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  • Writer's pictureImmergity Immigration Consultant

Changes to International Student Program, PGWP and Spousal Open Work Permit

Changes to International Student Program, PGWP and Spousal Open Work Permit

In an effort to manage its growth and maintain the quality of the educational experience for international students, Canada has announced a series of reforms to its International Student Program. These reforms aim to balance the influx of students with the country's capacity to provide a supportive and enriching environment for them.

Starting from January 22, 2024, Canada introduced a requirement for new post-secondary international students applying at the college or undergraduate level to include a provincial attestation letter (PAL) with their study permit applications. This requirement is meant to verify that the student's enrollment is recognized within a specific quota allocated to each province and territory, ensuring a more manageable distribution of students across the country.

Cap and Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL)

  • Implementation Date: Starting from 8:30 a.m. ET on January 22, 2024, most new international students applying for a study permit at the college or undergraduate level are required to submit a Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL) alongside their study permit application.

  • Requirement: The PAL acts as a confirmation that the student has been accounted for within a specific provincial or territorial quota under a national cap on international student admissions. This is a new step in the application process aimed at managing the number of international students across different regions of Canada.

  • Application Impact: Applications submitted without a PAL will be returned by the IRCC, unless the applicant falls under an exempted category. This means additional preparation is needed for future applicants to ensure compliance with the new requirement.

  • Provincial Plans: Provinces and territories are required to have mechanisms in place for issuing PALs by March 31, 2024. This indicates that both provincial governments and prospective students need to prepare for this change.

  • Quebec: The government is considering how Quebec's existing acceptance certificate for studies could be integrated as a form of PAL, highlighting a tailored approach for different regions.

Impact on Students Planning to Come to Canada

  • New Applicants: Students applying for study permits in the post-secondary category after January 22, 2024, must obtain a PAL from the province or territory where they intend to study. This adds an extra step in their application process, potentially extending preparation time and requiring additional coordination with educational institutions and provincial authorities.

  • Future Planning: Students must factor in the time and process for obtaining a PAL when planning their studies in Canada, including understanding the specific requirements of the province or territory they plan to study in.

Impact on Students Already Inside Canada

  • Current Study Permit Holders: Those who already have a study permit and are in Canada, or whose applications were received before the cutoff date, are not affected by this change. They do not need to obtain a PAL for their current program but might need one for future programs if they apply for a new study permit following this rule's implementation.

  • In-Canada Permit Holders: Individuals who are already in Canada on a study or work permit, including those applying for an extension, do not need a PAL. This provides some relief for current students and workers planning to extend their stay for academic purposes.


Several groups are exempt from the PAL requirement, including:

  • Primary and Secondary School Students: These levels of education are not subject to the cap.

  • Master’s or Doctoral Degree Students: Postgraduate students at these levels can apply without a PAL, recognizing the specific value and contribution of these students to Canadian academia.

  • Visiting or Exchange Students: Short-term students coming under specific programs are also exempt.

  • In-Canada Permit Holders and Their Family Members: This facilitates the mobility and educational pursuits of individuals already in Canada and their families.

This policy introduces a new layer of complexity for international students wishing to study in Canada, particularly at the college or undergraduate levels. It necessitates additional steps for both students and educational institutions, emphasizing the need for careful planning and coordination with provincial authorities. However, by exempting certain categories of students, Canada continues to show its commitment to attracting a diverse range of international talent, especially at the graduate level and for short-term programs. Prospective students should closely monitor any updates from both IRCC and provincial governments to ensure compliance and smooth application processes.

Post-graduation work permit (PGWP) update for graduates of master’s degree programs

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program is a critical pathway for international students in Canada to gain valuable Canadian work experience, which can significantly enhance their eligibility for permanent residency. The recent update specifically targets graduates of master’s degree programs, acknowledging their potential contribution to the Canadian labor market and the broader goal of immigration as a driver of economic growth. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the update and its implications:

PGWP Length for Master’s Degree Graduates

  • Change Effective Date: Starting February 15, 2024, the policy change allows for a longer, 3-year PGWP for graduates of master’s degree programs.

  • Program Duration Criterion: This extension applies to those graduating from master’s degree programs that last less than 2 years, provided they meet all other eligibility criteria for the PGWP. Typically, PGWP durations align with the length of the study program, but this update ensures that even those in shorter master’s programs can qualify for the maximum duration of the work permit.

  • Objective: The primary goal of this update is to give graduates of master’s programs sufficient time to acquire the Canadian work experience necessary to apply for permanent residence. This recognizes the high potential of these graduates to succeed in the Canadian labor market and eventually become permanent residents.

Eligibility for the Extended PGWP

  • Graduates of Two-Year Programs: Graduates from programs that are at least two years long at institutions eligible for the PGWP will continue to qualify for a 3-year permit, as before.

