Canada unveils measures to help international students become permanent residents

Canada will resume federal economic immigration programs in July after a long suspension that left many international students in limbo without a path to permanent residency.

The Department of Immigration will also allow people with postgraduate work permits expiring this year to stay in Canada for an additional 18 months while tackling a backlog that has reached 1.8 million across all programs. immigration and citizenship.

Along with a series of other special measures, the changes are intended to address the crisis faced by thousands of international students who no longer have or are short of status in Canada and who are at risk of having to leave the country. .

“With the economy growing faster than employers can hire for new jobs, Canada must look at all options so that we have the skills and workforce needed to fuel our growth,” said the Minister of Immigration, Sean Fraser, in a prepared statement Friday.

“Immigration will be critical to addressing our labor shortage, and these measures are intended to address pressing needs across all sectors of the country while providing more opportunities for new graduates and other candidates to build their lives. in Canada and continue to contribute to our near-term recovery. and long-term prosperity.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on Canada’s immigration system, as travel restrictions and lockdowns here and abroad for most of 2020 and 2021 delayed the processing of overseas applications. This led to the bloated backlog.

As a result, Ottawa last year suspended its flagship federal economic immigration programs – the Canadian Experience, Federal Skilled Worker and Skilled Trades Streams – which were among popular routes for international students to gain permanent residency. after graduation.

Officials said they had managed to halve the “inventory” of these programs – from 111,900 people in September 2021 to just 48,000 people in March this year. They hope it will be further reduced by July to return to the service standards in place before the pandemic.

However, only international students with postgraduate work permits expiring between January 31 and December 31, 2022 are eligible for the 18-month open permit to stay and work in Canada, which means that many of those who ran out of status last year have to stop working and leave.

“We encourage the Department of Immigration to review this shortcoming and extend the 18-month open work permit and restoration of status to this group as well,” the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association said in a statement. .

“We believe more can and should be done now, to facilitate existing programs for people stuck due to backlogs or who have been overlooked by existing programs. The government could have been much bolder in its response to the backlog problem.

Iranian student Tara Emami graduated with a Masters in Management from the University of Toronto in September 2020 and has been working as an IT consultant ever since. Her postdoctoral work permit expired in December, which means she is out of luck despite the new open work permit policy.

“It’s not fair. We are people too, we were just unlucky that our work permits expired in December. Luck should not be a factor in work permit extensions. What is our fault?” asked the 26-year-old, who is on so-called “implied status” while waiting for her work permit extension to be denied.

“We have done nothing wrong and yet we are not eligible for the past extension (postgraduate work permit), this one, and by the time the Express Entry draw resumes, it will be too late for us. I can’t sleep well at night and I can’t plan my future. We need permanent resident status for all of us immediately.

Last May, the Immigration Department also launched a special one-time program allowing certain students and migrants employed in essential jobs during the pandemic to become permanent residents. However, applications have taken longer to process due to Ottawa’s pressing needs to resettle displaced Afghans and now Ukrainians in Canada.

To prevent applicants from falling through the cracks while being stuck with a long wait inside Canada, immigration officers will now allow applicants to leave the country while their application is being processed. Those whose work permits expire, in the meantime, will also be able to extend their work authorization until the end of 2024. Their family members outside Canada will also be able to join them with an open work permit.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based journalist who covers immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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