The landscape for international students seeking to transition to permanent residence after graduation has changed considerably in the last 12 months. Gone are the days when an international graduate of a Canadian post-secondary institution could be assured of being able to apply for permanent residence on the strength of obtaining a post-graduate Work Permit, working in Canada for a year in a skilled position and passing a language test.

Now, under Express Entry, obtaining that year of post-graduation work experience and demonstrating your language ability only gets you into a pool with other applicants who are similarly qualified. Once in that pool, you are ranked and only the top scorers are invited to apply for permanent residence approximately twice a month.

Launched in January 2015, Express Entry is the new system used by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) to manage applications under the three Federal Economic Immigration programs:
Canadian Experience Class (CEC)
Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC)
Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC)

Applying for permanent residence under Express Entry is a two-step process, with the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) at the core. Applicants who meet the eligibility criteria under CEC, FSWC or FSTC must first create and submit an online profile to CIC, which details their language scores, education background, and work experience. They will obtain CRS points based on their qualifications in each category and, as noted, are then entered into a pool of candidates. Applicants with permanent offers of employment (supported by a Labour Market Impact Assessment) can add an additional 600 points to their profile. Only applicants who have managed to score above the minimum ranking at each round of invitations are invited to apply for permanent residence. CIC routinely conducts rounds of invitations, each time adjusting the minimum score to reflect the numbers of candidates in the pool and their current application intake. Profiles are deleted from the pool after 12 months if applicants do not receive an Invitation to Apply within that time.

Under Express Entry, program eligibility criteria have been modified so that all applicants who meet minimum requirements may submit their profiles for consideration (including those who are working in previously barred occupations). Many provinces have also introduced new Express Entry-based nomination streams that allow nominated applicants to gain a whopping 600 points in their Express Entry profile.

These are all efforts by CIC and the provincial governments to ensure that only candidates who are “most likely to succeed” are invited. Unfortunately, this means that applicants are discovering that it is no longer possible to obtain permanent residency simply by meeting eligibility criteria in one category or another. In particular, international graduates from Canada’s post-secondary institutions are finding themselves at the bottom of the pool.

While international graduates may have the advantage of earning top CRS scores in some categories, including age, education, and language proficiency, they often lack points in categories such as Canadian and foreign work experience and permanent offers of employment backed by LMIAs.

Previously, international graduates in B.C. who completed one year of full-time, skilled work experience in Canada were able to submit an application under the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program’s Express Entry stream. However, with the temporary closure of many provinces’ nominee programs including the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program, international graduates are again struggling to scrape together enough points to receive an Invitation to Apply.

In order to maximize points under the CRS, international graduates should focus on the following areas:

Improving English and French Proficiency: Graduates should ensure that they obtain the highest possible mark in each of the four language testing categories, not just enough to make them eligible under CEC. The difference between getting a CLB 10 and a CLB 7 in each category can mean a total of 68 additional points.

Accumulate Skilled Canadian Experience: International graduates should endeavour to obtain a skilled, full-time position (NOC 0, A, or B) or seek career advancement as soon as possible. Given that most international graduates hold 3-year open work permits, they have the ability to obtain a total of 64 points at the end of that period.

Accumulate Foreign Work Experience: If three years have gone by without obtaining an Invitation to Apply, international graduates should consider returning to their home countries and accumulate skilled work experience there. This is perhaps not the most desirable of options. However, CRS points are awarded for each year of skilled foreign experience, as well as a combination with previous Canadian experience, education, and language test scores. A total of 100 points may be obtained this way.

Obtain a Canadian Post-Graduate Credential: For international graduates whose future goals include obtaining a post-graduate degree in Canada, it may be to their benefit if they were to directly apply for their master’s or doctorate programs after completing their current studies. A Canadian Master’s degree is worth 135 CRS points, and a doctorate degree is worth 150 (compared to 120 for a Bachelor’s Degree and 98 for a two-year diploma). Students could choose to defer applying for a Post-Graduate Work Permit until they complete their post-graduate studies, which would allow them to begin accumulating Canadian experience after they’ve already obtained those additional CRS points.

A multitude of options remain open for international graduates, and it is entirely possible to obtain an Invitation to Apply even without a LMIA or a provincial nomination. However, it is crucial that students begin to organize their post-graduate plans before they graduate so that they do not waste precious time. Begin the job search early or attend job fairs and networking events; whichever option students choose, planning is, and will always be, the key to successfully obtaining permanent residence.