COVID-19 has turned the entire world on its head, and is honestly still wreaking havoc on many lives and situations. Here in Canada, there have been many governmental and non-governmental interventions to help different groups of people. However, one group have that have seemed to be a bit neglected, despite being in equally dire straits, are international graduate students who are completing their degree and need to apply for the post-graduate work permit (PGWP). To explore this group and their peculiar situation, I connected with a young woman who has been championing the raising of awareness about this issue.
Joyce Andressa De Paula Yamashita is from Brazil and came to Canada in August 2018 to pursue a post-graduate certificate in Marketing Research and Analytics at Centennial College. Joyce chose to come to Canada because her research on the Canadian government and immigration agency websites lead her to believe that she had real chances of immigration, in case she enjoyed the country. Therefore, she decided to enroll in a post-graduate program because she’d be given the opportunity to work after graduation through the Post Grad Work Permit (PGWP). Upon arrival in Canada, she accumulated education and work experience points for her potential immigration process via Express Entry (EE) or other provincial immigration pathways.
Despite all best-laid plans, the outbreak of COVID-19 seemed to muddle the waters for Ms. Paula and other students like her. Though COVID-19 has affected everyone in different and disproportionate ways, the effects hasvecreated a lot of uncertainty for Ms. Paula and her peers.
“Due to COVID-19, I was laid off in March. At this time, I had 9 months of skilled work experience so I’d need only 3 more months to complete my 12 months’ work experience and be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration process via Express Entry. As I have a short-term PGWP, I realized I would probably not have enough time to complete this work experience before my permit expiry date. That was absolutely heartbreaking to me and my husband since we have invested a lot of money and energy in this process. We are really afraid of having to leave Canada for something that’s no faults of ours”.
Joyce De Paula also talked about how disproportionately the COVID-19 situation is affecting international graduate students. “We understand that Canadian students have also been affected, however, as I said, the education in Canada for international students is not only for personal development. It is actually a long-term immigration strategy which generates billions of dollars for Canada. We were told that we could work here after graduation but if the economy is shut down, there is no way that we can do that and that is not our fault. This right of working here was taken away from us”.
Specifically, International students are suffering as “the uncertainty of our future has been very challenging for us. We are anxious and desperately asking the government for support. A lot of international graduates have shared their stories with me and many of them related they are depressed and desperate”.
Speaking on the programme she is trying to raise awareness about, Joyce De Paula said: “The fact is, PGWP is a one-time permit which means we can’t obtain this permit again even though we pay for another program. A lot of students like myself enrol in a one year program which gives us only one-year PGWP. With the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses have been closed for over 3 months and a lot of international graduates with PGWP, like myself, have been laid off or aren’t able to find eligible jobs. This shutdown in the economy directly impacts our immigration process as we can’t accumulate skilled work experience and obtain points for our immigration processes. As a result, despite all heavy investment we have done to study in Canada as a pathway to permanent residency (PR), we will have to go back to our home country without the chance to pursue our dream. (please note that we pay approx. 3x more than domestic students to study here). That was the reason why I created the e-2655 petition which has currently over 2,600 signatures. I wanted to make it clear to the Government that there is an issue which has not been addressed yet”.
It is agreed that these are unprecedented times, however, some tough situations such as with the PGWP expiry may need to be made. Joyce De Paula opines that “All we are asking is a reasonable extension of our PGWPs. We want to have the chance to prove our value to Canada and pursue our dreams. We are confident we can help Canada after this crisis if we have the chance of doing this”.
As regards receiving support from all the quarters reached out to by Mrs Joyce De Paula and her peers, she said “Unfortunately, I haven’t received any support from educational institutions. I feel they are more concerned with international recruitment than supporting the problem their grads are facing. It is very disappointed by the way I haven’t heard anything from them. All these 2,600 signatures are based on my own network which is very limited, mostly via Facebook groups while I am sure more international grads are suffering from this issue without being aware there is a petition run to give them voice and hope”.
“My experience in raising this issue with education administrators in Canada has made it clear that institutions are much more concerned about the next round of international students recruitment than assisting international grads with issues that arise post graduation, despite the fact that these issues are in fact strongly interrelated. On a positive note, we have gained the support of the Federal leader of the Green Party who has authorized a House of Commons Petition, open to signatures until July 10, 2020.” Mrs Joyce De Paula continues.
A look at current Parliamentary rules showed that after 45 days, the Canadian government must answer any petitions and put their position on record. Hence, this response may speak volumes towards decisions about the current graduate cohort, future prospective international students, and will be part of the setting of the tone for Canada’s Edu-export recovery.