International Students: Don’t Squander Your Post-Graduate Work Permit!

July 2017

This is the story of three brilliant, but misinformed international students* whose chances of becoming Canadian permanent residents were lost. 

  1. Kazumi earned a two-year-long Canadian diploma in fashion design. He applied for his post-graduate work permit right after he finished his program. For a few months afterwards, he worked at a fancy clothing store. Then, he heard the great news that he was accepted into an impressive Italian fashion design program. Without hesitation, he flew to Milan. Wanting to eventually live in Canada, he returned to look for a job, which he found. Unfortunately, his post-graduate work permit expired within a few months, so he had to return home to Japan without the opportunity to apply for permanent residence.

     

  2. Yamini came to Canada to study computer programming. She was a genius with computers. After school finished, Yamini applied for a post-graduate work permit. Shortly after, she set up her own small business, working as a freelance computer programmer. She made great money and was ready to set up her life here in Canada. When she applied for permanent residence, she found her self-employed work experience did not count for points under the Express Entry program.

     

  3. Nuria studied journalism in Canada and earned a four-year-long undergraduate degree. During her summer breaks, she went home to Spain to be with her family. She applied for a three-year-long post-graduate work permit after she finished school. Her first two years were spent working at a coffee shop and growing her writing portfolio. In her third year, she landed an unpaid internship working at a local newspaper. She was happy to get this great experience and hoped to work there as a staff journalist in the future. Unfortunately, she had to return home at the end of the three-year period without being able to apply for permanent residence. She did not have any qualifying work experience to apply for permanent residency in Canada.


What do all these international students have in common? They wasted their opportunities to use their post-graduate work permits in ways that would allow them to successfully apply for permanent residence.


What is a post-graduate work permit? 


International students who study in Canada at designated learning institutions have the opportunity to apply for post-graduate work permits (‘PGWPs’). PGWPs are open work permits that allow permit holders to work in any job. PGWPs are generally issued for the same length of time as the programs of studies, up to a maximum of 3 years. However, if the duration of the programs of studies are two years or longer, the duration of the work permits will be three years. If an applicant is hoping to eventually apply for permanent residence, choosing a program of study that is at least two years in length is recommended to maximize the amount of time the PGWP can be valid for. 
 

Why are PGWPs a fantastic opportunity?

Most of the applications for permanent residence in Canada are done through the Express Entry (‘EE’) application management system.

To get into the EE pool, applicants must first qualify under one of the three programs leading into EE: the Federal Skilled Worker (‘FSW’), the Federal Skilled Trades  (‘FST’), or the Canadian Experience Class (‘CEC.’)

In each of these programs, applicants are evaluated on their work experience. The work experience must be ‘skilled.’ The number of ‘points’ awarded will be based on how many years of skilled work experience the applicants have.  Applicants with the most ‘points’ are invited to apply for permanent residence.

The Federal Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience Class programs require that applicants have at least one year of work experience. (Continuously and within the last ten years for FSW program, and cumulatively and within the last three years for the CEC program.) For the Federal Skilled Trades program, it must be two years within the last five years.

To find out whether a job’s skill level is appropriate, applicants must determine what the job’s NOC Code is, and then see what level has been assigned to it by our government’s employment department. To be considered ‘skilled work’, the job must be in a skill level A, B, or 0. Here is the website where applicants can to look up NOC Codes and their corresponding skill levels:

http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/noc.asp

When applicants look at the comprehensive ranking system criteria, they will see that much more points are awarded for those who have Canadian work experience. Having Canadian work experience very often makes the difference between having a high enough score to be invited to apply for permanent residence versus having to return home.

For those who have not studied in Canada, applying to work in Canada temporarily is very difficult. With the exceptions of some programs such as International Experience Canada, obtaining a work permit normally requires finding an employer who is willing to go through a lengthy application process on the applicants’ behalf. This typically includes having to advertise the job position to Canadians first.

This is where PGWPs come into play. They give international students the opportunity to get Canadian work experience in the appropriate skill level, so that they can eventually apply for permanent residence.

