Permanent Residence in Canada is not guaranteed for international students

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: July 4, 2024

This year has seen a variety of changes that have significantly altered the landscape of studying in Canada as a foreign student.

These changes help highlight a fact about immigrating to Canada as an international student/graduate: permanent residence (PR) is not guaranteed.

While Canada offers multiple pathways to work and even permanently settle in the country after graduation, this is far from a given, especially when considering Canada’s own immigration priorities.

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Why is permanent residence not guaranteed for international students?

International students who graduate from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) in Canada must still jump several hurdles before obtaining PR in Canada—even if they are good candidates.

First, graduates must often gain work experience to build eligibility for many economic PR programs—usually through obtaining a Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), which enables graduates to work for most employers in most industries, anywhere in Canada. PGWPs are usually issued corresponding to the length of study that a student has undertaken—however new changes may be on the horizon for this program.

After building eligibility, graduates who wish to stay in Canada permanently, must apply to a relevant PR program. Often international graduates apply to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program, within the Express Entry system—a PR stream made for those with Canadian education and work experience. However, graduates may also find themselves eligible for other routes, such as Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) within their province or territory of residence. Some PNP streams even target international graduates directly after graduation.

This seemingly simple transition to PR is often filled with wait times, and now features a prioritisation system according to Canada’s labour market and demographic needs. For example, the Express Entry system recently began incorporating a system of category-based selections; with emphasis candidates with French language ability, and/or professional experience in one of five in-demand sectors—granting them preferential selection for PR. What this means is that Canada’s federal immigration system can now prioritise candidates who fit these categories rather than those with higher Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) scores. A similar dynamic can be observed in various PNP streams, wherein those with sought after professional experience, demographic traits, and even family in the province/territory can receive PR status over those who simply have high ranking scores.

These factors can work against an international graduate in their bid to gain PR. Often international students are also bound by the length of their PGWP to stay in Canada. If a international graduate does not obtain PR within the length of their PGWP validity—and they are unable to obtain a new temporary residence status—they will have to leave Canada. While their Express Entry profile will remain valid if they still meet eligibility criteria of their program, this can pose yet another hurdle to international graduates looking to remain in Canada.

How can students best place themselves to receive PR?

While the above remains true, international graduates of Canadian DLIs continue to be some of the strongest candidates for Canadian immigration. One of the best things that international students can do to maximise their eligibility for PR is to closely look at in-demand professional experience, and/or developing language ability that the government values in newcomers.

Under Express Entry category-based selection for example, candidates who meet any of the following definitions can be prioritised to receive PR—with less emphasis put on their CRS score:

  • Healthcare professionals;
  • STEM professionals;
  • Trades professionals;
  • Transport professionals;
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food professionals; and
  • Individuals with a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level of 7 in all aspects of French.

International graduates pursuing PR may find utility in maximising their eligibility under one of these categories, to further enhance their chances at receiving PR.

In addition to looking at the federal system, international graduates can also explore the eligibility of their local provincial programs as well—for example the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) in Quebec. Here are some programs that target international graduates in different provinces:

Alberta

  • Graduate Entrepreneur stream;
  • Foreign Graduate Entrepreneur stream; and
  • Alberta Opportunity stream;

British Columbia

  • International Graduate category; and
  • International Post-Graduate category.

Manitoba

  • Manitoba Work Experience pathway;
  • Employer Direct Recruitment pathway;
  • International Education stream; and
  • Graduate Internship pathway.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • International Graduate category; and
  • International Graduate Entrepreneur category,

Nova Scotia

  • International Graduate In-demand stream; and
  • International Graduate Entrepreneur stream.

Ontario

  • Human Capital category;
  • Master's or PhD category; and
  • Employer Job Offer category.

Saskatchewan

  • Saskatchewan Experience category—Student sub-category; and
  • International Graduate Entrepreneur category.

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