Changes to immigration regulations have made it more difficult for international students who have recently graduated from Canadian universities to qualify for permanent residence.
On Jan. 1, new federal rules came into effect that no longer give international students with Canadian work experience an automatic leg-up when they apply to stay in Canada permanently.
Now, Canada may find it difficult to continue successfully recruiting international students. Almost 300,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian postsecondary institutions last year, drawn partly by one of the most open systems of residence after graduation.
"Institutions want to paint a very clear accurate picture for incoming students," said Jennifer Humphries, vice-president at the Canadian Bureau of International Education. "Immigrants who've integrated and adapted would seem tailor made for the Canadian labour force."
Under the new rules, international students with a degree or diploma from a Canadian institution are placed with other groups of skilled workers in a "pool" from which Citizenship and Immigration draws invites for permanent residence. Before, international students did not have to compete with other skilled workers.
The government has promised that the pool, known as Express Entry, will lead to shorter application times and better connections between employers and potential immigrant employees.
So far, only two cohorts of applicants have been "invited" by the ministry. Invitations are based on a scoring system: A positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, showing there is no Canadian worker available to do the job, is worth 600 points. Another 600 points are available for things like education and age. The cutoff for the first two invited cohorts was above 800. Without an LMIA, students would not be able to reach that number.
"Students are the worst done by in this Express Entry system because, how do you prove for someone with [little] work experience that there is no Canadian to do the job?" said Evan Green, a partner and immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel LLP in Toronto.
Students are still able to apply for permanent residence through other avenues, such as provincial nominee programs (PNP), which prioritize applications from international students with Canadian postsecondary credentials and professional work experience. The majority of Ontario's 2,500 PNP spots are filled by international students, for example.
But tens of thousands of students have stayed in Canada as a result of the federal program, and those spots cannot be transferred to the provinces without negotiations.
The changes to how applications from those eligible under the Canadian Experience Class would be processed were announced last winter but the exact details were only released by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in early December.
"This is a radical move that is devastating to international students that relied on policies that were put into place by this government to help post-graduate international students transition to permanent residence, based on their findings that these were the best people to adapt to life in Canada," said Robin Seligman, a Toronto-based lawyer who has international student clients.
Recent graduates tried to beat the Jan. 1, 2015 deadline by getting their application in during the fall. As late as December, Citizenship and Immigration had said on its website that thousands of spots were still available under the old regulations.
In the last week, however, many of these fall applicants have received their applications back and been told that the 8,000 cap for Canadian Experience Class was reached on Oct. 20, 2014.
Sarmad Chowdhury, a graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough, applied in November but had his application returned and will have to try again under the new rules.
Mr. Chowdhury, who works 50 to 60 hours a week as an assistant manager, and majored in economics and financial studies, is anxious about his prospects under the new regulations. "If they had told us to apply under the new rules it would be one thing, but now they say 'oops,'" he said.
His mother, who came from Bangladesh for his graduation, is devastated, he added.
"She was in tears," said Mr. Chowdhury, who estimates his education cost $120,000. "She told me: our whole hope was of you going to Canada, and we used every part of our savings so that you would flourish."
Sources say that the criticisms of how the Express Entry program is functioning a month after its introduction could well lead to further changes, or to recent graduates requiring a lower number of points to be selected in the future.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chowdhury is hoping he picked the right country.
"A lot of my friends went to Australia, the U.K. and United States. I was looking for countries that gave me scope to qualify for residence after I graduated," Mr. Chowdhury said.