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Proposed Changes to Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) System

Proposed Changes to Canada

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Federal and provincial immigration officials are currently deliberating on major revisions to the eligibility criteria for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This open work permit is granted to international students who have successfully finished an approved program at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) in Canada.

The IRCC Deputy Minister Transition Binder 2024 notes indicate that Canada’s immigration system aims to align the issuance of Post-Graduation Work Permits (PGWPs) with labour market needs. This would involve facilitating access to work permits for students entering occupations experiencing shortages, while restricting access for graduates from other programs.

According to the Binder, “advice on this issue will be provided by the Minister in spring 2024, with the goal of implementing changes in January 2025.”

This development was emphasised in an internal survey document recently distributed by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to relevant stakeholders. The document outlined methods the IRCC will use to align educational programs with PGWP availability and included questions seeking feedback from stakeholders.

How Will IRCC Implement New PGWP Restrictions?

While the exact implementation details are still unclear, notes from internal survey documents provide some insights.

According to the internal document, IRCC and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) have mapped job titles to programs of study. This aims to better understand which educational programs equip international students with the skills and experience needed for in-demand sectors of the Canadian economy.

This alignment was achieved by synchronising Canada’s National Occupation Classification (NOC) system with the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) system. The NOC system categorises and classifies occupations in Canada, while the CIP system does the same for educational programs, organising them by field of study. For example, the document illustrates that the NOC for “carpenter” is mapped to three programs of study: construction trades, carpentry, and woodworking/general.

Why is IRCC Pursuing Changes to the PGWP Program?

To reiterate, IRCC states that the goal of re-aligning labour market needs is to facilitate access to work permits for students entering occupations in shortage while reducing access for graduates from other programs.

Canada’s PGWP program was last updated in 2008 to enable the issuance of open work permits to international graduates based on the length of their study. IRCC notes that between 2018 and 2023, the number of work permits issued under the PGWP increased by 214%.

Sweeping changes announced by IRCC regarding temporary residence levels—including those on work/study permits or with visitor visas or electronic travel authorizations (eTA)—may reveal further motivations of the government.

Following the announcement of an international student cap in January 2024, IRCC made a historic move by declaring the implementation of temporary resident levels in the annual Immigration Levels Plan for the first time in the country’s history. This move was intended not only to prioritise the hiring of permanent residents and citizens for jobs but also primarily to reduce stress on Canada’s social systems (healthcare, housing, etc.) by limiting the number of new temporary residents annually.

Implications for Immigration

Gaining Canadian work experience through the PGWP is a crucial way for international graduates in Canada to build eligibility for many permanent residence (PR) programs. Many federal and provincial economic PR programs—those that international graduates often qualify for—typically require at least a year of relevant work experience to apply.

If these proposed changes to the PGWP program are implemented, they could have significant downstream effects on immigration, even for those already studying in Canada when the changes take effect.

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