Expired post-grad work permit holders plead for answers about extension

Workers with expired post-graduation work permits say they've been left in limbo waiting for an extension program promised months ago. Dilshad Burman with more on their precarious situation and their plea to the government.

By Dilshad Burman

Thousands of former international students with post-graduation work permits in Canada are in a precarious situation, with expired permits and no word on when a promised extension program will be implemented.

In April, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that those with work permits that expired or are expiring between January and December 2022 would be eligible for an 18-month extension starting in mid-June.

In June, immigration Minister Sean Fraser said on Twitter that extensions would be available to those with permits expiring as far back as September 2021.

Since the initial announcement, no further details have been released about the application process, which is expected to be through an online portal.

Meanwhile, many say they are being forced to quit their jobs and put their lives on hold because they cannot legally work in Canada and going home is not an option.

“Home” is a potential death sentence

Mikita Arlou came to Canada in 2019, studied for a year and acquired a one-year post-graduation work permit that expired on Dec. 6, 2021. He applied for an extension but received a rejection on April 21 and, therefore, no longer has any immigration status in Canada.

As is normal procedure, he was given 90 days to restore his status, which ended last week. But as he has applied for restoration of status, he remains in Canada under “implied status” while it is processed.

He says his life, both personal and professional, is in limbo.

Under implied status, he can no longer work in the country. Arlou says he’s grateful to his employers for keeping the door open for him when he is able to work again, but for now, he’s living off his fast dwindling savings in Toronto.

“I’ve been out of work for three months,” he says, adding that he loves his job as a marketing communications specialist and can’t wait to get back to it.

In addition to being currently unemployed, he can also no longer access healthcare in Canada

“I am diagnosed with clinical depression. When your work permit expires, you’re not able to get any access to healthcare. Technically, I have to be in treatment right now, but I don’t have access to it,” he explains.

“If we’re talking about private insurance — I don’t have a job. I haven’t even been to a barber for a while, I’m trying to save on literally everything.”

While many in his position may have the option to go home, for Arlou, that could mean a potential death sentence.

“I’m originally from Belarus. Belarus is a Russian ally in the Russian-Ukrainian war, and people who speak up against the war or support Ukraine in any way, including donations, they are being imprisoned … people are being tortured there,” he explains. “I did support Ukraine.”

“As soon as I go back home, I’m not going to make it past the airport, they’re going to put me into jail.”

Arlou says updates from IRCC about the post-graduation work permit extension are few and far between, and he’s at his wit’s end trying to find answers.

“As I am under implied status right now, I don’t know if I’m going to qualify for the extension because the details have not been released yet,” he says. “They’re saying that there is a policy and you can extend your work permit; however, there is no technical way to do it. There is no portal, there is no way to apply.”

Expiring passport leads to a Catch 22 situation

Joyeeta Chowdhury arrived in Canada as a student in 2019. At the time, she had been married for just over a year, and the plan was for her husband to join her after her studies.

Thanks to the pandemic and a complicated work permit conundrum, she hasn’t seen him or her family for three years.

“I don’t even know when we’re going to meet again. We are losing hope,” she says.

“How long can you survive on a video call?”

Chowdhury’s work permit expired on Dec. 16, 2021. She applied for an extension and received a rejection on June 2, forcing her to quit two jobs she says she loved dearly — one as a senior trainer in an IT company and the other at a large home goods chain.

Her 90-day period to restore status expires in September, and she remains in Canada under “implied status.”

“So after the 16th of December 2021, I’m technically out of status. And to make things worse, my passport is expiring on Sept. 12,” she says. “To renew your [Indian] passport, you need to show a status [in Canada].”

The work permit extension would provide her with the status she needs to renew her passport. However, she says she needs to renew her passport before she applies for the extension because if granted with her current passport, it will only be valid until her passport expires, and not the full 18 months.

“It’s very important that I renew my passport before I apply for the extension,” she reiterates.

Other immigration options to stay in the country are not feasible for her.

“Maybe I have to go ahead with studying … I don’t have enough money for that … or go into visitor status, which I don’t want because I won’t be able to work,” she says.

