Outgoing AMS VP External petitions government to count co-op, WorkLearn toward permanent residency application

Outgoing AMS VP External Sally Lin is petitioning the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to count experiential learning experiences toward permanent residency applications.

Sponsored by NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East Jenny Kwan, Lin’s petition seeks to amend the eligibility guidelines of the Express Entry Program — a points-based immigration system that ranks residency applications according to their skill sets.

More specifically, it asks the Ministry “to allow international students to count full-time paid-experiential and work-integrated learning experiences gained while they are full-time students, as eligible work experience for Permanent Residence status.”

For UBC students, this would apply to work-integrated experiences such as co-op and WorkLearn programs.

Opened since February 16, 2018, it has garnered 1,744 signatures, exceeding the minimum requirement of 500 for it to be presented to the House of Commons.

“This is no longer for the sake of meeting the minimum requirements to have it brought up [to the House of Commons], but it’s just to continue to demonstrate that there is a large amount of support behind our policy stance,” Lin said.

“We don’t recognize ... [international] students’ contribution”

Lin attributed the petition’s creation partly to the unfair advantage that domestic students hold over international students in terms of job prospects upon graduation.

“Job prospects tend to be competitive for any graduate of any university,” she said. “But given that international students tend to have uncertain status with long-term immigration, it is likely that they are disadvantaged in this regard.”

Gurekamdeep Sidhu, a third-year international student majoring in electrical engineering, described the difficulty of getting hired as an international student. He applied close to 200 jobs before finding one related to his field.

“There’s no incentive for employers to hire people who they think will go back to their country,” he said. “That’s one of the things that most [interviewers] told me, that ‘We would hire you if you had residence ... or if we knew that you would stay here and continue contributing to us.’”

Sidhu believes that access to permanent residency would “open up a lot of options” for international students, but the work experience they do have is not recognized in the residency application. Other students say the implementation of the petition’s proposal would be an “amazing rule change.”

“Doing 16-20 months of co-op and not have it count as work experience makes no sense considering the work we end up doing is fairly equivalent to some of the junior positions in the respective fields that the new grads get hired for,” commented Reddit user vatsaav05.

“If [the work experience is] affiliated with some kind of organization that is accredited, or if you have like 1000 plus hours, or you’ve made some substantial contribution — it would be nice if [the government] could recognize that,” said Joey Lim, a third-year media studies international student who has held the same WorkLearn position since May 2017.

“[The government] needs to bring in an immigration policy that reflects that if you’re good enough to study here, you’re good enough to stay here.”

— Jenny Kwan, NDP MP for Vancouver East

Lin’s petition also notes that Canada would not produce enough domestic graduates to meet the full demand that will be created in the near future. In particular, “there will be 5.8 million job openings, with more than 65 per cent requiring post-secondary training,” between 2013 and 2022.

Accordingly, Kwan said there needs to be a “major overhaul” in this area to improve the Express Entry system.

“What is wrong with the program in my view is that we don’t recognize and honour [international] students’ contribution,” she said.

“[The government] needs to bring in an immigration policy that reflects that if you’re good enough to study here, you’re good enough to stay here ... We need to have different people with different experiences to come here, to support us not just culturally in the community, but economically as well. What better way than to tap into the people that are already here, that are already absorbing our Canadian culture?”

Moving forward

While the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship declined to comment on the petition until it is closed for signatures, they noted “the value of potential applicants with post-secondary education, with Canadian work experience and working proficiency” in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

The department also cited that in 2017, nearly 19,000 post-graduation work permit holders and more than 9,000 study permit holders transitioned to permanent residency in Canada.

“Clearly, former international students are a key source of candidates in Express Entry because of their age, education, skills and experience,” reads the statement.

Having exceeded the signature requirement, the petition will close on June 16 and be presented to the House of Commons. The federal government will then have 45 calendar days to respond to the petition.

“We really appreciate the MP for sponsoring this and creating a pathway for us to bring this issue forward,” said Lin, while also stressing that the issues of education and equal opportunity of job prospects for students “need to be addressed all across the floor.”

“And so, we eagerly look forward to the response from the government as well.”