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Canada to extend post-graduate work permits for international graduates

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International graduates with expired or soon-to-be-expiring work permits will be allowed to apply for an extension as the federal government seeks to boost Canada's anemic labour sector.

Starting April 6, graduates with a recently expired or expiring post-graduation work permit (PGWP) will qualify for an additional or extended work permit to stay in Canada and gain job experience for up to 18 months, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced on Friday. Currently, there are about 127,000 post-graduation work permits set to expire in 2023.

"We need to use every tool in our toolbox to support employers who continue to face challenges in hiring the workers they need to grow," Fraser said in a media release. "At the same time, we’re providing international graduates whose work permit is expiring or has expired with some additional time to stay in Canada to gain valuable work experience and potentially qualify to become a permanent resident."

The PGWP program allows international graduates to receive an open work permit to gain work experience in Canada. Starting April 6, PGWP holders who want to stay longer will be able to begin a voluntary process to extend their work permit.

International graduates whose permits have already expired in 2023 will also be able to apply for an additional 18-month work permit. So will those who were eligible for the 2022 PGWP facilitative measure – a policy change that allowed foreign nationals whose permit expired between Sept. 20, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022 to apply for an additional 18 months by either extending their work permit or applying for a new one.

International graduates with expired work permits will be able to restore their status under the latest policy change, even if they are beyond the 90-day restoration period. Those who apply will be allowed to work while they wait for their application to be processed.

The policy update comes as employers across Canada struggle to attract and retain skilled workers amid an ongoing labour shortage. Experts have attributed that shortage partly to disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but mostly to an aging workforce.

Canada's labour force growth rate has been declining since 2000, Statistics Canada reports, but the trend has intensified in recent years as baby boomers – Canada's largest generation, born between 1946 and 1964 – grow older and start to leave the workforce en masse.

According to StatCan, more than 1.4 million Canadians entered the 55-and-older demographic between 2016 and 2021. In 2022, the number of Canadians of working age between 55 and 64 reached an all-time high in the history of the Canadian census, at one in five. By the second quarter of that year, there were more than a million vacant jobs in Canada.

The Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said in Friday's announcement that skilled international graduates "play a vital role in addressing Canada’s labour shortage." But experts have warned more change is needed to ensure new Canadians are well-matched to jobs that maximize their skills, qualifications and experience.

StatCan data shows that recent immigrants are less likely to see their skills and education utilized than Canadian-born workers. They are also overrepresented in certain industries, including transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and food services.

'WE NEED PERMANENT SOLUTIONS'

Migrant rights advocates have also characterized the extension as a short-sighted, last-minute change.

Sarom Rho, a coordinator with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the policy change will allow some international graduates to heave a sigh of relief after a year of organizing and advocating for the extension. However, she said it fails to offer the long-term stability many students need; the type of stability that comes with permanent residency status.

"Instead of putting people in crisis and fear for months and making last minute changes, we again call for permanently renewable post-graduate work permits," Rho said in a media release issued Friday. "Keeping people on temporary work authorizations with few rights is never the solution.

Rho said most migrant student workers, including those in low-wage jobs, are disqualified from permanent residency. She called on the ministry to commit to permanent immigration status for all.

Maria Alfaro is a former international student from El Salvador and a graduate of St. Clair College and Cambrian College who worries about aging out of eligibility for the PGWP program. For three years, she has rallied with other student workers to call on the federal government to grant full immigration status for all migrants and refugees.

Like Rho, Alfaro wants to see the government make post-graduate work permits permanently renewable.

"We deserve more than an extension of time, we need permanent solutions so that we’re not left wondering if we’ll make it to the end," she said in the media release. 

-With files from The Canadian Press 

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