Posted on - Feb 22, 2013

By Catherine Sas

Catherine Sas Q.C.

The International Experience Class (IEC) is a new name for a familiar program known as the International Youth Program and International Exchange Programs. Both of these programs allowed for the exchange of young people to come and visit Canada and work to support themselves while they visited and became familiar with the country. The Canadian government approved the creation of an international travel and exchange program in 1967 to allow for the exchange of young people between partner nations to enhance relationship building between those countries. The IEC program is more commonly known as the Working Holiday or Student Work Abroad Program (SWAP). The recently re-named International Experience Canada program maintains/continues Canada’s objective of fostering close bilateral relations between participating nations through cultural exchanges that allow for youth to obtain a mutual understanding about different cultures through overseas international travel and work experience. Because these agreements are reciprocal, not only can young people come to Canada, but Canadian youth are also able to travel and obtain valuable cultural and work experience abroad.

The International Experience Class is jointly overseen by two departments: The department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). Applications under the IEC class are first reviewed by DFAIT for eligibility then by CIC at admissions aboard for assessing the work permit. Young people who are approved will be issued a Valid Letter of Introduction ( LOI) which they can use to apply for a work permit at the port of entry when they arrive in Canada. Canada has agreements with 32 different countries to permit young people to apply for work permits under the IEC. Every agreement is different with respect to the types of agreement and categories of eligibility such as the Working Holiday Program, the Young Professional Program, the International Co-op Program, and each has different eligibility requirements such as age limits, duration of the permit, or whether it can be renewed or not.

Processing the Application.

To submit an IEC application, there are two steps. Firstly, you need to meet the program requirements for the IEC class as set out by DFAIT, and secondly you need to meet CIC’s requirements to apply for a work permit. It is important to note that under the IEC category, applicants may not use a designated representative to liaise with DFAIT, however they may use an immigration representative to liaise with CIC.

In order to be eligible to apply, you must be a citizen of one of the countries with which Canada has a bilateral agreement on youth mobility. Some of these bilateral agreements require that the individual be living in their country of citizenship at the time they make their application, whereas other agreements provide that applicants may submit their application to the Canadian Visa office responsible for the country in which they are presently and lawfully admitted. Check and see whether there is an International Experience Canada Program for your country and follow the specific instructions to apply for an IEC work permit on the regional visa website for the geographic region for which you are a national or in which you reside. Most visa offices only accept applications for a limited time each year.

The timing and the process for submitting applications under the International Experience Class is different for each country. It is important to check the visa office website for your country regularly and follow the guidelines set out on the website for your particular visa office.

Path to Permanent Residence

For many young people, the IEC category is a good way to pursue permanent residence to Canada. Most IEC programs provide for work permits that are for 12 months or more which means you can obtain the one year of work experience which will allow you to apply for permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class. For those agreements which allow for a work permit of less than 12 months, it still provides you with a wonderful opportunity to connect with a Canadian employer who may be willing to offer you further employment in the future which may ultimately lead to permanent residence.
While a work permit under the IEC may permit you to lawfully work in Canada, possession of the work permit alone will not make you eligible to apply for permanent residence to Canada. If permanent residence is your ultimate goal, you will need to not only obtain the work permit, but you will also need to gain full time work experience in Canada for a minimum of 12 months to be eligible to satisfy the Canadian Experience Class criteria. You must also obtain work experience in an occupation as described in the National Occupational Classification (NOC) at NOC levels O, A, or B. Semi-skilled or low skilled work experience at NOC level C or D will not qualify for permanent residence under the CEC class.

Good News for Canadian Employers

The IEC program is proving to be popular with employers who are facing labour shortages in key industry sectors. Young people who have gained Canadian work experience and who want to live in Canada may be nominated by employers pursuant to a Provincial nominee Program (P.N.P) or encouraged to submit a CEC application for permanent residence.

The Bridging Work Permit

In December of 2012, the Minister of Immigration introduced the bridging work permit to allow applicants for permanent residence in certain classes to be eligible for a bridging work permit.

This is good news for an IEC worker who has applied for permanent residence status, been found eligible to make that application, but is reaching the expiration date of their IEC work permit. This new bridging work permit will allow them to obtain a further work permit to remain in Canada while their permanent residence application is finalized.

In order to qualify for a bridging work permit an applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • Be in Canada;
  • Have a valid work permit due to expire within 4 months form the time of application;
  • Have received a positive eligibility decision on their permanent residence application; and
  • Make an application for an open work permit (submit 5710-Application to Change Conditions, Extend my Stay or Remain in Canada as a Worker)

The International Experience Class welcomes young people from around the world to live, travel, and work in Canada with a view to fostering longstanding relationship with partner nations. This program in conjunction with other CIC programs also provides opportunities for young people who connect with Canada to ultimately live in Canada permanently.


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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