More Work and Immigration Options Available to International Students

The federal government and many of the provinces are starting to recognize that international students make great potential immigrants. As a result, various avenues are opening up to allow international students to work in Canada and even convert their status to that of a permanent resident.

This is a welcome development after years in which students came to Canada from all over the world to study at our post-secondary educational institutions only to be given very few options to work or immigrate if they decided they were interested in staying on a more permanent basis.

When you think about it, this made no sense. International students, especially those that complete university programs in Canada, make ideal skilled immigrants. They have already spent years here adapting to our 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.

On April 27, 2006 the federal government announced the full implementation of a program to allow international students studying at public colleges and universities to obtain work permits after their first year of study in Canada. Until now, international students were restricted to working only in “on-campus” jobs that are often scarce and hard to find. But under this program, these study permit holders can work up to 20 hours a week on or off campus during the school year and full-time hours when they are on summer break.

This is obviously a welcome development for the students themselves as they are now able to earn money in Canada to help defray the considerable costs of studying in Canada. But it also makes a great deal of sense in terms of our immigration and economic policies. A student who has the opportunity to work while in Canada will make an even better skilled immigrant should they choose to pursue that option at the end of their studies. And the potential routes to immigration for these students are also increasing.

For years, graduates of public, post-secondary institutions have had the ability to apply for a one-year work permit after completing their studies if they were able to obtain a job offer related to their field of studies upon graduation. For those who have studied outside the major urban centres of Canada — Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal – this work permit can now be extended for a second year. The rationale behind this policy, which was introduced last year, is to encourage skilled immigrants to locate outside of our three largest cities. It is believed that international students who have lived in some of our smaller college and university towns are more likely to stay in them if they can work there and, ultimately, obtain permanent residence.

The fastest route to obtaining immigration status for these students 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 public university and obtained a permanent job offer in the province related to their field of study. Manitoba now also has a similar component to its PNP. The PNPs across the country have the flexibility and desire to nominate international students who have studied in their province, gained valuable work experience, and expressed an interest in staying permanently. Average processing times under this program are 6-12 months.

The other major immigration option for international students is through the federal Skilled Worker Class. While the processing times are considerably longer, this category does give extra points for having studied and worked in Canada before or while applying for immigration.

Overall, things are looking better for the approximately 150,000 foreign students in Canada, some of whom may want to do more here than just study. This is good news for them. But it is also something we should all welcome because, in this age of increasing skill shortages, these students can help compose the highly skilled Canadian workforce of our future.