Open work permits in Canada
Thousands of eligible former international students are still awaiting extensions on their post-graduation work permit (PGWP), which will allow them to continue working in the country for up to 18 months. Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/AFP

Imagine receiving a long-awaited document that could throw a lifeline to your legal status in another country, only to discover that it isn’t yours. This past week, open work permits in Canada began arriving in the inboxes of those with expiring post-graduation work permits (PGWPs) — to the wrong applicants.   

A massive systemic blunder by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) saw numerous work permit extension approvals erroneously delivered to the wrong addresses in a severe case of data and privacy breach. 

Just a day after the IRCC released detailed instructions on applying for the extension, reports of PGWP holders receiving names, application numbers, and unique client identifiers belonging to strangers began surfacing on social media. 

“I’m confused and worried at the same time because my document could be sent to another person by mistake and I would never know,” Dennis Dominique Maniquez of Toronto, was quoted saying to the Toronto Star. 

Maniquez was delivered an attached letter addressed to an applicant named Gurinder Singh, who is based in Surrey, British Columbia. “I know how Mr. Singh is feeling now. We all know how stressful it is. We have all been waiting for this work permit extension for a long time.”

Open work permits in Canada

News about the email errors began circulating on social media a day after IRCC released detailed instructions on applying for the new open work permit. Source: Cole Burston/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Responding to the issue, IRCC mentioned that it was alerted to the privacy breach on Aug. 3, 2022. The emails were intended to notify PGWP holders that they may be entitled to receive open work permits in Canada with longer validity dates or to give them the chance to opt out of the extension, CIC News reports. 

The immigration service is currently taking appropriate steps to identify the affected clients and safeguard their security of information to prevent further data leaks. If you’re a PGWP holder impacted by the situation, here’s what you should do, in IRCC’s own words: 

“A separate email will be sent to affected clients informing them of the privacy breach. We are advising clients NOT to share the incorrect email with others and to delete the email from their inbox. Once the issue has been resolved, a notice of correction will go out to those affected, and the correct email message will be distributed.”

IRCC is also reviewing its current processes to prevent this situation from reoccurring and to minimise human error, reported CIC News.

open work permit

On Aug. 2, 2022, IRCC released instructions on applying for a new open work permit for those with expiring PGWPs who had not been invited for a permanent residency application. Source: Daniel Slim/AFP

Open work permits in Canada: The cost of errors and delays 

The email fiasco compounds what Immigration Minister Sean Fraser had previously explained as a technical issue that IRCC encountered in issuing the new work permits. Although the plan was initially announced in April, PGWP holders expressed dismay over IRCC’s silence in the months leading to last week’s updates. 

“@SeanFraserMP @CitImmCanada None of them received the interim work authorization letter. I don’t know why you guys make delays when it comes to #pgwpextension. You guys are again making us suffer and lose hope. Please send us emails,” wrote a Twitter user, who has yet to receive her work permit extension. 

IRCC decided on issuing open work permits in Canada for PGWP holders as a temporary measure to accommodate those who missed the window for PR applications since September 2021. The usual route from international student-to-PR in Canada is through the Express Entry system, which was suspended in September last year due to mounting applications. 

Open work permits in Canada

PGWP holders eligible for the extension will be issued a document authorising them to legally work in Canada while waiting for their new work permit to arrive. Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

With the open work permit, those whose PGWPs expire between Sept. 20, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, are eligible for an extension of up to 18 months. PGWPs are usually a one-time deal, leaving international graduates in Canada effectively undocumented unless a PR or a new work permit can be secured by the expiration date. 

Currently, the government’s immigration system is also swamped with application backlogs that have reached 2.7 million — a problem that isn’t likely to ease until 2023. Incoming students to Canada from India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria have reported waiting for more than half a year for their study permits to arrive on time before the fall semester.