Following from last week’s post containing an overview of different pathways to immigration in Canada, today’s entry by guest blogger Sonja B. will focus on specific considerations relevant to the Canadian Experience Class.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on immigration issues relevant to international trainees in science. I hope readers will find this a useful springboard for further discussion and share their thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section. This series of blog posts should not be considered legal advice. Rather, the intention is to create a framework to facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences. We will attempt to link to official sources wherever appropriate, encourage our commenters to do the same, and we will remind readers to consult the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website as the only authoritative and up-to-date source of information.
The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream is a popular choice for skilled workers hoping to immigrate to Canada. Because applying to the program doesn’t require a permanent job offer (increasingly rare in today’s economic climate), the CEC is especially attractive to recent university graduates working in temporary positions or on contracts. A full list of requirements to apply to the program is available on the CIC website; some of these are discussed in detail below.
The major requirement for applying to the CEC is possession of at least 12 months of full-time (defined as over 30 hours/week) paid work experience in a skilled occupation in Canada. Skilled occupations are defined as those falling within the National Occupation Classification skill types 0, A or B (with some exceptions). Of note, the aforementioned work experience cannot be acquired on a student work permit (co-op, on-campus or off-campus).
In practice, most international students hoping to immigrate to Canada through the CEC would need to work for a year following graduation in a skilled occupation (not necessarily in their field of study) to meet the work experience requirement. In my personal experience, I worked in two “skilled” jobs for eight months each as a co-op student; however, I couldn’t use this experience to qualify for the CEC. However, the contacts I made while enrolled in the co-op program were instrumental to helping me find a job after graduation, which in turn made me eligible to apply for permanent residency through this program.
One important wrinkle to take into consideration when applying through the CEC is deciding which NOC code best fits one’s job description; a non-trivial endeavor, as many job titles don’t readily translate to NOC codes. Postdocs in particular have faced uncertainty over whether to use the generic NOC code for postdoctoral fellow (4011, “University professors and lecturers” including postdocs), the description of which emphasizes teaching responsibilities, or to pick a code that better reflects the discipline they’re conducting research in (e.g. 2121, “Biologists and related scientists”). Anecdotal examples exist of people achieving successful outcomes with either approach; it’s currently unclear what criteria one would need to evaluate in order to decide which code to use.
To provide proof of qualifying work experience, an applicant needs to submit a reference letter from their employer(s) detailing their job responsibilities and duties, NOC code, salary, hours of work per week and other information (Document Checklist, item 10). Applicants would be well advised to ensure their employers have ready access to all the required information (one’s immediate supervisor may not necessarily be familiar with the NOC classification system, for instance). The reference letter is also an opportunity to provide an explanation for any discrepancies, for example between one’s official job title and the NOC code used, or one’s salary and the average salary for that NOC code.
In my personal experience, proving that my employment qualified as “skilled” work experience for the purposes of the CEC was a source of much anxiety. My official job title, “Research Student” implied that I was a student, even though I was a full-time employee, held a post-graduation work permit and was not enrolled in any educational institution. I was concerned that my job title would negatively impact my application, as work experience gained on a student work permit expressly cannot be used to qualify for the CEC.
In the end, my supervisor’s reference letter described in detail the ways in which the job duties I actually performed were consistent with the NOC code I used (2221, “Biological technician”), clarified that I was a full-time employee and not a student (despite my job title), and explained that my salary – while far below the national average for the NOC code I used – was consistent with my experience, having just graduated with a BSc degree. Ultimately, my application was approved.
Finally, another potential source of uncertainty for postdocs is the requirement to submit T4 information slips or other supporting documentation for the period of qualifying work experience (Document Checklist, item 10). Many postdocs are paid on a T4A form, which can also be used to disclose income derived from self-employment. As work experience gained while self-employed cannot be used to qualify for the CEC, it would seem prudent to provide a clarification of the employer-employee relationship if a T4A form is used as proof of qualifying work experience. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some postdocs paid on a T4A have been rejected, whereas others’ applications have been successful. This specific issue has not been brought up on the CIC Help Centre, and official clarification would be welcome.
We hope that readers will find this series of posts a useful springboard for further discussion. We hope that the comments section will stimulate exchanges of stories, experiences and insights by international scholars working in Canadian science labs to help each other move through the sometimes arduous but potentially very rewarding process of immigrating to Canada.