Posted on - Nov 16, 2017

By Catherine A. Sas Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

For many foreign students in Canada, this is the means to Permanent Residence

Canada’s immigration program has changed dramatically for international students since the introduction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) in June of 2002.Previously students could only work on campus and the only options to gain work experience were the standard options to obtain a work permit.

However, with the steady increase of international students, there was a fundamental recognition that gaining a Canadian education led to a better-quality immigrant. Suddenly there was an appreciation by the government that international students were to be encouraged to succeed within Canada’s immigration program, and steps were taken to enhance a student’s opportunity to obtain permanent residence from within Canada.

This led to the introduction of the Off-Campus Work permit in 2005 and the Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) in 2006. 2008 also saw the introduction of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) as a category of economic immigration that provided an opportunity for students to qualify for permanent residence after completing two years of post-secondary education (or more) in Canada and obtaining a diploma or degree. While the criteria for obtaining permanent residence under the CEC has changed since the introduction of Canada’s Express Entry immigration program, the PGWP remains a remarkable tool for students to qualify for Canadian permanent residence.

The first most significant factor for consideration by an international student keen on obtaining permanent residence in Canada is the selection of the school where they will study. Most schools in Canada are recognized as a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) which enables an international student to obtain a study permit. But not all DLIs enable a student to qualify for a PGWP. You need to choose your school wisely if permanent residence is your ultimate goal.

Don’t rely on the advice of the school. Many schools advise students that they will be eligible for work permits whether they are Co-op work permits or PGWPs. They are not the same thing and a Co-op work permit will not necessarily provide to a path for permanent residence. If you select a school that is not eligible for a PGWP – you will need to continue your studies at an eligible school to be able to qualify for both the PGWP and permanent residence. This will have significant cost implications so be certain at the outset that your school qualifies you to obtain a PGWP.

Don’t rely on an agent to assist with the selection of your school and program of study. Most agents receive a commission from the school for the placement of students at a school. Frequently an agent’s focus is on their own best interests and not yours. If you have any doubts as to whether your chosen school will entitle you to a PGWP, it is recommended that you make several cross checks with a variety of immigration professionals before you proceed with registering.

Also, most provinces provide a list of eligible educational institutions which lead to PGWPs. Generally, a qualifying school will not be the cheapest school as you will be obtaining a diploma or degree at the end of your studies. Take the time to be sure.

The second factor for a student to appreciate is that you must comply with all the laws pertaining to a student permit – they are NOT set out on your study permit. For example, you are only eligible for a PGWP if you have been continuously studying on a full-time basis. If you reduce your program of studies to part-time, you are no longer eligible for a PGWP.

Furthermore, students no longer obtain work permits. You are entitled to work in Canada with a study permit, but you must be familiar with the criteria for working while studying and if you breach these terms, you will not be eligible for the PGWP. Virtually every student I meet is aware that they are able to work in Canada up to 20 hours per week while they are studying. What many students are not aware of is that they must ALWAYS be in full time attendance in order to be able to work and they can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week. If a student works more than 20 hours a week while going to school, they are ineligible for a PGWP.

It is recommended that you meet with a qualified Canadian immigration professional as soon as you arrive in Canada to review and determine what your study permit entitles you to do (and not do) and the specific requirements for both a PGWP and for obtaining permanent residence.

The third most important factor for consideration is that you can only get ONE PGWP. I will repeat – an international student is only eligible to obtain a PGWP once. This harsh reality applies even in situations where IRCC has issued a PGWP in error. Yes, the PGWP process is so confusing that even immigration officials issue PGWPs to students in error. A PGWP will be issued for either one year or three years depending upon your program of study. If you have completed a qualifying diploma or degree program you will be issued a PGWP valid for three years. Use those three years wisely. You must obtain at least one year of full time work experience in a qualifying occupation or you will not be able to meet the criteria for permanent residence either in the CEC category or as a Federal Skilled Worker.

The PGWP provides a unique opportunity within Canada’s immigration program for students to be able to qualify for permanent residence. However, there are many steps to this process and students need to be familiar with every aspect of this process. Utilize the PGWP opportunity to maximize your ability to obtain Canadian permanent residence by gaining valuable work experience after graduation. Students are well advised to familiarize themselves upon arrival in Canada of what will ultimately allow them to achieve permanent residence in Canada after completing their studies.


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 5 consecutive years.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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