Canadian Immigration Pathway: Study, then Work, then Immigrate

In this pathway, applicants will apply for a Canadian study program, a study permit and a work permit, before they can apply for permanent residence.

This pathway is ideal for those who are about to graduate from high school, recently graduated from high school, or are young professionals. They are not yet qualified for any direct immigration applications, such as Express Entry, because they have a low immigration score and/or do not have a sufficient level of education.

How long is it going to take?
2.5-6 years*
*Estimated timeline
  • Apply to and be accepted at a Canadian school3-6 months
  • Get a study permit1-3 months
  • Complete your studyat least 8 months
  • Get a work permit1-3 months
  • Apply for immigration24-30 months

    Timeline is 7-8 months for Canadian Experience Class Under Express Entry

Considering these timeframes, the whole journey to citizenship will take years.

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What is the process?

Apply to a Canadian school

Applying to a Canadian school is the very first step. Deciding which school to go to and what program to study can be daunting to many international students.

Yet this must consider the future immigration pathway.

The international student must:
  • Research the various Canadian schools and program options available
  • Consider the best program that ensures they qualify for future immigration
  • Consider the job outlook for that program
  • Consider the province of studying and working
  • Meet the requirements and deadlines of applying for the chosen program

For example, in order to obtain the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after graduation, applicants need to apply to a post-secondary institution designated by IRCC (also known as a Designated Learning Institutions) that offers PGWP-eligible programs.

As a result, students may need help from an experienced professional to get this first step correct.

Get a study permit

Getting a study permit is the second step. Study permit is arguably the most difficult application to get approved. From certain countries, the approval rate of Canadian study permits can be as low as 20% without professional help.

The Canadian government welcomes international students to apply for a work permit and even immigration after graduation. This is evident from the long standing Post-Graduation Work Permit program as well as policies issued during COVID to give students more time to work and gain points for when they try to immigrate. However, when a student applies for a study permit, they cannot show intention to work or immigrate after graduation. This is partially due to how the immigration law is written, but also because it is too early in the pathway journey and immigration needs to be earned.

Not surprisingly then, many international students come to us with a study permit rejection due to a problematic study plan (also known as a statement of purpose) or lack of documentation of ties to their home country. Often the rejection reason is that the government officer does not believe that the student will leave Canada after their status expires. This is one area where professional guidance and experience can help.

To obtain a study permit on the first attempt, students need to meet the following requirements:

Regular study permit

  • enrolled at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)
  • have paid tuition fee to the DLI
  • have sufficient living expenses in Canada for the duration of your study
  • have no criminal record
  • have no significant health issues
  • can prove the student will leave Canada after their status expires

Student Direct Stream (SDS)

  • Note: this program offers a shorter processing time
  • meet all of the requirements of the regular study permit application
  • currently live in one of the these countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vietnam
  • have a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) of CAN$10,000
  • have a language proficiency of Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) of 7 or above in English or French

Other key facts about a study permit are:

  1. Before they can come to Canada and begin their study, students need to get approved for a study permit. As it may take months to get the approval, it is critical to apply to schools and apply for study permits without missing deadlines. Failing to do so, students may need to request deferral from the school to a semester or a year later.
  2. Students may need to renew their study permit if their program is two years or longer. IRCC may not issue a valid study permit for the entirety of your study.
  3. The spouse of an international student can apply for an open work permit to work in Canada. Your spouse may even be able to apply for permanent residence via Provincial Nomination Programs (PNPs) before you graduate. If you are married and seeking higher education, this is a great way to advance your education while your spouse helps cover living expenses.
  4. The dependent children of an international student can apply for study permits and study for FREE in Canadian public schools from kindergarten to grade 12.

Get a work permit

After completing an eligible degree or diploma, international students can apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). However, some students do not need work permits and can skip to immigration. We will give more details in the next section.

For a work permit, students will need a transcript indicating that they have completed all requirements of their program, or a letter from their school indicating that they have completed all requirements of their program. Students can apply for a PGWP before they receive their physical diploma, as long as they have completed all the requirements.

An important question for new graduates and employers is how long are you authorized to work in Canada? The PGWP validity period is calculated as follows:

  • If your program of study is at least 8 months and less than 2 years, the PGWP validity will likely be the same length as your program.
  • If your program of study is 2 years or more, then the PGWP will likely be valid for 3 years.
  • If you completed two or more PGWP-eligible programs consecutively, the PGWP validity period will likely be the combined length of each program up to a maximum of 3 years.

Apply for immigration

This is the last step of the pathway. Students can now apply for Canadian permanent residence. The Canadian immigration journey can be divided into two options: federal and provincial.

Federal immigration options include Federal Skilled Worker, Canadian Experience Class and Federal Skilled Trades. All of these are applications under Express Entry and have the shortest government processing time.

Provincial immigration options are called Provincial Nomination Programs (PNPs). There are more than 80 PNPs in Canada that selects a variety of skilled workers and entrepreneurs who want to live in the nominating province or territory, and are deemed beneficial to local economic development. Some of these do not require any work experience, as described below.

Many applicants choose the following immigration applications:

  • Canadian Experience Class under Express Entry, where applicants can get at least 30 bonus points by completing their Canadian study and a maximum of 380 bonus points with a work permit and Canadian work experience to reach 450-470 points to be invited. This is the most popular option among students.
  • New Brunswick Skilled Worker Stream, this PNP allows students to immigrate without having any work experience after completing a program that’s one year or more in New Brunswick.
  • British Columbia International Post-Graduate Stream, also does not have work experience requirements. After finishing a Master’s or a Doctoral degree in certain fields in the province, students can apply for immigration.
  • Ontario Masters Graduate Stream & PhD Graduate stream, similar to the program above, does not require any work experience. After finishing any Master’s degree, or at least two years of a Doctoral degree program in the province, students can apply for immigration.

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