Filipino International Students share the impact of COVID-19 on their status in Canada

Many Filipino international post-graduates are fearing for their status as the pandemic narrows more job opportunities.

Filipinos are among the fastest-growing migrants in Canada and a number of them were former international students with dreams of landing better career opportunities in this country.

That has been the goal for many. Yet with the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, many post-grad international students are stuck waiting whether they get to live the dream or give up trying.

Current Situation

Phil Lao is a Construction Project Management recent graduate from London, Ontario. He was an architect back in the Philippines and like many others, he took the risk of flying to another country to improve his skills and gain more international exposure. After getting laid off from a potential internship and stable job, Lao is currently working in a manufacturing assembly company which he says is far from his field.

The pandemic becomes a hindrance for Lao and many international student graduates to look for permanent jobs that fit with the program they took. And unfortunately, it affected their education as well. “When the mediums changed from face to face classes to online classes, the quality of education I got was definitely not what I paid for,” Lao said in an interview.

There’s no denying that international students are huge economic contributors to Canada and Lao feels they bring a different form of diversity in industries and workplaces.

“A new beginning”, this is what Ronald Rivera said when asked why he decided to study and move to Canada with his family. Rivera had years of experience as a photographer for advertising back in the Philippines but he took his chances moving to Belleville, Ontario and took up two programs, Media Experience and Public Relations.

Things were going according to plan for him and his family until COVID-19 happened. “Everything was shattered,” Rivera said.

Due to the pandemic, his internship was cancelled. He currently works part-time in a meat processing plant with a position not qualified for what’s required when applying for permanent residency.

“We haven’t seen any that will help cater to people like me, and that’s why we keep thinking what will happen next,” he said.

What they hope for

After sharing their stories, what are they asking?

A petition led by Joyce de Paula, a Brazilian international student, was to bring awareness on how international students are currently in the hole of looking for answers as their immigration plans and applications get impacted by the pandemic.

What both Lao and Rivera ask is transparency. The government was quick and consistent in providing relief and programs to support residents and other sectors but there hasn’t been any announcement regarding the status of many international students and post-grads.

Some are even on the edge of an expiring post-grad work permit without having completed their 12-month Canadian experience required to be eligible for a permanent residency application.

Current Response

According to a statement from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), they recognize the impact of the pandemic on many temporary workers and international students.

“Immigrants have been critical to Canada’s success in the past, they’re helping Canada through the pandemic right now and they will continue to be critical to helping in the future,” Béatrice Fénelon, Spokesperson for IRCC said.

IRCC has temporarily lifted the 20-hour-per-week restriction on study permit holders working off-campus during their academic season. This is one of the actions IRCC took in response to the case of many international students. However, this only applies to those working in an essential service.

IRCC also mentioned that international students who are studying in health-related programs, have the training, or those with extensive training who are close to graduation may able to contribute their skills to the COVID-19 response as recommended by the government to help ease the burden on many workers in health-care facilities.

Regarding expiring work permits, IRCC is encouraging all temporary residents to apply online to extend their status in Canada. Under ‘implied status’, temporary workers, visitors, and students are allowed to continue working and maintain their legal immigration status in Canada until a decision is made on their application to extend their stay.

Other than that, the criteria for permanent residence programs remain the same.

Both Lao and Rivera hope the government and the IRCC may notice the importance of international students to the economy, boost it, and recognize the hard work they bring in the country’s labour force.

For now, they continue to wait and rely on more announcements from the authorities in hopes to give them clearer answers about whether they can safely call Canada their new home.

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