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Canada: Immigration stream reopens, work permits extended for some students

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Canada’s Express Entry immigration system to reopen this summer after months-long pause
  • International students whose work permits (PGWP) expire between January and December 2022 will get an 18-month extension
  • There is some criticism about the limits of the PGWP extension as it will exclude many students whose permits expired before 2022

The Canadian government has announced that it will provide some international students with a post-graduation work permit (PGWP) extension of 18 months, and it is also reopening an application route for permanent residence applications after having cleared most of an applications backlog caused by COVID travel restrictions.

Express Entry will reopen this summer

In early July, international students will once again be able to apply for permanent residence through Express Entry, which comprises immigration streams such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, and the Canadian Experience Class. The government expects that “the vast majority of new applications will be processed within the 6-month service standard.”

According to the official press release,

  • Applicants will no longer be required to remain in Canada while their application is being processed.
  • Applicants who apply for an open work permit while waiting for their permanent residence application to be finalised will be able to get work permits valid until the end of 2024. This will ensure that all permanent residence applications will be finalised before applicants will need to apply to extend their temporary status again.
  • To support family reunification, immediate family members who are outside Canada and who were included in a principal applicant’s permanent residence application will be eligible for their own open work permit.

18-month PGWP extension for some

Also this summer, international students who have graduated from Canadian institutions and have work permits that expire between January and December 2022 will qualify for a new open work permit of 18 months. The intention here is to give those students more opportunities to gain work experience, which, in turn, will give them a better chance at qualifying for permanent residence. This is because work experience gained while being on the PGWP counts on students’ Express Entry applications to immigrate to Canada.

The process through which students can obtain their extension will be announced in the coming weeks.

The government says that roughly 95,000 post-graduation work permits expire between 31 January and 31 December 2022, and that while thousands of students with expiring work permits have already obtained permanent residence, thousands of others have not. They anticipate “as many as 50,000 applicants could benefit from this temporary measure.” Without the permit extension, those students would have had to leave the country.

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in an official statement,

“With the economy growing faster than employers can hire new workers, Canada needs to look at every option so that we have the skills and labour needed to fuel our growth. Immigration will be crucial to easing our labour shortage, and these measures aim to address pressing needs in all sectors across the country, while providing more opportunities for recent graduates and other applicants to build their lives in Canada and continue contributing to our short-term recovery and long-term prosperity.”

Many think more could be done

While many students will be relieved at the news that they can stay on for longer in Canada after graduation to gain work experience, there are others who will be left out of the extension. Migrant Students United, a part of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change – a Canadian advocacy group supporting migrant workers – notes that the work permits of thousands of recent international graduates expired between 27 November 2021 and 31 January 2022 and that these students will not be helped by the recent announcement by the Canadian government.

Migrant Students United coordinator, Sarom Rho, said, “We need a permanently renewable post-graduate work permit, not a one-off programme, and the current announcement needs to include those left out.”

That sentiment was echoed in student comments online, including the following tweet from an international student whose permit expired and who is not eligible for the PGWP.

Though Canada is known for offering international students a smooth pathway from higher education to post-graduation employment and immigration, some point out that much more could be done in this area. Saad Shoaib, vice chair of the Alma Mater Society of UBC, told Surrey Now-Leader that different kinds of work experience could be made to count on Express Entry applications:

“Around 50% of international students work full-time or part-time. We see that international students are contributing to the economy, but we’re not seeing the federal government allow them to count their work experience while they’re in university.”

In addition, Mr Shoaib said, the government should allow international students to gain Express Entry-valid experience through student employment programmes like Canada Summer Jobs and the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, which are currently only open to Canadian students.

“Ensuring that our international students are well-supported should be a key principle for our post-secondary education system here in Canada. Our main focus is to create a gold-standard post-secondary education system that attracts talent from across the world.”

The link between the Express Entry backlog and missed chances to immigrate

There is also a link between the Canadian government’s having paused the Express Entry immigration programme for months and the prospects of international students on PGWP to have been able to use their work experience to stay in Canada.

PGWP holder Elif Arat spoke with New Canadian Media about her experience. Though she was eligible for permanent residence on 30 September 2021, she did not receive an invitation to apply since the government stopped Canada Express draws two weeks earlier. Now, she is not eligible for the PGWP extension because of the date of her permit’s expiration:

“After seven months of silence when Mr. Fraser was to announce a new policy on 22 April 2022, about PGWP extension, we were so excited and couldn’t sleep, but unfortunately because our work permit expired in December 2021, we don’t qualify for an extension.”

Canada needs to fill jobs

Immigration is a priority for the Canadian government given serious labour shortages in the country. Job vacancies reached near-record highs in 2021, with the latest statistics indicating that almost 900,000 jobs were unfilled in January. Healthcare, an increasingly popular field of study for international students, accounted for a good portion of those vacancies: 119,600.

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