Canada announces extension of post-graduation work permits for up to 18 months to retain high-skilled talent

2023 March 17

TORONTO- The federal government will allow thousands of foreign nationals with recently expired or expiring post-graduation work permits to extend their stays in Canada by up to 18 months, a relief for temporary residents who faced the possibility of leaving the country.

“We want to continue to hang on to that talent in Canada – not just to fill gaps in the short-term in the labour force, but to ensure that we’re meeting the long-term needs of the economy by continuing to have skilled workers who are educated in Canada, here making a difference,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said on Friday.

Workers whose PGWPs expire in 2023 will qualify for an additional 18-month work permit. Effectively, this move will help many skilled workers stay in their jobs while buying them more time to become permanent residents.

International graduates can obtain a PGWP that lasts up to three years, depending on their length of study at a Canadian school. It is an open work permit – meaning a person’s immigration status is not tied to a specific employer – although it usually can’t be extended. Many graduates use the PGWP as a springboard to gain permanent residency.

The federal government announced similar extensions in 2021 and 2022 owing to significant disruptions in the immigration process.

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) enables international students to gain Canadian work experience, which can help them transition to permanent resident status.

Former international students account for a big chunk of immigration to Canada. In 2022, nearly 95,000 transitioned to permanent residence out of roughly 431,000.

Around 127,000 PGWPs are set to expire in 2023, although just more than half of those permit holders have already applied for permanent residence. It is therefore likely that tens of thousands of people will benefit from Friday’s announcement.

In recent months, PGWP holders had been openly critical of the federal government, saying the immigration process had become increasingly unfair and unpredictable. Some people have lost their jobs this year, after their permits expired.

The former students are trying to become permanent residents through the Express Entry system for skilled workers. Prior to 2021, the federal government would invite a few thousand people every couple weeks to apply for PR status from that pool of candidates.

The trouble is that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has sporadically invited people over the past 18 months, owing to a massive backlog of immigration applications it has struggled to process. This problem was partially of the department’s making.

After failing to hit its immigration targets in 2020, Ottawa invited loads of temporary residents to apply for permanent residency in 2021. This rush of applicants, combined with office closures related to COVID-19, jammed up the system.

At times last year, there were more than 2.5 million immigration applications in the processing queue. (These included visitor visa, PR and citizenship applications.)

To cope with that volume, the federal government stopped inviting people to apply for permanent residency from the Express Entry pool for nearly ten months before resuming activities in July 2022. There was another seven-week stoppage that lifted in January.

However, during those stoppages, more and more people added themselves to the Express Entry pool – and in turn, that heightened level of competition is making it tougher to get an invite. Put another way, people who easily would have qualified in prior years are being shut out. Many are skilled workers who have established careers in Canada.