A PGWP is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It can only be applied for one time, and the application must be made within 90 days of finishing a program of studies. If a graduated student doesn’t apply for it, or doesn’t use while it was valid, then the student has squandered a great opportunity to obtain skilled Canadian work experience. 

So, what could our misinformed students have done differently in the above scenarios?

  1. Kazumi, our fashion designer, could have deferred his Italian degree to stay in Canada for as long as it took to get at least one year of Canadian work experience in a job the appropriate skill level. While it was great that he studied at an impressive Italian school, when he returned, there was simply not enough time left in his work permit to gain the required one-year of work experience.

  2. Yamini, while a business savvy computer programmer, didn’t know that self-employed work done in Canada does not count as qualifying work experience. She could have tried to find a job where she was an employee. Once she became a permanent resident, she could have opened her business as planned.

  3. Nuria, the aspiring journalist, had trouble finding a job right out of school, since she had an empty resume. She could have interned at the local newspaper and expanded her writing portfolio during school. Instead of spending all her summers in Spain, she could have stayed here to gain the work experience she needed to be able to land a ‘skilled’ job as soon as possible after finishing her degree. Employers would have been more likely to hire her immediately if she already had previous work experience and internships. Even working at the coffee shop during school could have helped make her more employable, since the future employer could have seen that she was a great worker. 

The bad news is that the above students are out of luck. If you are an international student too, then the good news is that unlike them, you have taken the time to read this post. This means that from now on you will be making decisions that ensure that you don’t waste your golden ticket to permanent residence: your post-graduate work permit.

*Please note that these stories are based on real experiences, but the details have been changed to protect the clients’ privacy.

Canadian Residency Shouldn’t Be for Sale

June 2017

…. instead of residency being seen as a set of ongoing obligations and privileges, it is reduced to the status of a commodity, bought and paid-for.

Can Canada’s immigration industry bring federal millionaire migration scheme back from the dead?

 

The Conference Board of Canada has released a report recommending reestablishment of entrepreneur and investor immigration programs.  I laud the idea of bringing in smart, accomplished people who will start businesses and create jobs.  But I’m completely adverse to the idea of an immigration program that will grant permanent residency based on payment (whether outright or in the form of a no-risk, interest-free loan).  While such programs may directly line government coffers and indirectly help the economy through the purchasing of housing and goods and services in Canada, it’s not just about the money. 

 

I want immigrants as my neighbours. I love the restaurants they start, the art and culture they share, and that they become my friends.  But I want them to ‘buy into’ Canadian society.  I want them to volunteer helping Canada’s needy, to help me clean up my neighbourhood park, to vote in elections, and to enroll their children in the half-empty school down my street.  Will those who ‘pay’ for a permanent resident visa do all of these things?  Maybe they would.  But I’m inclined to think that immigrants selected for their skills and talents, not the amount in their bank accounts, will be more likely to integrate into Canadian society.  Needing to earn a living in Canada makes integration a necessity.  My country is great, and I’m keen to share it.  But it became great only because a lot of smart, accomplished people helped make it like that.  Those wanting Canadian permanent residency must we willing to do their part to keep Canada the great place it is to live.

 

In addition to the release of this report, many other interesting things have been happening in Canadian immigration law. Some points of interest:

 

The Immigration and Refugee Board is now publishing statistics.  For example, it reports that in 2016, 23,665 refugee claims were filed.  9,972 claims were accepted, and 4,817 claims were denied.  128 claims were filed by citizens of the United States.  2 of these claims were accepted.

 

Less than half  of refugee hearings are proceeding on their scheduled dates.  My last two hearings were cancelled with only a few days’ notice.  I have no idea when they will be rescheduled, a situation that is incredibly stressful for my clients.  In response to the situation affecting clients like mine, Immigration Minister Hussen has ordered a review of Canada’s asylum system.

 

The Ontario provincial nomination program has had a major overhaul.  New is a program for qualified tradespeople with a year of work experience in Ontario, who are currently residing in Ontario with a valid work permit.  It may be necessary to delete and recreate your Express Entry profile to be selected for this program. 

