A Statistics Canada study shows that international students have been a growing source of labour in the Canadian economy over the past decade.

The significant increase in the number of international students arriving in Canada in recent years has resulted in increased participation in the PGWPP, according to a recent Statistics Canada study.

Over the past decade, the number of first-time study permit holders in Canada has continued to rise, from around 75,000 in the mid-2000s to 250,000 in 2019, the study says.

Consistent with this trend, a greater proportion of international students have moved on to participate in the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) and obtained a work permit after they graduate.

The PGWPP is a temporary worker program that offers international students who graduate from Canadian post-secondary institutions the possibility of obtaining an open work permit to stay and work in Canada. To be eligible for the program, candidates must have completed a program of study of at least eight months at an eligible institution in Canada.

The duration of the permit is then based on the length of the completed study program, up to a maximum of three years.

As an open work permit, the post-graduation work permit allows international graduates to work in any occupation anywhere in Canada and to change employers at any time.

According to the study, over the period 2008 to 2018, the annual number of new Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders increased six-fold, from 10,300 to 64,700.

This increase was observed for both men and women, although men accounted for a higher proportion of PGWP holders over the same period.

China and India have been the countries of origin of 51% of all PGWP holders since 2008, but by 2018 these two source countries accounted for 66% of all issued PGWPs. In addition, international students from India saw their share increase by more than four times, from 10% in 2008 to 46% in 2018. The reverse trend was observed for China, with a decrease from 41% to 20% over the same period.

Ontario attracted the largest share of international students as a work destination in 2008 at 44%, and this has increased over time to 56% in 2018. The share of those intending to go to British Columbia and Quebec, the other two most popular destinations, has decreased between 2008 and 2018.

In terms of labour market participation of PGWP holders, the study notes that in 2008, a total of 10,300 PGWP holders submitted positive T4 tax returns. This grew to 135, 100 by 2018. Over that period, the median earnings of PGWP holders with employment income also increased from $14,500 (in 2018 dollars) in 2008 to $26,800 in 2018, indicating greater input in the labour market, according to the report.

Also notable, the study found that close to three-quarters of all PGWP holders transitioned to permanent residence within five years of obtaining their PGWP. Transition rates among PGWP holders for college and master’s level programs were the highest, especially among the more recent cohorts.

These findings, the study concludes, highlight the importance of the PGWPP to both international students and the Canadian economy.

“On the one hand, the PGWPP allows international students who have graduated from a recognized Canadian post-secondary institution to gain work experience in Canada and can provide the necessary job experience required to apply for some permanent residence streams.”

The PGWPP allows to bridge the gap between a Canadian education and in-country work experience and thus can improve the chances of obtaining Canadian permanent residence through the federal Express Entry system. Having a Canadian degree and work experience allows Express Entry candidates to score higher on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS), thus increasing their chances of obtaining permanent residency status. Other programs such as the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), for those who have studied in Quebec, are also among immigration streams that favour candidates with a Canadian degree and work experience.

And in a broader sense, as the study also notes, “the PGWPP facilitates international students’ contribution to the Canadian labour market, increases the pool of qualified candidates for eventual immigration and serves to make Canada a more attractive destination of study.”

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