With 23,000 international students enrolled at the University of Toronto this academic year, many will be looking to stay in Canada after graduation and turn their student visas into something more permanent. However, the process to obtain postgraduate visas to work or live permanently in Canada may seem complicated, with the current pandemic only magnifying this difficulty.

Both the Government of Canada and U of T’s Centre for International Experience provide detailed immigration information online for international students looking to transition to working and living in Canada after completing their degree. International students can access immigration advisors via the latter if they require individual consultation.

The usual process 

As an international student, the easiest pathway to eventual permanent residency in Canada is the Federal Skilled Workers Program, which favours educated applicants and takes into account work experience gained as a student. 

There are six criteria judged as part of the program’s application: age, education, work experience, job offers, language skills, and adaptability to Canadian life. Applicants are scored points out of 100 based on these criteria, where more qualified individuals receive more points per category depending on what they are proficient at.

Studies at U of T already provide a range of 15–25 points depending on one’s education level. Given that the mark to pass selection is currently 67 points, U of T graduates already have an easier path to residency. 

For the language ability criterion, the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) is used to gauge one’s proficiency in English. As part of this program, one has to achieve a minimum CLB score of seven in all language skills. 

All U of T international students have already been required to take an approved English comprehension test to study at the university in the first place. Although the CLB is not one of the approved tests for U of T admission, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is.

The IELTS test is also accepted by Canadian Immigration and can be easily converted into the CLB scoring system. One requires an overall IELTS ‘band’ of 6.5 to study at U of T, which converts to a CLB score of 8 — exceeding the required minimum.

Pandemic post-graduate permits

Before getting on the path to permanent residency — or for graduates who only wish to stay in Canada for a short period — one must have a work permit. The most relevant permit to a recent U of T international student is the post-graduation work permit (PGWP). Most recent international graduates are eligible to obtain a PGWP, and most U of T degree programs grant eligibility for a permit allowing up to three years of work.

In all cases, PGWP applicants are required to have remained in full-time studies for the entire duration of their degree and must apply within 180 days of receiving their final marks. Under normal circumstances, they must also not have studied through distance learning for the majority of their studies.

As the current pandemic means that these are not ‘normal circumstances,’ exceptions have been made to allow for very little alteration to the postgraduate visa process. In particular, the U of T Office of the Vice-Provost has confirmed that students’ eligibility to apply for a PGWP would not be affected even if they studied online during fall 2020.

Students who have retained or have been approved for a study permit but are not able to travel to Canada due to pandemic restrictions will also not be penalized. Alongside this, international students may complete up to 50 per cent of their program online if they are unable to travel, and they will still be eligible for a PGWP.

Finally, students who started a U of T degree outside of Canada between May and September will still be eligible to apply for a PGWP even if they graduate before in-person classes resume.