Many international students choose to stay and work in Canada after completing their undergraduate or graduate programs. This is a great way to gain professional experience in the global workforce and makes it easier to apply for permanent residence (PR), if you wish to settle in Canada permanently.
To work in Canada after your graduation, you’ll need a valid work permit. As an international student, depending on the study program you opted for, you may qualify for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). However, if you’re not eligible for a PGWP, you may still qualify for an Employer-Specific Work Permit, which allows you to work for a specific employer in Canada. This article will provide you with an overview of work permits that allow you to work in Canada after graduation. We’ll also address commonly asked questions about Canadian work permits and highlight some common immigration pathways available to international students after graduation.
What is a Post-Graduation Work Permit?
A Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) is an open work permit that international students can apply for after completing their study program in Canada. Like other open work permits, the PGWP allows the holder to work for almost any employer in Canada for the duration of the permit.
Since a PGWP is not job-specific, you don’t need a job offer to qualify. You also don’t require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada to apply for a PGWP.
Eligibility criteria for a Post-Graduation Work Permit
You may be eligible to apply for a PGWP from inside Canada after you graduate if you meet the below criteria:
- Your study permit was valid at some point within the last 180 days, you have a valid visitor record, or you submitted an application to extend your study permit or to change your status to “visitor” before your study permit expired and your application is still pending.
- You completed a study program offered by a Designated Learning Institute (DLI) in Canada.
- Your study program was at least eight months long and led to a degree, diploma, or certificate.
- You were a full-time student in Canada throughout your study program. Permissible exceptions include a part-time final semester, authorized leave of up to 150 days during your study program, or a change to part-time studies between March 2020 and fall 2020 due to COVID-19.
You’ve graduated from one of the following:
- a public post-secondary school, such as a college, trade/technical school, university or CEGEP (in Quebec).
- 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 more that lead to a vocational studies diploma or accreditation.
- a Canadian private school that can award degrees under provincial law, provided you’re enrolled in a study program that leads to a degree as authorized by the province.
As many study programs were delivered online during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible to apply for a PGWP from outside Canada if:
- You were enrolled in a program that was in progress in March 2020.
- You started or will start a program between spring 2020 and fall 2021 and
- have a study permit,
- have been approved for a study permit, or applied for a study permit before starting your study program (your study permit must eventually be approved),
- You meet all the other eligibility criteria for the PGWP.
In such cases, only the time you spent studying outside Canada after submitting your study permit application counts towards the length of your PGWP.
Exceptions to the eligibility criteria for PGWP
You WILL NOT be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit if:
- Your study permit expired more than 180 days before you applied or, if while applying from outside Canada, you only received first stage approval for a study permit and not a final decision.
- You’ve already received a PGWP.
- The study program you enrolled in was French or English as a second language, or general interest or self-improvement courses.
- You completed a majority of your study program through distance learning (online, e-learning, or correspondence).
- You completed a study program at a non-Canadian institution in Canada.
- You participated in the Government of Canada Awards Program, the Canada-China Scholars’ Exchange Program, or the Organization of American States Fellowships Program.
- You received funding from Global Affairs Canada or got the Equal Opportunity Scholarship, Canada-Chile.
When to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit?
Once your study program is complete and you receive your degree, diploma, transcript, or official letter from your school, you have 180 days to apply for a PGWP.
Typically, your study permit will remain valid for 90 days after the completion of your study program, and it’s possible that it may expire before you get your final marks or degree/diploma. If your study permit expires before you receive your marks or degree, you’ll need to either apply for a visitor record or a temporary resident visa to stay in Canada or leave the country and apply for a PGWP.
If you don’t change your status to “visitor,” you’ll have up to 90 days after your study permit expires to restore your status as a student and apply for a PGWP. In this case, you aren’t allowed to work in Canada until your student status is restored and your work permit is approved.
How long is a PGWP valid?
The validity of your PGWP depends on the length of your study program. If your study program was between eight months and two years, you’ll likely qualify for a PGWP that’s valid for the same length of time as your study program. If your program was longer than two years, you may receive a PGWP that’s valid for three years.
If you’ve completed two or more study programs as an international student in Canada, the length of your PGWP will be based on the cumulative duration of your study programs, provided each program meets the eligibility criteria and was longer than eight months.
What is the fee for a Post-Graduation Work Permit?
The application fee for a PGWP is usually $255 CAD. However, if your status as a student in Canada expires before you apply for your PGWP, you’ll need to pay an additional $350 to restore your status.