  • Graduates of Shorter Master’s Programs: Significantly, this update extends eligibility for a 3-year PGWP to graduates of master’s programs that are less than two years in length, broadening the scope of beneficiaries under the PGWP program.

  • PGWP-Eligible Designated Learning Institutions: Eligibility for the PGWP, including the extended permit for certain master’s graduates, is contingent upon graduating from a designated learning institution that is authorized to host international students and participate in the PGWP program.

Implications for Master’s Graduates

  • Enhanced Opportunities: This policy change is particularly beneficial for master’s graduates, enabling them to gain extended work experience in Canada. This is crucial for those looking to transition to permanent residence, as Canadian work experience is a key factor in many immigration pathways, including the Canadian Experience Class within the Express Entry system.

  • Broader Impact: By facilitating a smoother pathway to permanent residency for highly educated individuals, Canada aims to attract and retain talent that can contribute significantly to its economy and society. This is in line with Canada’s broader immigration strategy, which seeks to leverage international students as future permanent residents and citizens.

The update to the PGWP for graduates of master’s degree programs less than 2 years in length reflects Canada’s commitment to retaining international talent. By extending the work permit duration to 3 years for these graduates, Canada is ensuring that more international students have the opportunity to integrate into the Canadian labor market and society. This change not only benefits the graduates by providing them with more time to gain valuable work experience but also supports Canada’s economic and demographic goals by facilitating the transition of skilled individuals from temporary to permanent residence status.

PGWP eligibility for public-private partnership college programs

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program allows international students who have graduated from eligible Canadian designated learning institutions to obtain an open work permit to gain valuable Canadian work experience. The eligibility for a PGWP has been a significant factor for many international students when choosing their educational programs in Canada. However, recent changes specifically address the eligibility criteria related to programs offered through public-private partnerships. Here's a detailed explanation:

Public-Private Partnership College Programs

  • Background: In some Canadian provinces, public colleges can license their curriculum to private colleges, allowing the private institution to deliver the program. Students enrolled in these programs physically attend classes at the private college but receive a diploma from the partnering public institution.

  • Concerns: There have been concerns regarding the quality of education and student supports provided by these private institutions. Notably, the Auditor General of Ontario highlighted issues related to oversight of program quality and student services at such institutions. These concerns suggest that the educational experience and outcomes for students at these private colleges might not meet the standards typically expected from public institutions.

Changes to PGWP Eligibility

  • Restriction Implementation: In response to these concerns, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has decided to restrict PGWP eligibility for graduates of programs offered through public-private partnerships. This change is aimed at ensuring that international students receive a quality education that equips them with the skills needed in the Canadian labor market.

  • Impact on Enrollment: By restricting PGWP eligibility for these programs, IRCC anticipates a decrease in the number of international students choosing to enroll in them. The ability to work in Canada post-graduation is a major draw for many international students, and the prospect of not qualifying for a PGWP may deter potential students from these programs.

Who Is Affected?

  • Current Students: International students who are already enrolled in a program delivered through a public-private partnership at the time of the policy change will remain eligible for a PGWP, provided they meet all other eligibility criteria. This ensures that students who have made educational decisions based on previous policies are not adversely affected by the change.

  • New Students: Individuals who enroll in these programs after the implementation of the policy change will not be eligible for a PGWP upon graduation. This distinction aims to protect the interests of current students while steering new students towards programs that meet IRCC's quality and support standards.


  • For Students: Prospective international students must carefully consider their program choices in Canada, especially regarding PGWP eligibility, as it significantly impacts their ability to work in Canada post-graduation and potentially transition to permanent residency.

  • For Educational Institutions: Public colleges involved in licensing their curriculum to private colleges might need to reassess these partnerships, especially concerning how these changes could affect international student enrollment and the reputation of their programs.

  • For Policy and Oversight: The change underscores the need for continued vigilance and quality control in educational programs, especially those involving complex arrangements like public-private partnerships. It reflects a broader effort to maintain the integrity of Canada's educational offerings to international students.

In summary, this policy change by IRCC aims to prioritize the quality of education and support services for international students, ensuring that their studies in Canada provide them with the skills and experience needed to succeed in the Canadian labor market and potentially transition to permanent residence.

Changes to Spousal Open Work Permit Eligibility

The Canadian government is planning to update the eligibility criteria for open work permits issued to the spouses and common-law partners of international students. Open work permits allow holders to work for any employer in Canada without needing a job offer at the time of applying. This change is significant as it directly impacts the ability of spouses and common-law partners of international students to work in Canada. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the upcoming changes:

Updated Eligibility Criteria

  • Target Group: The updated eligibility for open work permits will be exclusively for the spouses and common-law partners of international students enrolled in graduate (master’s and doctorate) and professional degree–granting programs. This adjustment narrows the focus to partners of students in higher-level education programs, recognizing the potential longer duration and higher financial requirements of these courses of study.

