An International Student's path into a Canadian post-secondary institution is fairly straightforward although tuition rates are high for these students. International Students applying for the required Temporary Residency and Study Permit must provide proof of:
- Acceptance by a Designated Learning Institution;
- Financial support sufficient to support themselves and their family while in Canada; and
- Admissibility (i.e. no health, security or criminal concerns that would otherwise preclude entry)
The applicant will also have to satisfy the visa officer that he/she will depart at the end of the authorized stay. There may be additional requirements, depending upon the student's country of origin. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's ("IRCC") most recent numbers, from 2013, indicate a 75% acceptance rate of all applicants for study permits.1 Alberta is home to 92 Designated Learning Institutions.
But once a student is here, bureaucratic barriers prevent easy integration into the workplace. As a result, graduating International Students, unable to obtain Permanent Residency that would enable them to stay in Canada, tend to head elsewhere.
Ability to Work While a Student
While in school, International Students are free to support themselves and begin developing their careers.
International Students can work on-campus without a work permit or any restriction of their hours.2 In 2014, new rules were introduced allowing International Students to also work off campus without a work permit.3 They can work for up to 20 hours a week during their studies and full time during session breaks (though breaks can be no longer than four months, and can only total five months in a year).
A full-time International Student can, furthermore, obtain an open work permit for his/her spouse. In fact, the partner's work experience may prove invaluable if the family applies for Permanent Residency.
The Post-Graduate Process
As the International Student approaches graduation, the student has little time to decide whether he/she wants to work in Canada. Once the student has written notice of successful program completion from his/her school, he/she has a mere 90 days to apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit. This clock starts running once the student has received his transcripts — it could be a costly mistake to wait until the convocation ceremony where the final degree or diploma is presented.
To qualify for the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program, the International Student must have:
- Completed full-time studies in Canada in a program exceeding eight months;
- Attended a public post-secondary institution (with some exceptions);
- Applied within the 90 days; and
- A valid study permit at the time of application.
The duration of the work permit will depend on the duration of the program the applicant has completed. The permit will match the period of study, up to a period of three years (so long as the program exceeded eight months).
It is important to note that, while waiting for a Post-Graduate Work Permit, the now-former student can continue to work, so long as he/she was qualified to work off-campus prior to graduating.4
The Post-Graduate Work Permit Program is attractive. It allows International Students to continue to develop their skills and apply their education through practical work experience. However, with a maximum of three years, an International Graduate who wants to continue building a career in Canada needs to plan for the next step: Permanent Residency.
From International Graduate to Permanent Resident
There are limited spaces for new Permanent Residents — the government has set a target of 160,600 economic immigrants in 2016, a number that includes post-graduate students from across Canada.
There are two main routes for an International Graduate to pursue in order to attain Permanent Residency — Express Entry and the Provincial Nominee Program.
In March of this year, the Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship ("the Minister") acknowledged the short comings of the Express Entry system for International Graduates, stating, "We must do more to attract students to this country as permanent residents... International students have been shortchanged by the express entry system. They are the cream of the crop, in terms of potential future Canadians."5
The Express Entry system gives Comprehensive Ranking System points to applicants based on the attractiveness of their backgrounds and attributes. Taking into consideration features such as the applicant's age, language proficiency, Canadian and foreign work experience, and any current job offer, the Express Entry system will allocate points up to a score out of 1200. The lowest number of points an applicant has had to meet before receiving an invitation has historically been approximately 450.
International Students and Post-Graduate Workers apply under the Canadian Experience Class alongside Federal Skilled Workers, Federal Skilled Trades and some Provincial Nominee Classes. Compared with these other applicants, International Students and Graduates are at a disadvantage as they will typically lack foreign work experience.
International Students and Post-Graduate Workers are also less likely to receive a Labour Market Impact Assessment ("LMIA") Offer of Employment. An LMIA Offer of Employment requires the would-be employer to go through an extensive assessment process which deters many employers. When dealing with a recent graduate with little industry experience, the cost is likely to seem out of proportion to the benefit for most employers. The Minister has publically questioned the necessity of an LMIA while discussing possible reforms to the immigration system.6
The Office of the Prime Minister released a Mandate Letter to the Minister presenting two changes that will likely benefit international graduates: giving additional points to applicants with Canadian siblings and increasing the maximum age of dependants from 19 to 20.
Provincial Nominee Program
This is another route available to International Graduates. Each province selects applicants for permanent residency based on varying criteria. The Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program ("AINP") has two categories: AINP Post-Graduate Workers and AINP International Graduate.
The Post-Graduate Worker category is characterized as a strategic recruitment stream. It is available to International Graduates who graduated from an Alberta institution after at least one year of study and are currently working in the province with a post-grad work permit.7 The International Graduate applying under this category must show in his/her application that he/she intends to live permanently in Alberta.8
The International Graduate category is an employer driven stream, open to a graduate of any eligible post-secondary institution in Canada (these are not identical to the Designated Learning Institutions through which one can qualify for a study permit) with a post-grad work permit and an offer of permanent, full-time employment in Alberta.
Both categories require that the applicant is currently working in one of the following National Occupational Classification ("NOC") skill levels:
- NOC 0: Management occupations
- NOC A: Occupations that usually require university education
- NOC B: Occupations that usually require college educations
- NOC C: Occupations that usually require specific training and/or secondary education, with some exceptions
Essentially, the province wants to see that applicants are using their Canadian education in their careers, reinvesting in the economy.
These streams are reserved for international graduates, which makes them more attractive than competing against a larger pool of applicants in the Express Entry system. However, there are limited spots. AINP has 5,500 nomination certificates available across all streams for 2016 and 1,050 certificates have already been issued. There are currently over 2,500 applicants in the queue for the International Graduate Category and over 850 in the queue for the Post-Graduate Worker Category.
While International Students are welcome to study in Canada, there are significant barriers to their ability to remain in Canada to work post-graduation. While the Post-Graduate Work Permit is an attractive feature of Canada's immigration system, it enables a maximum three years of work and the majority of International Graduates will not become Permanent Residents.
The Minister has said that he believes "international students are among the most fertile source of new immigrants for Canada. By definition they're educated, they speak English or French, they know something about the country. So they should be first on our list of people whom we court to come to Canada" which suggests the new Government may have a plan about being more intentional about retaining International Graduates.
2 Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations [IRPR], s. 186(f).
3 IRPR, at s. 186(v).
4 IRPR, at s. 186(w)
5 Susana Mas, "Express entry review to ease path to permanent residency for foreign students," (March 15, 2016) CBC News: < http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/express-entry-international-students-1.3483347>