Application process for PGWP from within or outside Canada
- Gather essential documents in electronic form and your debit or credit card.
- Read the instruction guide.
- Prepare your responses for the online application tool.
- Understand the application fees. When applying for your PGWP, be sure to pay both the open work permit holder fee and the work permit fee. If you’re applying from outside Canada, you’ll also need to pay a biometrics fee along with the application processing fee. In addition, you’ll need to account for third-party costs, such as your medical exam, police certificate, and the service fee charged by the visa application centre.
- Create your online account with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to pay your fees, submit the application, and track its status.
If you’re experiencing a problem with the online application, you can submit a paper application instead.
Do you need a visitor visa or eTA along with a PGWP?
If you’re applying for a PGWP from outside Canada, depending on your country of citizenship, you may also require a visitor visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter Canada. In such cases, the visa will be issued along with your PGWP without requiring a separate application.
Processing time for a Post-Graduation Work Permit
As of November 2021, the average processing time for Post-Graduation Work Permits in Canada is 93 days. However, the processing time for your PGWP may vary based on the type of application, whether you’re filing the application from within or outside Canada, its completion status, the ease with which your information can be verified, as well as the total volume of PGWP applications received by the IRCC.
Am I still eligible for a PGWP if I completed my Canadian study program through distance learning due to COVID-19?
Usually only the time you spend studying in Canada on a valid study permit counts towards your eligibility for a PGWP. However, in light of the travel restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most study programs were conducted online during this time, the Canadian government has made some exceptions.
Can I extend my PGWP?
Typically, you cannot extend your PGWP beyond the period for which it was first granted. However, if your passport is scheduled to expire and you receive a PGWP that’s less than the duration you would otherwise have been eligible for, the government will give you a PGWP that’s valid until your passport expires and ask you to renew your passport in order to extend your PGWP. You can only extend your PGWP if the government indicates this in the form of a note on your initial work permit.
Can my spouse work while I’m in Canada on a PGWP?
In most cases, your spouse or common-law partner is eligible to work in Canada while you’re on a PGWP. However, they will need to apply for their own work permit and meet the eligibility criteria for working in Canada.
Employer-specific work permit
An employer-specific work permit (sometimes also called a closed work permit) allows you to work in Canada for a specific employer for a predetermined period. This means your work permit is job-specific and may include conditions around your job location, pay, and job responsibilities. Depending on your field of work, you may also require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to qualify.
You may qualify for an employer-specific work permit, if you are:
Being hired through the Global Talent Stream
Some Canadian employers are eligible to hire foreign workers with unique and specialized talents or high levels of skill to fill positions for in-demand occupations under the Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
If your employer hires you through this stream, they’ll first need to provide you with a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) that outlines your eligibility for the Global Talent Stream. You’ll also need a valid job offer letter or contract from the employer to apply. In addition, you must prove that you meet the general eligibility requirements for a work permit, including proof of funds to support yourself and your family, a police clearance certificate, and medical exam results.
Applying for PR under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP)
If you’re planning on applying for PR under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP), you may be eligible for a one-year employer-specific work permit if:
- You have a full-time job offer from a designated employer in an Atlantic province.
- You have a referral letter issued by an Atlantic province asking IRCC to issue a work permit without an LMIA.
- You have signed a commitment form agreeing to apply for PR under the AIPP within 90 days of applying for a work permit.
- You meet the eligibility criteria for working in Canada.
Settling down in Canada: Immigration pathways for international students
As an international student, studying in Canada and staying to work after your graduation can increase your chances of qualifying for immigration. Canada offers several immigration pathways for international students, both at the federal and provincial levels.
If you’re planning to apply for PR under the Express Entry program, you may get extra points for Canadian education and work experience under the Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Worker Program, or Federal Skilled Trades Program. These extra points can improve your overall CRS score and increase your chances of qualifying.
Many provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba, also offer specialized Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) streams for international students who’ve studied in the province. These streams may or may not require work experience, but having Canadian work experience usually makes it easier to qualify. The Atlantic provinces don’t have separate PNP streams for international students, and instead invite applications under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP).
One of the reasons tens of thousands of international students choose to study in Canada is the post-graduate work opportunities the country offers. As an international student, you may be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit, which allows you to start your career in Canada after you complete your program of study. With some Canadian work experience under your belt, you may also be able to leverage the immigration pathways available to international students to permanently settle and work in Canada.
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Sugandha Mahajan Content Manager
Sugandha is a marketing professional with 11 years of experience in content marketing, communications, and strategic planning.