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Foreign Students, Provincial Nominee Programs, Work Permits

Manitoba makes it harder for some foreign students to immigrate here? Why this is a bad idea.

This month, Manitoba introduced new rules that make it harder for foreign students from outside Manitoba to qualify for Canadian permanent residence under Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program.

As of September 1st, foreign students who previously studied in another Canadian province or territory will not be eligible to apply under the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program unless they can prove that:

1. They have at least one year of ongoing work experience with a Manitoba employer;

2. They have a valid work permit:

3. They have an offer of permanent full-time employment from a Manitoba employer.

Clearly, this change has been introduced because some foreign students have been using the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program to obtain Canadian permanent residency and then move to other provinces.

Unfortunately, there are side effects to this strategy.

Under the law, many foreign students can work after graduation under what is called the “Post-Graduation Work Permit Program”. These are work permits that allow the foreign student to work in Canada for any employer for between 8 months and 3 years.

If a student’s program of study is two years or more, the student would be eligible for a three-year work permit.

If the program of study is less than two years but at least eight months, the student would be eligible for a work permit lasting for a period equal to the duration of their studies. For instance, if the student graduated from an eight-month certificate program, he or she would only be eligible for a work permit of 8 month.

These post-graduation work permits allow employers to hire new graduates without having to recruit for the position or pay a set wage.‎ This is great for employers and students in that it gives both the ability to assess each other’s suitability.

In August, Service Canada changed its rules ‎for extensions of these types of work permits. Now, if an employer wants to extend these work permits, employers must pay the student the median wage for the position in the geographic area where the job will be located. Before this change, employers only needed to pay entry-level wages.

It is rare that a recent graduate can command the median wage for an occupation given that this wage calculation includes employees with many years in the field. Given that Manitoba typically takes months to assess applications, this may effectively eliminate students who have completed programs of fewer than 2 years.

Why? Because a minimum of 12 months of work experience in Manitoba is needed, a student who completed a program of 12 months or less will not be able to apply to Manitoba unless he or she gets a work permit extension. If a work permit extension cannot be granted because the employer cannot pay the student the median wage, that student would not be able to get a work permit extension. The student may then leave Canada and may find work elsewhere. The chances of the student moving back to Canada decreases.

As well, because Manitoba can take months to assess an application and students may not begin work in Manitoba the moment their work permit is issued, a student may need a longer work permit before they would even be able to be approved. For instance, if Manitoba takes 3-6 months to process an application and the student did not begin working in Manitoba until 3-6 months after first getting the post-graduation work permit, the effective time a student would need a post-graduation work permit and extension would be 18-24 months to continue working in Manitoba without encountering immigration issues.

Is this the right thing to do? Certainly, Manitoba has to guard against fraud. However,  the better thing to do is to assess an individual’s particular circumstance. If Manitoba allowed students to apply after 8 or 9 months of work in Manitoba, this would give students who have completed shorter programs a better ability to potentially immigrate to Canada. As well, Manitoba would have a better opportunity to assess whether these students are serious about settling here. Manitoba should not be shutting out these grads.

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About Reis Pagtakhan

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration law partner with MLT Aikins LLP. His extensive experience includes assisting businesses obtain temporary entry to Canada and permanent residency for their executives, employees and contractors from all over the world. Reis has lectured on and written papers on immigration law for the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, the Human Resources Management Association of Manitoba, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, and the Community Legal Education Association of Manitoba. He has presented position papers before the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Department officials and Manitoba Labour and Immigration. He has written articles on immigration for the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press, trade, industry and ethnic publications.

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