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:

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.