 

New Express Entry points are now available to those with a sibling in Canada and French language proficiency.  You may need to amend your profile to add additional information to take advantage of these additional points.

 

Immigration is now providing regular updates on the number of individuals in the Express Entry pool, and their scores.  At the recent Canadian Bar Association national immigration law conference, Immigration department representatives suggested the score may go below 400 in the coming months. 

 

On May 26th, for the first time there was a draw just for individuals in the Express Entry pool who qualified for the Federal Skilled Trades Program.  The minimum score for this draw was 199.  I guess they finally read my blog post.

 

Last week, the government’s online immigration portals experienced massive technical issues. These problems were related to the June 6th changes to the Express Entry portal giving additional points for siblings and French language abilities.  In his keynote address at the national immigration law conference, Minister Hussen apologized for these issues.  The department is working on ways to allow people affected by the issues extensions to deadlines to file documents and submit applications.  But another departmental representative at the conference stated her opinion that the answer to such woes is simply not to leave filing ‘to the last week’.  Such is not an option when only 7 days is given to upload additional documents. 

 

Finally, yesterday evening (June 13th), the long anticipated changes to the Citizenship Act were passed in the House of Commons, 214 to 92.  We are now awaiting Royal Assent. 

 

Residency Obligations for Permanent Residents

Next month I will be speaking at the Canadian Bar Association’s National Immigration Law Section Annual Conference. Being asked to speak is an honour, however it comes with the requirement to submit a paper.  Finding time to research and write was an issue – much of the paper was written between basketball games in the hallway of a high school in Markham, Ontario, where my son was playing in a weekend tournament.

The topic, however, is one that I often get inquiries about. All sorts of things happen in life, and permanent residents who thought they were settling in Canada permanently sometimes find that they have not met the required residency obligation, due to travel or relocation outside of the country.  Where there are sufficient humanitarian and compassionate reasons for their absences, the breach of the residency obligation may be overcome.  However, for those who have simply chosen to take up more lucrative employment opportunities outside of Canada, loss of permanent residency is the likely outcome.  

There are exceptions to the physical presence obligation. For example, those residing outside of Canada with a Canadian spouse, and those working for certain Canadian businesses may maintain their permanent resident statuses. 

It is important to note that re-entering Canada without a valid permanent residence card can be very problematic, especially now that most visa-exempt nationals must have electronic travel authorizations (“eTA’s”) in advance.  Since permanent residents cannot apply for an eTA, without a valid permanent resident card, they will find themselves unable to board a plane flying to Canada.  Note US citizens do not need an eTA to fly to Canada. 

You can read my conference paper here.

 

Misconceptions about Express Entry

March 2017

I do a lot of consultation appointments with individuals who want to know if they are eligible to immigrate to Canada through Express Entry.

The next question I’m always asked is ‘how long will it take until I get my permanent residency?’

Refugee Lives and Political Whim: On Trump, Trudeau, and the refugees they seek to shut out

February 2017

Incredulously, I watched a video of a crowd of hundreds of protesters chanting, ‘Let them see their lawyers NOW!’ The video was taken at a US airport over this past weekend.  Photographs taken in that same airport showed lawyers sitting in groups on the floor, hunched over their computers. They were drafting emergency court petitions in support of the individuals who were detained when their flights arrived – people who had been mid-air when Donald Trump’s Executive Order banned the entry into the US of individuals from seven predominately Muslim populated countries.  I have never been as proud of my fellow immigration lawyers and human rights activists as I was this past weekend.  And I have never felt more grateful for the rule of law, when those court petitions were successful.

Express Entry Missing out on Selecting Skilled Tradespersons

January 2017

My daughter just finished her first semester at the University of Ottawa. As a first year business student, she had no elective courses.  Her best mark after her first semester?  Philosophy.  Her worst?  Economics.  It seems to me that it should be the other way around.  But the problem is that although she’d probably do better in a social sciences or humanities program, she wants a job when she graduates.  So she has chosen a program of study that she feels will lead to job opportunities.