International students are getting more PGWPs and median earnings are increasing

Shelby Thevenot
Published: March 14, 2022

The number of international student graduates getting a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) has increased dramatically, a new Statistics Canada study says. The PGWP allows eligible international graduates to work anywhere in Canada for up to three years, depending on the length of their study program.

With a Canadian education and work experience, PGWP holders can get access to many of Canada's economic-class immigration programs. It is not extendable, nor renewable, and you can only get it once in a lifetime.

Statistics Canada studied the labour market participation of PGWP holders from 2008 to 2018. The number of PGWP holders who reported income in this time grew more than 13 times in size from 10,300 in 2008 to 135,100 in 2018. Meanwhile, the participation rate has remained relatively steady with three-quarters of PGWP holders reporting earnings every year.

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The median annual earnings received by PGWP holders in this period has increased from $14,500 in 2008 to $26,800 in 2018, adjusted to reflect the difference in dollar value over the decade. These earnings suggest an increase in the average amount of labour input.

Nearly three-quarters of all PGWP holders became permanent residents within five years of receiving their PGWP. These high rates of transition to permanent residence could be because Canadian work experience improves PGWP holders' chances of being selected as immigrants, the study suggests. Also, PGWP holders may have stronger motivation to seek permanent residency than those who did not apply for a PGWP.

Where are PGWP holders from? Where do they go?

Most PGWP holders came from two source countries: India and China. These two source countries made up 66% of all PGWPs issued in 2018, up from 51% in 2008. The share of Indian international students who became PGWP holders grew more than four times in size from 10% in 2008 to 46% in 2018. It was the opposite for the share of international students from China who got PGWPs, falling from 41% to 20%. Over the study period, international students from India intending to study at the postsecondary level increased much faster than those from China.

The large majority of PGWP holders intended to work in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec respectively. For PGWPs issued in 2018, 56% were for international graduates intending to work in Ontario, up from 44% in 2008. PGWP holders intending to work in British Columbia decreased from 19% in 2008 to 16% in 2018. Quebec also experienced a decrease in interest from 13% in 2008 to 11% in 2018.

Earnings differ by country of origin, destination, and sector

PGWP holders from Iran had the highest median earnings in 2018, followed by those from Nigeria and Pakistan. Earnings were lowest for those from China, followed by those from the United States and Vietnam. Over the study's reference period, earnings increased most among those from the United States, France, and South Korea.

In 2018, PGWP holders working in the territories reported the highest median earnings, followed by those in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The lowest earnings were reported by those working in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. From 2008 to 2018, growth in earnings was highest among PGWP holders employed in Newfoundland and Labrador, followed by Quebec, and New Brunswick. Earnings growth was lowest among those working in Alberta, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba.

Median earnings for PGWP holders were consistent with the general pattern among all Canadian workers in 2018. Earnings were highest for PGWP holders employed in mining and oil and gas extraction, utilities, and public administration. The lowest earnings were reported by those who worked in educational services; administrative and support, waste management and remediation services; accommodation and food services; and retail trade. Earnings growth over the 10-year reference period was highest for PGWP holders working in accommodation and food services, retail trade, real estate and rental and leasing, as well as educational services.

Brief history of PGWP

The PGWP started in 2003 as a pilot program in select provinces before expanding nationwide in 2005. Starting in 2008, the PGWP allowed recent grads to work for any employer in the country for up to three years. Then in 2014, study permit holders were allowed to work after the completion of their studies while waiting on the approval of their PGWP.

These changes were introduced to make Canada a more attractive destination to international students, and provide them pathways to permanent residency.

PGWP eligibility

To be eligible for the PGWP you need to have graduated from a full-time program of at least eight months in length at a Canadian Designated Learning Institution (DLI). With the exceptions of students who were enrolled during the pandemic, studies must have been completed in-person in order to count toward PGWP eligibility. International students may count the time they spent studying online between March 2020 and August 31, 2022 toward their eligibility, even if their entire program was online during this time.

The PGWP validity period matches that of the study period between eight months and under two years. Programs that are at least two years in duration may be eligible for a three-year PGWP.

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