This op-ed was authored by Pranav Patel, Barrister & Solicitor at Patel Law Office .
It’s a rainy day. I am having a hot cup of coffee and reviewing client files in a peaceful environment and it is a heavenly feeling. Unfortunately this feeling couldn’t last long after reviewing an article published in the Toronto Star, “Why international students are pleading with Canada for ‘time to breathe’ as they chase jobs and a dream.” The article mentions an international student named Sinanan who graduated from Centennial College in 2016 and received a 3 year Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). It took her some time to find a full time job in early childhood education. During her 11th month of employment, Sinanan fell and was off work for six months which meant her permanent residence application was refused because she was one month short of the 12 months of required Canadian work experience.
The subject itself reminded me of my law school days. Someone asked me, why do you want to be a lawyer? Imagine you are lawyer now? Why this profession? I replied, “Humanity is the soul of a true lawyer, and we provide the ray of hope.” I think now is the time to prove that sentiment is true.
International students make immense cultural and social contributions to Canada, and generate more than $21 billion in economic activity. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Honourable Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has made a number of temporary policy changes to support and reassure international students, and I do appreciate those efforts. For example, I was very supportive of the announcement that international students were permitted to work more than 20 hours per week off-campus during an academic session if there were employed in an essential service or function. Temporary policy changes like this one recognize the unique challenges faced by international students and seek to alleviate them, which is in Canada’s best interests.
At the same time, I believe our international students need a little more assistance during the unprecedented aftershocks of a global pandemic.
International students in Canada have full protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we need to maintain reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. It’s a tough call, but we need to provide at least a little ray of hope to this future generation of potential new Canadians.
Under the present circumstances, some international students in Canada are suffering because they do not have money, they do not have enough job opportunities, and like many in Canada, they are experiencing mental health issues. In the case of Sinanan and those like her, how can we deny a hard working international student’s lifetime dream of Canadian permanent residence and eventually Citizenship for being just short of one month of Canadian work experience? I am left wondering why Canada cannot extend the PGWP for all international students for a couple of additional years in order to let them try one more time to achieve their goal to remain in Canada permanently.
While I agree that reasonable relief has been given before, the post-pandemic era is unprecedented, which demands unprecedented relief to our international students. Finding new solutions to this problem is not only about upholding Canada’s immigration law, it is about humanity and being a Canadian.
We must understand that the international student life is not easy. Being an international student during the COVID era with lots of financial debts, tremendous expectations to succeed, living in isolation far from family and friends, balancing studies and building a career to achieve a life-time dream of “Canadian Citizenship” is extremely challenging. In my opinion, these challenges could be alleviated by another extension of the PGWP for those who have been studying and/or working in Canada during the pandemic.
I humbly request the Honourable Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to consider extending the PGWP again, and develop more flexible policies to provide a ray of hope to all our international students.