Source data provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Immigration officials rejected almost 2,000 Post-Graduation Work Permit applications last year – a big increase that marks a trend toward stricter enforcement of the law.

The number of students who failed to get Post-Graduation Work Permits jumped from 393 rejections in 2013 to 1,969 rejections last year, an increase of 500 percent.

The Post-Graduation Work Permit is an essential first step for international students who want to work in Canada or who hope to become permanent residents. It is generally available to students who complete a degree or diploma at a publicly funded college or university.

There are several reasons students can be refused, but Vancouver immigration lawyer Will Tao says the rules aren’t always clear – and aren’t always applied evenly.

“Some students get it and some students don’t,” Tao said, adding that it often depends on which officer is assessing a file.

Nancy Caron, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, noted that the number of permits granted has also increased significantly and that the approval rate continues to be very high, with nine out of 10 students getting their permit. Department statistics show that approvals increased 170 percent in the same period that refusals went up 500 percent.

Raj Mohan is the pseudonym of a film student in Vancouver whose application was turned down in March. (He asked that Polestar News not publish his real name because he feared it might hurt an ongoing immigration application.)

“I was getting a lot of work, a lot creative work and becoming part of a creative community,” he said.

“Then over lunch one Saturday, out with friends, I get an email from my lawyer. I was shattered.”

Mohan spent two years in India planning and saving up for his Canadian studies. He arrived in 2015 and paid $55,000 tuition to the Vancouver Film School. He applied for the Post-Graduation Work Permit in December, 2016, and was legally allowed to work while the application was processed. He stopped when his application was rejected. Mohan said he couldn’t renew his driver’s license because he didn’t have a Study Permit or Work Permit and he lost his medical insurance, which was tied to his Study Permit.

“Having no status takes a toll on everything,” he said. “It’s like – be a piece of furniture and stay indoors.”

The thing that really bothers him, he says, is that some of his fellow students got Post-Graduation Work Permits and others didn’t.

According to several immigration lawyers, that’s happening across the country. Students doing diploma and certificate programs in private colleges aren’t supposed to get Post-Graduation Work Permits, but sometimes they do. Under Canadian immigration law, students of Vancouver Film School are not eligible for Post-Graduation Work Permits because the school is not publicly funded and does not offer degrees. Yet many students of Vancouver Film School do get permits.

James Griffin, president of Vancouver Film School, did not return calls from Polestar News.

British Columbia publishes a list of colleges and universities that qualify students for Post-Graduation Work Permits, but most provinces do not. So how can a student figure out whether their studies will qualify them for the Post-Graduation Work Permit?

“To be honest, without a published list, I don’t see how they can,” Tao said.

Part of the confusion, according to Tao, may be traced to the fact that federal government publishes a list of schools that qualify for Study Permits. Those schools are called “designated learning institutions.” But a student who enrols in a language institute or private career college is not eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit, even if their college or institute is a designated learning institution.

“The designated learning institution (system) is giving a false impression,” said Tao. “If it’s designated, that doesn’t mean that it qualifies for Post-Graduation Work Permits.”

Immigration consultant Dani Willett is a former IRCC visa officer. She says that enforcement of the rules was tightened because of flagrant abuse. Some private schools were setting up programs that were designed solely for the purpose of students getting Post-Graduation Work Permits.

Attending a private college is not the only reason that applications are rejected. Some students fail to apply within 90 days of finishing their studies, as required. In other cases, immigration officers have determined that students were not studying full-time or not actively pursuing studies, which are requirements of the Post-Graduation Work Permit.

“The policy is troubling and prone to abuse,” Tao said. “IRCC (should) offer more clarity with regards to Study Permits and Post-Graduation Work Permits.”

Tao said those rules are also vague. He said that some immigration officers have refused Post-Graduation Work Permits to students who took time off school for medical reasons, or who have a bad semester academically.

“At these non-eligible institutions, it appears some students get post-graduate work permits and some students don’t,” Tao said in a follow-up email to Polestar News. “I think it is starting to depend on which officer is assessing a file and whether they decide to exercise some positive discretion. This seems to run contrary to IRCC policy relating to private institutions needing to be degree conferring. Clearly more certainty is needed.”

Post-Graduation Work Permits Received and Processed by Year
Applications Received Approved Refused Total Processed Approval Rate
2013 31,634 34,363 393 34,756 99%
2014 38,333 37,809 1,035 38,844 97%
2015 42,506 34,953 1,354 36,307 96%
2016 52,232 55,844 1,969 57,813 97%
2017: Jan-March 12,466 9,880 586 10,466 94%
Source: Table provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

For detailed information about the rules, visit the Post-Graduation Work Permit page of the Student Immigration Network.

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