Chowdhury says she misses working and is on a “forced vacation,” living off savings that won’t last long.

She can possibly go back home to India, but she will lose all immigration status in Canada and have to start from scratch, giving up everything she has built here so far.

“I’m staying very strong mentally, but somewhere it’s like, I really can’t take it anymore,” she says.

Back-to-school as a backup plan

Maz Atta arrived in Canada as an 18-year-old in 2015. While he came from Cairo, he says his family moved around a lot during his childhood, and he’s now spent more time in Canada than he did in Egypt.

“I consider this my home. I have built all my relationships here. I have gotten all of my work experience, my degree, my friends, and my loved ones. They are all here. And it took me seven years to build that,” he says.

Atta graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa in 2019. His work permit expired on June 17 this year, and like all others in his position, he’s had to stop working until the post-graduation work permit extension policy kicks in.

“My employers have been very generous — they’ve put me on unpaid leave for a month. However, I firmly believe that if that policy doesn’t come out by the end of this week, which is also the end of July, I think I would permanently lose my job,” he says. “They’ve been waiting long enough, and they have to look for what’s best for the company. I don’t blame them for that.”

“It’s absolutely comic how long this policy’s been taking and how many people just like myself have been losing jobs. They’re crying labour shortage, but we are we right here, we are ready to work.”

Since there was what he calls “radio silence” from IRCC about the extension since April, Atta started working on a backup plan to stay in the country and began applying to universities and colleges.

He was accepted into the master of communications program at the University of Ottawa and secured a study permit based on his admission.

“Now that I look back, it was a very smart choice because if I had not applied for that study permit and just received it literally a week before, I would probably be all the way back in Egypt,” he says.

However, he says paying more than $40,000 in international student fees for a two-year master’s program is not what he had planned for this stage of his life.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit concerned about pursuing my master’s without having a job. I need to support myself somehow,” he says. “My father, I’m very, very grateful for his financial support. But there’s only so long until he can’t do this anymore, and we can’t just rely on our parents past the age of 25 … it’s ludicrous.”

Given the option, Atta says he would prefer to extend his work permit, work for another 18 months, gain valuable experience and save money to pay his own way for a master’s degree.

“Unfortunately, that option at the moment is just a mirage. You can see it in the distance, but you don’t know if you’ll get there,” he says.

Pleading for transparency

Both Arlou and Atta feel the IRCC has been extremely lacking in their communication with those whose lives are on hold because of the long-awaited post-graduation work permit extension program.

“Sean Fraser, the minister of immigration, is completely ghosting us,” says Arlou. Atta adds that “communication is clearly something that needs to be worked on.”

Both are extremely frustrated with the vague language and infrequent updates from the agency.

“It’s not even about the timeline or the deadlines. Just communicate where you are and your expectations,” says Atta. “At least the people that are waiting would know what to expect and whether they would like to stay or they would like to pursue other things in their lives.”

In a statement to CityNews, IRCC says, “The application process for the special measure for foreign nationals with expired or expiring post-graduation work permits will be available soon. Some applicants under this special measure will receive an additional 18 months on their work permit as part of a simplified process instead of the full application process.

After the initial special measure was announced, other changes were announced to broaden the eligibility to more applicants whose post-graduation work permits had expired as early as September 20, 2021. In addition, it has taken some time to develop the simplified process that some applicants will benefit from.”

But words like “soon” and “some time” is meaningless to Arlou.

“[They keep saying] ‘oh, it’s days, it’s the near term’ — what do those words mean? I don’t understand this vocabulary. My employer doesn’t understand this vocabulary, ” says.

“Just be transparent and communicate the issues so that we can plan our lives.”

Chowdhury adds that she and thousands like her just want to get back to being productive members of Canadian society and need to know when that’s going to happen.

“Let us work. We are not only supporting ourselves, but we’re also supporting the economy as well. We’re paying high taxes, and I am happy to do that,” she says. “If the country is giving me something, I am ready to give back. I love Canada, I would love to stay here.”

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