CANADA: Students on immigration fast track

A programme that allows international students to work for up to three
years after graduation just might increase Canada's recruitment competitiveness. Employment of that duration puts them on an immigration fast track.

The Canadian Post-Graduation Work Permit Program has already proved popular and is attracting a flood of applications. International students, immigration advocates, student advisers and universities have long called for more attractive post-graduation working conditions and welcomed the scheme.

"This has definitely made Canada more competitive," said Anna Done Choudhury, an international student adviser at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Choudhury said that allowing students to work three years after graduation "has closed the gap between international students and Canada wanting qualified immigrants". Having taught immigration studies, she said many students who previously wanted to increase their eligibility for permanent residency had to go to the US to work and then return to Canada to apply.

Canada uses a points system in deciding who best qualifies to be a citizen and a simple university degree, without post graduation work in Canada, earns few points. The new programme takes those who have worked during the post-graduation period out of the points system and either passes or fails them although an overwhelming number, more than 95%, have passed.

According to the 2009 Survey of International Students, released at the Canadian Bureau for International Education conference in Toronto last week, half the students surveyed said post-graduation work opportunities in Canada were an important factor in choosing to study in the country.

The same number said they planned to work in Canada after they graduated. An even larger number, almost three in four students, cited the work opportunities as an important reason. In 2008, 18,000 work permits were issued by the government, a 63% increase on the year before.

In a session at the CBIE conference, Citizen and Immigration Canada's Jorge Aceytuno told delegates introduction of the postgraduate work programme had led to the interest in work permits. Aceytuno said his ministry would like to see a large increase in work permits as a result of the programme.

Bureau Vice-President Jennifer Humphries agreed there was now more than just a university choice for international students interested in studying in Canada: "People are looking at the potential for career advancement for their education. If they have three years of work after graduation, this looks better on their resumes," Humphries said.

Part of the rationale for introducing the programme was probably playing catch-up with recruiters from England and Australia which have similar schemes, as well as to gain an edge over the US whose postgraduate work programme is not as liberal.

Choudhury's colleague Lise Pedersen was also relieved to see the programme, saying it helped not only in getting students some employment after graduation but also gave them more opportunity during their studies.

Even though the government had earlier introduced a scheme that allowed students to work off campus, Pedersen said employers were sometimes reluctant to hire international students for co-op programmes because of their lack of future availability for what might turn into a permanent position.

Now, she said, they knew the student could work not only up to three years following graduation but also they were likely to become a Canadian citizen.