Staying in Canada after graduation: What are your options as an international student?

Staying in Canada after graduation: What are your options as an international student?

Many international students finishing their post-secondary academic programs want to stay in Canada after graduation to live, work and eventually become permanent residents.

There are a few options for ways to stay in Canada once school is finished. The most popular option is to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).

A PGWP is an open work permit, meaning that holders can work for almost any employer in Canada. It is valid for between eight months and three years, depending on the program’s length. Undergraduate or college academic programs that are shorter than eight months duration are not eligible for a PGWP.

Programs two years or more will result in a PGWP valid for up to three years for eligible applicants.

To get a PGWP, students must apply within 180 days of receiving their final transcript from their designated learning institution (DLI) in addition to an official letter confirming that the requirements to complete the program of study have been met.

If a DLI does not send a transcript before a study permit expires, former international students can apply for a visitor record. This means they can stay in Canada but will not be permitted to work until their PGWP application is approved.

Visitor records

A visitor record is not the same as a visitor visa. Visitor records are for those who are already in Canada and wish to extend their stay. This happens most frequently for foreign nationals in Canada as visitors, but anyone with an expiring work or study permit may also apply.

Again, a visitor record allows holders to remain in Canada, but they are not permitted to work while in the country. The validity period of visitor record is at the discretion of the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officer who processes the application, or a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer who reviews the application at a Port of Entry should the applicant choose to flagpole (leave Canada briefly and immediately return).

Applicants must apply no less than 30 days before their study permit expires.

Apply for a different work permit

Canada offers multiple work permit pathways for foreign nationals who want to gain work experience to help strengthen a permanent residence application. Applicants may be eligible for an open work permit through the International Mobility Program (IMP), or they may have an employer sponsor them through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Apply for a new study permit

Some international graduates who complete an undergraduate degree or college program may decide to pursue a second degree or diploma in a different subject or a graduate degree in their field of study.

If this is the case, applicants should apply for a new study permit. Potential applicants should note that there have been some changes recently to how international students are approved for a study permit. For example, as of January 2024, the Cost of Living Requirement increased from $10,000 to $20,635 for a single student and those who wish to complete a second undergraduate degree or college program must obtain a Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL).

However, master’s and other graduate level international students are exempt from obtaining a PAL and may be eligible for a three-year PGWP after graduation even if their academic program is shorter than two years.

Note that those pursuing this pathway should not apply for a PGWP until they complete their second academic program as PGWPs are only granted once.