Think you might want to stay in Canada after graduation? Start planning now.

Tips for navigating the labyrinth of Canada’s immigration system for international students

Canada has generous immigration programs for international students—on paper. Officially, students can work in Canada for up to three years after graduation, and then, if they wish, become permanent residents with ease.

The reality is different. The Canadian immigration system is a labyrinth of tiny rules that are constantly changing. Tripping over any one of those rules can end your hope of working or settling in Canada after graduation. Consider these stories:

A Nigerian student sent requested information to the wrong office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The government received the info on time but ruled she missed the deadline for her work permit because it went to the wrong IRCC office. She had to leave the country.

A student from China worked as a bank teller after earning his Bachelor of Commerce degree, assuming the job would qualify as skilled work in his application for permanent resident status. It didn't.

A student from Cameroon asked IRCC if she could take a term off from school to care for her newborn infant and still qualify for the work permit that would lead to immigration. IRCC said no.

A young woman from Colombia was refused a study permit to attend university in Canada because she worked three hours a week in the daycare of her Halifax high school—even though Service Canada and her school had told her she was allowed to do so.

These are not freak occurrences. Students run afoul of immigration rules all the time. These 10 tips will help guard against immigration disaster:

1 Do not listen to your friends. Even if they mean well and succeeded in their own immigration quest, there are more than 70 different paths to immigration; the rules for all of them—and for the crucial Post-Graduation Work Permit—change all the time. Only take immigration advice from a licensed immigration consultant or a lawyer who specializes in immigration.

2 Don't expect immigration rules to follow common sense. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. (Like, your study permit expires 90 days after you complete your degree—even if the expiry date printed on the permit is weeks or months later?)

3 If you plan to apply for permanent residence, make sure that your job fits the program you plan to use. Express Entry, Atlantic Immigration Pilot and Nova Scotia Skilled Worker all have different criteria. Get to know how the National Occupation Classification system relates to immigration.

4 Don't break the law—even a little law. A conviction for drunk driving will end your studies and get you kicked out of the country. Same goes for a scuffle at a bar or selling some weed to a friend.

5 In the category of the blindingly obvious: keep all of your documents up-to-date. For example, students regularly head for vacation wrongly assuming their study permit will get them back into Canada. It won't. If your temporary resident visa has expired, you won't be able to board a flight back to Canada. Really.

6 If your school asks for your permit info, give it to them! The best institutions keep a roster that automatically notifies students if their permits are about to expire or if rules change.

7 Don't take a term off school or study part-time without consulting an immigration expert. You can jeopardize your ability to stay and work in Canada by studying part-time.

8 Do not pay anyone for a job placement, a job offer or sponsorship for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. It is illegal for them to ask, and it can cost you a world of trouble if discovered by IRCC.

9 Attend the free immigration information sessions on campus at Dalhousie University and other schools. Meet with your school's regulated Canadian immigration consultant (RCIC) or regulated student immigration advisor (RSIA). If your school does not have an RCIC or RSIA, do not take advice from your registrar, school director or favourite teacher. The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council has a list of RCICs in private practice in Halifax and there are several excellent immigration lawyers in Halifax.

10 Don't give up. Even when things go sideways, there is usually a workaround.

The Nigerian student is back in Halifax after the office of Liberal MP Andy Filmore helped her secure a Post-Graduation Work Permit. The Chinese student stayed for a graduate degree and is on track to become a permanent resident. The mother from Cameroon is now a permanent resident; stories like hers prompted IRCC to change the rules so students can take maternity leave. The Colombian high school student won a study permit to attend Saint Mary's University after the federal court ordered officials to reconsider her case.

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