New open work permit in Canada for PGWP holders excludes many int’l graduates

Open work permit in Canada only benefit some PGWP holders
Not all PGWP holders will be eligible for the new open work permit in Canada, as it only applies to those with permits expiring between January 31 and December 31, 2022. Source: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

The announcement of a new open work permit in Canada on April 22, 2022 came as a relief for many foreign graduates in Canada with a post-graduation work permit (PGWP). Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed that PGWP holders whose permits will expire between January 31 and December 31 this year will be eligible for an 18month extension, allowing them to continue working legally in the country. 

While the news marked a crucial progress for foreign Canadian graduates who have been contributing to the local economy, the new directive excludes many others who do not fall within the expiration timeline. They must now reckon with the possibility of leaving if they cannot secure a different permit to remain and work in Canada. 

Tara Emami, an Iranian graduate from the University of Toronto, is among those who would not qualify for the open work permit as her PGWP expired in December 2021. “This is not fair. We are people as well, we were just unlucky that our work permits expired in December. Luck should not be a factor in the PGWP extensions. What is our fault?”

“We have done nothing wrong and yet we are not eligible for the past PGWP extension, this one, and by the time the Express Entry draws resumes, it’s going to be too late for us. I can’t sleep well at night, and I cannot plan for my future. We need permanent resident status for all of us immediately,”  Emami was quoted saying in a press release by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), an organisation advocating for international students and migrant workers.

Although PGWPs are a one-time deal, they were made renewable in 2021 to graduates with expiring work permits until Nov. 21, 2021. The policy was short-lived, as it was only in force from January 27 to July 27, 2021. 

“It’s clearly an oversight on the part of the government,” Belarussian student Mikhita Arlou, whose PGWP expired on December 5 last year, told New Canadian Media. “There is a labour shortage, my employer needs me, and Canada needs my taxes too. If my employer were to recruit another person, that means more resources and time spent unnecessarily. This exclusion doesn’t benefit anyone.” 

Since half of his family resides in Ukraine, Arlou fears the prospect of going back to a war-torn country. “Half of my family lives in Ukraine and I lost one of my cousins to the war, he was serving in the military. How can I go back there now?” he says.

New open work permit in Canada needs more permanence, says advocacy group 

According to IRCC’s statement, some 95,000 PGWPs will expire between January 31 to December 2022 this year.  

Many former students with expiring work permits have already transitioned to permanent residence, applied for permanent residence or successfully applied for a different type of work permit, the statement said they anticipate as many as 50,000 applicants could benefit from this temporary measure.

“This is a small step in the right direction, but too many remain without rights, we need permanent resident status for all, now, especially those in low-waged work,” said Sarom Rho, Migrant Students United coordinator in MWAC’s press release. “We need a permanently renewable post-graduate work permit, not a one-off programme, and the current announcement needs to include those left out.”

“Migrants are tired of one-off, temporary pathways, a fair society means equal rights and that means permanent resident status for all,” added Syed Hussan, Executive Director of MWAC. 

Open work permit in Canada only benefit some PGWP holders

The PGWP’s one-time deal limits the options for international students to extend their stay in Canada, unless they can secure a different permit or obtain permanent residency. Source: Andrej Ivanov/AFP

IRCC’s announcement also mentioned the re-opening of the Express Entry programme, a popular immigration pathway for many skilled economic-class migrants, in July 2022. The programme had been on hold since September 2021 due to massive backlogs in immigration applications. 

As PGWPs are usually non-renewable, offering extensions within certain periods leaves out far too many foreign Canadian graduates in immigration limbo. The pause on Express Entry has impacted experienced PGWP holders, who typically have a good chance of securing PR status.

Elif Arat, another PGWP holder, was eligible for a PR through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) on Sept. 30, 2021. Her family didn’t manage to receive an invitation despite her eligibility, as IRCC stopped CEC draws on September 14. 

“After seven months of silence when Mr. Fraser was to announce a new policy on April 22, 2022, about PGWP extension, we were so excited and couldn’t sleep, but unfortunately because our work permit expired in December 2021, we don’t qualify for an extension,” she told New Canadian Media.