Canada’s new visa laws keeping international students from finding jobs

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International students often arrive in their host country filled with hope for the future – not only for their educational experience, but also perhaps the hope of securing a good job there upon graduation.

That hope, however, has been looking slightly dimmer lately for students in Canada, where the requirements of a new immigration system have actually made it harder, rather than easier, for skilled university graduates to qualify and apply for jobs.

The new federal skilled immigration system, called the Express Entry program, was supposed to help international graduates with university degrees and post-graduate work experience find stable employment and put them on a path to Canadian residency. Instead, say critics, the program, which went into effect as of January 1, 2015, has shut out many highly-skilled international workers due to its requirements.

Express Entry is based on a points system, assigning various amounts of points for certain qualifications and experience, up to a maximum of 1,200 points. An applicant earns 600 points alone for a government-issued certification called the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which serves as an official confirmation that a candidate’s skills are sufficiently in demand to warrant hiring an international graduate. The other 600 points come from a combination of other skills and attributes, including education, language abilities and prior work experience.

The Canadian government has said that applicants to the Express Entry program, including international graduates, don’t need an LMIA to qualify. However, with an average score of at least 735 needed to qualify for the program, it is impossible for applicants to reach that number without the 600 points from the LMIA.

Canadian immigration officials have presented the LMIA as a tool to protect domestic workers, ensuring that Canadians and permanent residents have the first opportunity at jobs, before they are offered to international applicants. They say, applicants are free to participate in Express Entry without an LMIA – even though they won’t be able to achieve the minimum required score.

“While a valid job offer (or LMIA) is an advantage, it is not a mandatory requirement of the Express Entry application system,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Canada’s immigration department.

Groups representing international students have been public in their criticism of the new program, which they say has taken away a major incentive for international students to come to Canada: the opportunity to immigrate and find stable work there after graduation.

There are currently more than 290,000 foreign students enrolled in Canada, accounting for 8 percent of the higher education student population. This group adds more than $8 billion to the Canadian economy, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

“The perception is Canada is making it more difficult for them,” said Jonathan Champagne, director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which represents 280,000 post-secondary students across the country. “There’s no more real advantage with their Canadian education. Canada could be losing out to other countries in attracting international students.”

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