Immigration minister extends work permits for international students

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By Naomi Chen

International students eligible for a post-graduate work permit (PGWP) can now extend their permit up to 18 months, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

This will allow international student graduates additional time, on top of the eight to 36 months given on PGWPs, to remain in Canada while seeking employment and fulfilling their permanent residency requirements, according to the federal government.

To apply for permanent residency in Canada, international student graduates must acquire one to two years of work experience within industries allowed by the National Occupational Codes (NOC), including professional or technical jobs requiring a university or college degree, respectively.   

The new policy, released by Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino on Jan. 8, allows PGWPs expiring on or after Jan. 30, 2021, or that expire in four months from the date of the application, to apply for the additional open work permit. The policy came in response to international students’ concerns over the difficulty to fulfill their employment requirements for permanent residency in a scarce job market due to the pandemic. 

“Many foreign workers were let go from their jobs, and [architecture] firms imposed a hiring freeze,” said Lidia Zhu, a recent graduate from the University of Toronto’s architecture program. “It’s basically impossible for me to even get a job.” Employment postings on Indeed were down over 50 per cent through the earlier months of the pandemic, according to the Indeed Hiring Lab, and many sectors have yet to recover.

“Co-op placements completed for course credit don’t count towards permanent residency work experience,” which can also make it more challenging for students to get the hours they need for their permanent residency, according to Sarom Rho, an organizer at the Migrant Workers Alliance For Change (MWAC). 

“Organizing works, and we will continue to fight for [international student] rights”

Despite working nine to five in her internship, Jina Mah, a fourth-year Queen’s University student from Korea, can’t apply her current position towards permanent residency. “My parents were also asking if I wanted to go back to Korea,” said Mah, “but I’m going to stay until I find a job.” 

In November, MWAC delivered a petition, signed by over 16,000 students, to end international student deportations due to expired PGWPs. The change introduced on Jan. 8 “is a win for migrant students,” said Rho. “It means that organizing works, and we will continue to fight for [international student] rights.”

Mendicino said the new permit means international students will have more flexibility in their employment opportunities. Recent graduates from Canadian institutions “can stay and find work, while ensuring that Canada meets the urgent needs of our economy for today and tomorrow,” he said. According to the Government of Canada, international students contribute $21 billion to Canada’s economy annually.

Mendicino said postgraduate workers “are giving back to communities across Canada as we continue the fight against the pandemic,” in the news release. 

“We don’t just want you to study here,” said Mendicino, addressing international students. “We want you to stay here.”

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