People march towards Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland's office in Toronto, during a rally led by current and former international students calling for changes to immigration rules during COVID-19, on Sept. 12, 2020. A new work permit program for international students in Canada is taking applications starting today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

New work permit program for international graduates in Canada taking applications

New work permit program for international graduates in Canada taking applications

A new work-permit program aimed at encouraging international students to settle in Canada opened for applications Wednesday, offering hope to some eager graduates who were still seeking more details on the program.

The federal government announced the program this month after international students argued the pandemic had disrupted the job market, making it hard to gain work experience required to apply for permanent residency before their permits expired.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the new permit offers people more time to find work in Canada after graduating from post-secondary studies.

Former students with post-graduation work permits that have expired or will soon expire can now apply for open work permits.

Under the new program, people have 18 more months to stay in the country to look for work.

The federal department estimates that about 52,000 graduates could benefit.

Shiva Montazeri, a Brock University graduate originally from Iran, said Wednesday that she felt relief again after a difficult year.

Montazeri, 37, said she lost eight months of work before her permit expired in October, and she was “happy and surprised” when the government announced the open work permit program this month.

She plans to apply, and is eager to accept a recent job offer for an online teaching position. But she still had uncertainties Wednesday about whether her husband is also eligible to apply for a work permit, and how soon after applying she can start working.

“We were impacted in a very bad way. Now are hopeful again, because we can apply for a new work permit,” she said by phone from St. Catharines, Ont. “But still, we have some concerns.”

Post-graduation work permits allow international graduates to gain work experience in “skilled” Canadian jobs and later apply for permanent residence in the country.

Sarom Rho, who leads a migrant student campaign with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the change is a major win for the thousands of people who feared potential deportation once their non-renewable permits expired.

“This is a massive change and it’s absolutely a step in the right direction,” Rho said in an interview.

“However, there are many who are still left behind.”

Some people whose permits were near expiring have already left the country and can’t apply under the new rules, Rho said, or they went home to visit their families and have been unable to return due to travel restrictions.

Others whose permits are set to expire after November 2021 are also ineligible to apply, Rho said.

Rho’s group, Migrant Students United, also wants Ottawa to consider hours worked in essential jobs unrelated to graduates’ programs of study towards their permanent residency applications.

The group is holding an online session Thursday to take field questions about the program and how to apply.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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