They hoped for jobs and to immigrate to Canada. For international students, the pandemic has dimmed that hope

Will be interesting if the government relaxes the one-year requirement given COVID-19 and if so, how and under what conditions:

The dream of becoming a Canadian was within reach for Joyce de Paula until COVID-19 hit in March. All she needed was four more months.

Instead, that dream is now shattered after she was laid off as a marketing analyst, just four months shy of the one year of Canadian work experience she required to be eligible for permanent residence in Canada.

The Brazilian woman is among tens of thousands of former international students whose immigration plans are now in limbo because they are running out of time to secure a job in the midst of massive layoffs and an economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of us, but there is nothing we can do,” lamented de Paula, 28, who graduated from Centennial College with a postgraduate certificate in market research and analytics last May before landing a 12-month contract with Dufflet Pastries in July.

Studying in Canada has become a shortcut to immigration in recent years, with Ottawa putting more emphasis on Canadian education and work experience in the selection process.

Those who graduate from a Canadian college or university are granted a postgraduate work permit that lasts between one and three years, depending on the duration of their academic programs.

Immigration candidates must have at least one year of Canadian work experience before their work permits expire in order to get the bonus points for their applications. Anything short of that threshold won’t count.

Attaining the coveted permanent residence status should have been smooth sailing for de Paula, who would’ve had her 12-month experience under her belt when her work permit expires in August.

“It’s so hard to get any job now. Who is going to hire someone with a work permit expiring in four months?” asked de Paula, who has started an online petition urging Ottawa to extend the postgrad work permits of international graduates affected by COVID-19. The petition has already collected more than 1,270 signatures.

Phil Lao, who just finished the one-year construction project management postgrad program at London’s Fanshawe College in April, said the window for getting a relevant job in his field is narrowing.

“For many of the international students, our end goal is permanent residence. This is very disconcerting and we need more time to wait out the storm,” said the 29-year-old, who has an undergrad degree in architecture from the Philippines and earlier this month started working in a factory assembling respiratory equipment like nebulizers and inhalers. “This is so stressful.”

The pandemic has also wreaked havoc for international students seeking internship opportunities, which many had hoped could lead to jobs upon graduation.

Ashton Samson, also from the Philippines, was supposed to start a placement at a visual effects studio in Toronto in late March, but it was cancelled. Now, he has finished the visual effects and editing for contemporary media program at Fanshawe without any Canadian experience.

He said most productions have shut down their offices and there are few job openings even in graphic design, something he used to do in the Philippines.

Some graduating international students have chosen to take more courses or enrol in another program to buy time to delay applying for a postgrad work permit, but Samson said he has already spent $28,000 studying here — including $17,000 in tuition — and has no money left.

“The pressure is immense,” said the 24-year-old. “We have invested so much in this country that we hope Canada can see our effort and help us in any way it can. We just need to buy more time.”

Marcelo Moraes, who completed his postgrad certificate in digital media content strategy at Humber College in April, was fortunate enough to secure a paid co-op placement at the school, but said trying to find a job will be a tall order even after the pandemic is over, let alone for someone on a work permit.

“I have sent out more than 70 resumes. Everyone is putting their hirings on hold,” said the 46-year-old Brazilian, who has years of experience in assessing, implementing and managing media content strategies. “It’s a challenging job market. COVID just makes everything that much more difficult.”

For Meenal Devgan, going back to school is not an option because she is already on her work permit, which is only given out to an international student once.

The 28-year-old, who has a degree in legal studies from India, enrolled in the human resources management program at Conestoga College in Kitchener in 2018 and started a job as a restaurant supervisor last August before her layoff on March 22. She has since applied to 100 jobs, but is still unemployed.

“This is a big deal for our future. It is not our fault that businesses are closed,” said Devgan, whose work permit expires in August. “A lot of people are in the same boat. We have no options. I just hope immigration (officials) can count our layoff time toward our permanent residence applications.”

Source: They hoped for jobs and to immigrate to Canada. For international students, the pandemic has dimmed that hope

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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