Canada’s post-graduate work permit (PGWP) program allows international students who have completed certain Canadian post-secondary programs to obtain work permits after graduating. The work permits are open, meaning that the graduates can work for any employer in any Canadian province. It is a fantastic program that enhances the competiveness of Canadian post-secondary institutions internationally, and is normally an essential step for international graduates hoping to obtain Canadian permanent residency.
However, every year there are many international students who mistakenly think that they will be eligible to participate in the program after graduating only to discover midway through their studies that they cannot. So if you’re an international student in Canada, it’s critical that you understand how the PGWP program works.
Who’s eligible for PGWP?
In order for an international graduate to obtain a PGWP after graduating in Canada (excluding Quebec), an international student must:
have a valid study permit when applying for their PGWP
have continuously studied full time in Canada, except for the final academic session, where part-time studies are permitted
have completed and passed a program of study that is at least eight months in duration at either a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, or at a Canadian private institution if the student was enrolled in a program of study that led to a degree
apply for the work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their educational institution that they have met the requirements for completing their program of study.
The duration of a PGWP is equal in length to the educational program completed, up to a maximum of three years. Any completed program that is longer than two years will result in a three-year work permit. In other words, a two-year diploma and a four-year degree will both result in a three-year work permit.
It is important to note that it is the length of the program of study that matters, not the actual time that it takes an international student to complete the program. For example, if a student enrolls in a program of study that is eight months in duration, but completes it in six months, then the student will be able to obtain an eight-month work permit after graduating. And an international student who takes two years to complete a one-year program will only receive a one-year PGWP.
There are complicated rules and scenarios for students transferring from one program to another, or completing multiple programs, but a common one is when students obtain a one-year degree/diploma from an eligible institution after having obtained, within the prior two years, another diploma/degree from an eligible institution, they then may be issued a work permit for up to three years.
Applying and working
Graduates may submit their applications online or, in certain cases, at a Canadian port of entry or at overseas visa offices. Students who have completed their program of study and who apply for their PGWPs are permitted to work in Canada while Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) processes their applications, provided that they were indeed full-time students enrolled in eligible programs while they were studying, and that they did not exceed their authorized off-campus work periods while they were students.
Finally, unlike with international students, the spouses or common-law partners of PGWP holders are not automatically entitled to open work permits. They will only be eligible if the PGWP holder obtains skilled employment, and can demonstrate this to IRCC by presenting an offer of employment as well as a copy of one or more pay slips.
Ongoing complications of PGWP
Students who complete a program of study granted by a non-Canadian institution located in Canada are ineligible to obtain work permits under the PGWP program. However, students completing a program of study that has, as part of the program, an overseas component, such as an exchange, will be eligible as long as they earn a Canadian educational credential.
There are two further restrictions, or potential restrictions, to obtaining PGWPs that are currently the subject of litigation that potential international students and graduates should understand.
The first is that students participating in distancing learning programs, either abroad or in Canada, are ineligible to obtain PGWPs. In 2015, this restriction generated considerable media attention, when IRCC refused the PGWP applications of an entire graduating class at a private post-secondary institution after it determined that the institution’s program constituted online learning. Some of these graduates have sought intervention from the Federal Court of Canada, and one of the questions before the court is whether there is a percentage of online courses threshold that must be met before IRCC can declare a program ineligible. Until either IRCC or the Federal Court provides clarification on this matter, international students who wish to participate in the PGWP program should understand the possible negative consequences of enrolling in any online courses.
Second, recent graduates applying for PGWPs must ensure that they complete their PGWP applications promptly and properly. As with most work permit applications, if IRCC either refuses or bounces an application for incompleteness, then an applicant can typically apply for restoration of status within 90 days. It is not clear, however, whether restoration is possible in the case of the PGWP because of the requirement that a recent graduate’s study permit be valid when they apply for their PGWP. This matter is also currently being litigated by refused applicants, and we will hopefully know the results soon.