Immigration Options for International Students

The federal government and many of the provinces have, over the last several years, come to recognize that international students make great potential immigrants.  As a result, various avenues have opened up to allow international students to work in Canada and convert their status to that of a permanent resident.

International students, especially those that complete university and college programs in Canada, make ideal skilled immigrants.  They have already spent years here adapting to the Canadian culture and refining their language skills.  They have also often built up local networks of contacts that can allow them to enter the labour market fairly smoothly.  And, most importantly, they have gained valuable, marketable skills at some of our finest schools of higher learning that they are often eager to utilize in our labour market if given the opportunity.

It is generally well know that international students who have graduated from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized by the province it is located in to confer degrees have the ability to obtain an open Work Permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) valid for anywhere from eight months to three years, depending on the length of their program (an applicant completing a program of two years or longer can receive a three year Work Permit).  

The fastest route to obtaining immigration status for international students after they obtain their Post-grad Work Permit is through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).  Since 2002, British Columbia has had a dedicated category of its PNP for international students who have graduated from a post-secondary institution and obtained a permanent job offer in the province related to their field of study.

Currently, the BC PNP International Graduates category encompasses students who have studied in anywhere in Canada and graduated from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized to issue degrees by the province in which it is located.   Upon graduation, the student must obtain a permanent, full-time job offer in B.C.  The application to the BC PNP must be submitted within 2 years of the student’s graduation.

The position the applicant has been offered by a B.C. employer must be classified as a “skilled” position (skill levels 0, A or B) as per the National Occupational Classification system (NOC).

The most appealing part of the International Graduates category of the BC PNP from the perspective of the student is the fact hat no previous work experience is required to qualify.  As soon as the applicant has a full-time, permanent job offer from a B.C. employer that is for a “skilled” position, an application can be submitted.  In this sense, the BC PNP International Graduates category is “forward-looking” in terms of the employment potential of the applicant.

The BC PNP has also recently added a new category called the International Post-Graduates Pilot that allows graduates of certain Master’s and Doctorate programs in BC to apply for nomination even before they have obtained job offers.  Applicants are assessed based on their post-grad education as well as their intention to reside in B.C. and their ability to become economically established in the province.

The other main option that allows international students to obtain immigration to Canada is the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).  Unlike the BC PNP, this option is entirely “backward-looking” in the sense that it focuses entirely on the applicant’s previous education and work experience and does not concern itself with whether the applicant continues working in Canada or has a permanent job offer.

The CEC is open to international students in all parts of Canada except Quebec.  To apply under its Graduates stream, an applicant must complete a full-time Canadian post-secondary credential of at least two years.  As with the International Graduates category of the BC PNP, applicants must graduate from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized by the province it is located in to confer degrees.

After graduation, an applicant to the CEC must complete at least one year or full-time work experience in Canada in a “skilled” position, before submitting an application.  But unlike with the BC PNP, the applicant’s position need not be permanent.   In fact, the applicant doesn’t even need to be employed at the time of the application as long as their one year of employment occurred within two years of submitting the application.

Additionally, and again unlike the BC PNP, applicants are required to submit proof of their English or French language ability in the form of IELTS or TEF test results.  The scores required vary according to the skill level of the position in which the applicant has worked.

Overall, things are looking very good for the approximately 150,000 foreign students in Canada, some of whom may want to do more here than just study.