  • Extension of Existing Permits: Spouses and common-law partners of international students who are seeking to extend their existing work permit will continue to be eligible under this updated stream. This provision ensures that those who already have an open work permit and are in Canada can maintain their employment status without disruption.

Exclusions from Eligibility

  • Undergraduate and College Programs: With the new changes, spouses and common-law partners of international students pursuing studies in undergraduate and college-level programs will not be eligible for an open work permit. This represents a significant shift from previous policies, which were more inclusive of partners of students across all levels of study.

  • Existing Permit Holders: The only exception to this restriction applies to those who already hold an open work permit under this category. These individuals will be unaffected by the new rules and can continue their employment in Canada.

Implications of the Changes

  • Impact on Graduate and Professional Students: By limiting eligibility to partners of students in graduate and professional programs, the policy change acknowledges the increased financial and personal support needs of these students. It may also reflect an intention to attract and retain highly skilled individuals and their families, considering the potential for these students to transition into high-skilled roles in the Canadian labor market or to seek permanent residency.

  • Effect on Undergraduate Students and Their Partners: The exclusion of spouses and common-law partners of students in undergraduate and college programs could have significant implications for these students' ability to support their partners during their studies in Canada. This change may affect the decision-making process for potential international students who are considering Canada for their studies, especially those who plan to bring their partners.

  • Continuity for Current Permit Holders: The provision for current permit holders to extend their work permits ensures that there is no sudden loss of employment eligibility for those already in Canada under the existing policy. This continuity is crucial for maintaining stability for international students and their families already established in Canada.

The upcoming changes to the eligibility for open work permits for spouses and common-law partners of international students represent a strategic shift in immigration policy. By focusing on graduate and professional degree students, Canada is potentially aiming to enhance support for a group of international students who are more likely to contribute to the Canadian economy in specialized fields.

However, this change also raises considerations about the broader impact on international students at other levels of study and their families, affecting decisions on studying in Canada. Prospective and current international students and their partners should stay informed about these changes and plan accordingly.

Implications for the journey towards permanent residency (PR) in Canada.

The changes to study permit requirements, Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) eligibility, and open work permit eligibility for spouses and common-law partners of international students have various implications for the journey towards permanent residency (PR) in Canada. Here's how each of these changes could affect that journey:

1. Provincial Attestation Letter and National Cap on International Students

  • Selective Entry: The requirement for a Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL) and the introduction of a national cap could lead to a more selective process for international students, potentially favoring those who plan to study in programs or provinces with higher demand or strategic importance. This selective entry could influence the pool of candidates eligible for PR, skewing it towards those who can secure a spot under the cap.

  • Provincial Alignment: Since provinces are involved in issuing PALs, students might align their education with provincial labor market needs, which could benefit them when applying for PR, especially through Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) that favor graduates who fill specific labor shortages.

2. Extended PGWP for Master's Degree Graduates

  • Enhanced Work Experience: The extension of the PGWP to 3 years for master's degree graduates, even for programs shorter than 2 years, provides these individuals with a significant advantage in gaining Canadian work experience. This experience is crucial for PR applications, especially under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) within the Express Entry system.

  • Attracting Talent: By facilitating a longer period for gaining work experience, Canada aims to retain highly educated individuals who are deemed likely to contribute positively to the Canadian economy and society. This could lead to a higher success rate for PR applications among this group.

3. PGWP Eligibility for Public-Private Partnership College Programs

  • Quality Assurance: Restricting PGWP eligibility to graduates from public institutions or approved public-private partnership programs ensures that candidates for PR have received a quality education that equips them with skills valued in the Canadian labor market. This could indirectly raise the standard of applicants transitioning from a study permit to permanent residency.

  • Impact on Pathways: The restriction might deter international students from enrolling in programs that do not lead to PGWP eligibility, affecting the volume and type of students who transition to PR via education pathways.

4. Changes to Open Work Permit Eligibility for Spouses

  • Family Support: Limiting open work permits to spouses and common-law partners of graduate and professional degree students could impact the support system of international students in Canada. Since family support can be crucial for the success and well-being of students, this change might influence the decisions of potential students and, subsequently, the pool of candidates transitioning to PR.

  • Financial Stability: For families where the spouse or partner can work, this financial stability can play a significant role in the student's ability to complete their studies and transition to the workforce, ultimately affecting their PR journey.

Overall Impact on Permanent Residency Journey

These changes collectively represent Canada's effort to streamline the process by which international students transition to the Canadian workforce and potentially to permanent residency. By emphasizing quality education, aligning with labor market needs, and ensuring that international students and their families are supported during their studies, Canada is refining its approach to attract and retain talent.

However, these changes also introduce new challenges and considerations for international students planning their education and career paths in Canada, especially for those looking at long-term goals like permanent residency. International students must now navigate these updated requirements and strategically plan their education and work experience in Canada to align with both their career goals and the evolving landscape of Canadian immigration policies.

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