International students could obtain longer work permits and have earlier integration into the Canadian labour market in Atlantic Canada if new recommendations presented to the Parliament of Canada on November 9, 2017, come into effect.
These suggested improvements to immigration and settlement opportunities for international students in the Atlantic Canada region were among 24 recommendations presented in a report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to the House of Commons on November 9, 2017.
The report was commissioned last November to assess initiatives that are currently in place and provide recommendations on ways to enhance and boost immigration to the Atlantic Canada region, which is composed of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Many of the report’s recommendations concern the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP), which was launched in 2017 to encourage economic growth in the region and stimulate its labour market. To help achieve these goals, Canada and the four provincial governments of the Atlantic Canada region have introduced an AIPP-linked immigration stream to assist international students who are studying in the Atlantic Canada region and are interested in settling there permanently after graduation.
International students make up 20 per cent of full-time enrolment in Atlantic universities and surveys conducted among university and college graduates indicate that more than 70 per cent of respondents show an interest in remaining in Atlantic Canada after graduation. To this end, the AIPP’s International Graduate stream is strictly geared towards international graduates from a qualifying Atlantic Canada post-secondary institution with a job offer from an eligible employer in the region.
Recommendations to the Committee
Among the 24 recommendations were two key suggestions for improving settlement circumstances of international students in Atlantic provinces:
Recommendation 11, “That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), allow international students in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program and those who have been recruited by a designated employer under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program to access settlement services once they have started the permanent residency application process.
Recommendation 12, “That IRCC, work with relevant stakeholders to issue work permits to students that are valid throughout their study program in Atlantic Canada, including co-op terms, and issue post graduate work permits valid for five years in Atlantic Canada.”
Both recommendations address concerns for more flexible opportunities for students that were voiced during the committee’s consultations with local stakeholders.
Memorial University Professor Natasha Clark and Penny Walsh McGuire of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce suggested the need to give international students more work experience before graduation and urged that post-graduation work permits should be extended beyond their current cap of three years for two additional years.
In addition to extending the open work permit to five years, the committee also found value in opening up the open work permit program to students enrolled in all programs of study.
The committee said the federal government’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) is a key opportunity available to international students looking to gain work experience in Canada and want to improve their chances of becoming eligible for Canadian permanent residence.
Currently, the PGWPP is only available to eligible international graduates from a participating Canadian post-secondary institution.
McGuire also expressed concern for what she said were the challenges that international students in Atlantic Canada face when it comes to entering the labour market, including the need for a work permit in order to participate in a co-op program.
McGuire noted that international students interested in the government-run Canada Summer Jobs program were not eligible and co-op work permits often take long to process.
By removing restrictions placed on international students interested in working before graduation, McGuire said they could gain valuable Canadian work experience sooner and, as a result, secure permanent residence through one of many immigration programs that list Canadian work experience among the eligibility criteria.
Entering the labor market earlier would be beneficial to international graduates in the Express Entry system. Referencing changes made by IRCC to its Express Entry system a year ago, in which graduates of Canadian colleges and universities are now awarded bonus points, Clark said, “even with the new changes to the Comprehensive Ranking System, an international graduate with a bachelor’s degree and one year of work experience in Canada does not necessarily score highly enough to be competitive in the Express Entry pool.
Retaining international students is a priority
Atlantic provinces not only provide a range of study programs and more affordable options for study to international students, but the recommendations show the growing efforts by government and local stakeholders to make settling in Atlantic Canada easier for international students.
In addition, provincial governments have set up pilot programs to ease international students into the regional job market, such as Stay Nova Scotia, launched in 2016. This is one of many ways provinces in the Atlantic Canada region are working to help students stay in their province of study with the local community they have established throughout their time pursuing higher education.
To discover your options for studying in Canada, or staying in Canada after graduation, complete the free CanadaVisa Study Pathway Assessment Form today.
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