10 key facts international students should know about Canada’s Post Graduation Work Permit

Julia Hornstein
Published: May 8, 2023

As many university and college programs come to an end, international students may be considering post-graduation options, which can include applying for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This article will provide crucial insights into the PGWP application process to help you understand the intricacies of the program and the associated rules and policies.

Schedule a Free Work Permit Consultation with the Cohen Immigration Law Firm

1. PGWP has a role in gaining Canadian work experience

A major benefit of the PGWP is that is enables international students to gain professional work experience in Canada. This work experience is important when PGWP holders go on to apply for Canadian immigration.

Many of Canada’s over 100 different immigration pathways reward candidates who have studied and/or worked in Canada. Usually, a PGWP holder will need one year of professional work experience in a National Occupational Classification (NOC) code of 0, A or B to then be eligible to apply for a Canadian permanent residence program.

2. To be eligible for the PGWP, you must have held full-time student status

In order to be considered a full-time student, you must have held full-time student status every academic session of the program or programs of study completed and included as part of your post-graduation work permit application.

Canada has waived this requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic for some international students. Exemptions may apply to those who have begun or will begin a program between spring 2020 and summer 2022, or those whose program was already in progress in March 2020.

Other eligibility criteria include:

  • Completed studies in program that is at least eight months long at an eligible Designated Learning Institution (DLI) List.
  • Study program must lead to a degree, diploma or certificate.
  • Received a transcript and an official letter from the eligible DLI confirming that the applicant has met the requirements to complete their program of study;
  • Graduated from: a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary school (in Quebec) that operates under the same rules as public schools in Quebec; a private secondary or post-secondary school (in Quebec) that offers qualifying programs of 900 hours or longer and results in the issuance of a diplôme d’études professionnelles (DEP) or an attestation de spécialisation professionnelle (ASP); or a Canadian private school that can award degrees under provincial law (for example, Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate degree) but only if the student was enrolled in a study program that leads to a degree as authorized by the province.

3. The PGWP cannot be renewed and you can only apply for one PGWP in your lifetime

Although you cannot renew your PGWP, you may be able to extend your PGWP if it was limited in duration by your passport expiration date. The validity period of your PGWP may not go beyond your passport’s validity date. If this is the case, you have to apply for a work permit extension upon the renewal of your passport in order to receive the full validity of your PGWP.

If you decide to return to school after applying for the PGWP, you will not be able to receive a new PGWP for additional programs of study. Further, any period of full-time study while working will not count toward Canadian work experience for Canadian immigration purposes.

4. You can apply to extend your PGWP before it expires if you qualify for a different type of work permit

If your PGWP is expiring, you can look into a different type of work permit, like an open work permit or an employer-specific work permit. If you meet all the requirements of this work permit and apply for it before your PGWP expires, you may have maintained status to continue working in Canada.

5. Maintained status grants you legal status while you wait for your extension to be processed

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), all foreign nationals that are authorized to enter Canada have temporary resident status. All temporary residents have an automatically imposed condition that they must leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay.

However, a temporary resident may apply to extend their period of authorized stay before it ends. If you have done this, your period of authorized stay as a temporary resident is extended by law until a decision is made. In addition, you are considered to have legal status as a temporary resident during the processing period.

6. Some PGWP applicants can work full-time while they wait for the processing of their PGWP application, even if they leave and re-enter Canada

If you are a graduate who applies for a PGWP before the expiry of your study permit, you are eligible to work full-time without a work permit while waiting for a decision on your application if all of the following apply:

  • You are or were the holder of a valid study permit at the time of the post-graduation work permit application.
  • You have completed your program of study.
  • You met the requirements for working off campus without a work permit, that is, you were a full-time student enrolled at a DLI in a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional training program of at least 8 months in duration that led to a degree, diploma or certificate
  • You did not exceed the allowable hours of work

You can remain eligible to work full-time without a work permit while waiting for a decision on your application even after leaving and re-entering Canada, but you must stop working immediately if you are notified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that your work permit has been refused.

7. Study permits become invalid 90 days after the end of the study program

It is important to keep in mind that a study permit will become invalid 90 days after the end of a study program. Further, you must apply for a PGWP within 180 days of obtaining proof that you have met the requirements for completing your program of study.

The days will begin to run when your final marks are issued or the day formal written notification of program completion is received, whichever comes first.

If your study permit becomes invalid or expires before you apply for a PGWP, you are not eligible to work without a permit and must either:

  • Leave Canada and apply for a PGWP overseas
  • Apply to restore your status as a student by applying for a PGWP with the correct fees ($255) and paying the fees to restore your status as a student ($350)

8. If your study permit is expired before you apply for a PGWP, there are several options of how and where to apply

If your study permit becomes invalid or expires before you apply for a PGWP, there are a few options. One option is to leave Canada and apply for a PGWP overseas.

Interestingly, you can also submit an application “outside” Canada while still remaining physically in Canada. If you want to remain in Canada, you must maintain your status as a visitor until you receive the actual work permit.

9. Ignoring the 120 days validity notice upon receipt of the PGWP application

Upon submitting your PGWP application, you will receive an auto-generated letter from IRCC. The letter will grant a 120 day validity period to continue working. This can be ignored.

The 120 days is based on the theoretical work permit processing time of 120 days for in-Canada applications. Historically, IRCC met its service standards more than 90% of the time and most should receive a decision on their application before the 120 days expire. If the 120 days have passed and no decision has been rendered, you can request proof of authorization to work using the IRCC web form.

The validity date of the letter in no way overrides the authority that allows foreign nationals who meet the requirements to continue working until a final decision is made on their work permit application.

10. Spouses and partners of PGWP holders may be eligible for a work permit

Spouses and common-law partners of PGWP holders may be eligible to apply for a work permit under the C41 exemption.

In order for the spouse or common law partner to be eligible under C41, the PGWP holder must:

  • Be authorized to work in Canada for a period of at least 6 months after spouse or common law partner’s open work permit application is received
  • Be employed in a high skilled occupation (NOC 0, A, B)
  • Be physically residing or plan to physically reside in Canada while employed

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