voice of Southeast Edmonton and is intended to provide general information only and should not to be relied on as legal advice or opinion. We invite you to contact one of the members of our experienced immigration group for assistance.

Immigration & Citizenship Lawyers

Breanna L. Case
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Megan L. Dawson
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Eric J. Mahood
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Nathan A. Po
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