With over a million job vacancies needing to be filled immediately, Canada is offering international students with expiring temporary status an opportunity to gain work experience and have a better chance at qualifying for permanent residency in the country.
Starting this summer, former international students currently in the country with a post-graduation work permit expiring between January and December 2022 will qualify for an additional open work permit of up to 18 months, the government announced today.
“We are working on a simplified and expeditious process, and details will be made available in the weeks ahead,” said Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), at a media event in Saint John, New Brunswick.
“This additional open work permit will allow applicants to continue contributing to the Canadian economy, helping address our labour shortage while gaining valuable work experience and preparing their Express Entry profiles.”
The announcement is part of the government’s ongoing strategy to fill the country’s labour shortages, which were pronounced during the pandemic.
According to Statistics Canada, international student enrollment fell by nearly 17 per cent, from 638,960 in 2019 to 530,540 in 2020. Last year, Canada welcomed 450,000 new international students, according to IRCC.
According to Global Affairs Canada, foreign students contributed almost $22 billion to the Canadian economy in 2018 and supported about 170,000 jobs in 2016.
Some of the policy changes announced today, which will take place in the summer, include:
- applicants will no longer be required to remain in Canada throughout the time their application is being processed
- applicants who apply for an open work permit while waiting for their permanent residence application to be finalized will be able to get work permits valid until the end of 2024. This will ensure that all permanent residence applications will be finalized before applicants will need to apply to extend their temporary status again
- to support family reunification, immediate family members who are outside Canada and were included in a principal applicant’s permanent residence application will be eligible for their own open work permit
Addressing labour shortage
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) earlier this month said 55 per cent of small businesses are experiencing labour shortages. And after recently surveying 1,200 entrepreneurs and 3,000 members of the working-age population, the Business Development Bank of Canada also found that more than a quarter of Canadian employers are having a hard time retaining their employees.
Among the hardest hit sectors are the trucking industry, which estimates a shortage of about 55,000 drivers by the end of 2023; the health care sector, which accounts for nearly one in five job vacancies in Canada; and the resurgent hospitality industry, which has 210,000 fewer employees now than it did in February 2020.
To address these woes, during Friday’s announcement Fraser said Express Entry draws, which had been paused, will soon resume and that invitations for candidates to apply for permanent residence will begin in early July.
IRCC also announced that it has doubled the number of permanent residence decisions made in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
From Jan. 1, 2022, to March 31, 2022, Fraser said the IRCC made over 156,000 final decisions on permanent residence applications, which allowed Canada to welcome over 113,000 new permanent residents in the first quarter of 2022.
“We have also processed more than 100,000 work permit applications in the first quarter of 2022, doubling the number processed over the same time period in 2021,” he said.
“With the economy growing faster than employers can hire for new jobs, Canada needs to look at every option so that we have the skills and labour needed to fuel our growth.”
Travel restrictions throughout most of 2020 and 2021 also delayed the processing of overseas applications, contributing to IRCC’s backlog, which currently sits at close to two million applications including all immigration categories.
As a result of the temporary pause, the Federal High Skilled processing inventory has been more than cut in half, Fraser announced, decreasing from 111,900 people in September 2021 to just 48,000 people by March 2022.
“This inventory will be further reduced by July 2022 and allows us to return to the service standards that our clients expect,” he said.
Jasraj Singh Hallan, a Calgary-area MP who serves as the Conservative Party of Canada’s Shadow Minister on Immigration, told NCM the announcement “should have been made months ago,” and that the IRCC needs to release a plan to show that the international graduates who want to stay in Canada longer won’t be stuck in the application backlog.
“The Liberals mismanagement of the immigration system has led to a bureaucratic mess and backlog that has kept hard-working and skilled people from coming to Canada during a labour shortage crisis,” he said.
Lack of adequate staffing
For her part, New Democratic Party Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan told NCM that Fraser’s announcement does not acknowledge the real reason why the government quietly halted processing of the Federal Skilled Worker Program in the first place.
“Through an Access to Information and Privacy request, it was revealed that these reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the (temporary residence to permanent residence) stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada,” she said.
“The Liberal government failed to listen to calls from the NDP and those affected by these delays to ensure adequate staffing and immigration levels are available.”
The NDP is calling on the government to regularize the temporary and undocumented workers in Canada and provide new migrant workers with Permanent residency upon arrival.