If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere – or a Short Guide for International Students

If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere, It’s up to you, …

The song of course refers to the metropolis of New York City. The theme is true for everyone leaving behind the familiar for the unknown.

International students have to deal with the unfamiliar, maintain their studies (perhaps in a second or third language), pay significant amounts of money for these studies, and of course many if not most have the ultimate goal of setting down roots in the new country that they have chosen.

Many succeed, some fail.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family in unhappy in its own way” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

There are myriad reasons for the loss of the dream that international students arrived with. Sometimes finances and support from back home fall through. Sometimes they are not able to deal with studies in a different language, in a different context and milieu. Sometimes it’s health. Right now I’m trying to help an international student from Nigeria who has been here for 5 years. While he graduated with an Engineering degree, he has unfortunately developed major depressive disorder with catatonia. He inexplicably sent his application for a Post Graduate Work Permit to the wrong CIC office. By the time it was returned, he was no longer eligible. CBSA met him at the hospital where he was being treated with electroconvulsive treatment. They want him to leave because of his one mistake, likely caused by his medical condition that arose without warning. His friend sought me out, and we are trying to do what we can for this young man.

Sometimes international students are unable to navigate the immigration system even though CIC’s website seems to encourage applicants to do such applications on their own. Many times they simply rely on the advice given to them by others (not knowing perhaps that immigration, certainly in Canada, is as inconstant as the moon).

“O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”

Romeo and Juliet, Scene 2 Act 2

As my friend Will Tao notes, you only get one chance to get the Post Graduate Work Permit right. Believe me, I know. I tried judicial review for a refused PGWP for an international student that also fell through and ultimately failed.

My suggestions?

Have a strategy. Do your research. Understand the pitfalls.

Prevention of course is always the best cure. International students need to do a massive amount of research and need to ensure that they understand their options in terms of working on and off campus and after graduation. If they are married, they should know and avail themselves of Spousal Open Work Permits for accompanying spouses. They need to understand the options to remain permanently and perhaps not put all their eggs in one basket (the international students that graduated and have worked in unskilled occupations hoping for provincial nomination in Alberta are now confronted with processing times of 18-24 months and of course, can’t typically apply under Express Entry). They need to understand the available support and engage perhaps with the diaspora here in multicultural Canada (or Australia, New Zealand, UK or the US). Indian students, heavily courted by New Zealand are complaining that they are not being given the support they need.

Know the CIC website! For example, off-campus work (s.186(v) of the IRPR) is restricted to those attending academic, professional programs at a Designated Learning Institute and restricted to 20 hours per week during the academic semester and full time during regularly scheduled breaks. That PGWP, so critical to remaining here permanently and obtaining Canadian work experience must be applied for as soon as possible after completion of the credential (90 days max, and I don’t know why students are waiting so long to apply).

Be careful when you are applying on your own. I’ve had more than one student that has lost the PGWP opportunity for failing to upload his/her passport. A paper application may be better (online upload may be easier to miss).

Be cautious about accepting advice from even well meaning relatives, friends or other advice givers. A PGWP cannot be extended (I don’t know how many times I’ve been told they can).

The PGWP is really really important. Remember, you need to have a valid study permit when you apply for a PGWP. You need to be studying for at least 8 months (you are a fool if you apply for a PGWP after a 8 month program as you only get an equivalent length of PGWP and thus not enough for qualifying Canadian work experience for a future APR; a 2 year program gets you a 3 year PGWP). You need to get proof of completion or a letter from the institute that you have completed and eligible for a credential and of course you need to apply within 90 days of receiving that letter or proof of grant. Make sure you include the right fees! Don’t apply for the PGWP if you are out of the country. Have it in your hand (and of course a visa or appropriate authorization to return) if you decide to visit your folks.

Start thinking of Permanent Residence sooner rather than later. Next time you are in class and sitting between two other international students – look to right, look to your left, only one of you will get permanent residency. Understand your options to remain. In terms of the Express Entry, international students fall short on points allocated to foreign work experience under the current algorithms governing calculation of the Candidate Ranking Score (CRS). As of right now, perhaps you may want to obtain a year or more of skilled work experience before applying for studies in Canada. In my experience, it’s difficult for a 22-26 year old to obtain sufficient points but it appears that there’s light at the end of this particular tunnel with Minister McCallum promising a leg up for international students. There are points to be had for proficiency in both of Canada’s Official Languages. Perhaps more international students (outside of Quebec) should be studying French.

There’s nothing I hate more than false hope. I do predict a drop from the current minimums, but nothing drastic. Also, don’t pin all your hopes on an employer that promises you a LMIA. There’s been a massive drop in the number of LMIAs that have been issued.

You are responsible for your immigration and you alone. It’s up to you. If you research, understand, plan, are pro-active and take action, you will maximize your chances at success.

Good luck.