Citizenship and Immigration Canada Abandons International Students

Meurrens LawImmigration Trends

The following article appeared in the December 2014 edition of The Canadian Immigrant magazine.

Are options for international students to immigrate permanently narrowing?

Each year, around 100,000 international students arrive in Canada to commence their studies. From 2005 to 2013, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) introduced many programs to make it easier for these students to obtain work experience in Canada after graduating and to transition to permanent resident status.

My May 2013 column for Canadian Immigrantdetailed the ways in which post-graduate work permit (PGWP) holders could stay in Canada beyond the expiry of their PGWPs. In that article I wrote “some graduates regretfully lose their employment (and consequently jeopardize their permanent residence applications) if the employers are unable or unwilling to pay the required prevailing wage rates required for LMOs [labour market opinions], or if Service Canada refuses the applications because of insufficient recruitment on the employer’s part. There is no reason for this to be happening.”

Unfortunately for international students, that “there is no reason for this to be happening” is no longer the case, and the road for recent graduates to obtain permanent residency is becoming increasing difficult.

Abolition of the PGWP-LMO

Prior to July 31, 2013, the process for employers of PGWP holders to extend the employment of their international graduates beyond the expiry of their PGWP was relatively straightforward. As long as employers committed to employing PGWP holders in skilled occupations, then Service Canada waived the prevailing wage and recruitment requirements which are generally required to employ foreign workers.

These rules were logical. International graduates are not like most temporary foreign workers who have resided in Canada. They have paid considerable tuition to study in Canada, have lived in Canada for several years and are already employed in Canada. Given this, it is unreasonable to force Canadian employers to conduct fresh recruitment for positions that hard-working international graduates already fill. Conversely, it makes sense to allow employers to pay international graduates filling entry-level positions the entry-level wage for the position.

Unfortunately, as a result of intense political and media pressure, both of these special rules for international graduates are now gone. An employer who wishes to extend an international graduate’s employment will have to go through the same recruitment and wage requirements as if the employer were hiring someone from overseas who has never lived in Canada.

Introduction of the LMIA

Even if an employer is willing to pay a recent graduate the median wage, and is able to demonstrate to the Government of Canada that it could not find any qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents to replace the international graduate, then the employer will, under the new labour market impact assessment (LMIA) regime, still have to enter into a transition plan with the Government of Canada to ensure that in the future it does not need to rely on any foreign workers, including international graduates.

Ineligible under the CEC

Many international students at post-secondary institutions and recent graduates are just starting to appreciate this new reality. Some are stunned that the Government of Canada is treating them this way.

They shouldn’t be. In November 2013, without prior warning, CIC announced that cooks, administrative officers, administrative assistants, accounting technicians and bookkeepers no longer qualified for the Canadian experience class (CEC). Many, if not most, of those affected were international graduates, who, in some cases had come to Canada to study in these areas, and who could not have anticipated that the Government of Canada would leave them stranded.

Worse under express entry

The situation for international graduates only appears to be worsening. In January 2015, CIC will introduce the express entry program, under which potential immigrants who are eligible to immigrate to Canada under the federal skilled worker program, the CEC, the federal skilled trades program or a provincial nominee program, will have to create an online profile where they will be ranked according to their skills, work experience, language ability, education and other details. Despite qualifying under the above immigration programs, only the highest-ranked candidates, or those with qualifying offers of arranged employment, or those who are provincial nominees, will be able to apply for permanent residence.

As of writing, CIC has announced that employers will be required to obtain a LMIA in order for applicants to have qualified arranged employment under express entry. This, in effect, will mean that all international graduates who are not provincial nominees will need LMIA-based job offers to immigrate to Canada. As noted above, this has become increasingly difficult for the employers of PGWP-holders. As well, considering that they are recent graduates, it is difficult to see how recent graduates will have the work experience necessary to rank higher than other applicants in the pool. It thus appears that many international graduates will be shut out of express entry.

Lobby the government

Word is only now just beginning to spread about how the Government of Canada has essentially abandoned international graduates. The details of express entry are still being finalized, and hopefully CIC will introduce measures to accommodate the special circumstances of international graduates. Reintroducing the PGWP variations to the temporary foreign worker Program is an obvious solution.

It simply does not make sense to treat international graduates the same as foreign workers who have never been to Canada. For almost a decade the Government of Canada recognized this, before overreacting to unrelated political and media pressure. It behooves international students and post-secondary students to counter this pressure, to lobby the government to recognize their special circumstances, and to preserve Canada’s reputation as a destination for international students.