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Hundreds protest updated B.C. permanent residency guidelines

Hundreds of people, many of whom were international students, protested at the Vancouver Art Gallery on a rainy Saturday as B.C. announced updated guidelines for its provincial nominee program (PNP). (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC - image credit)
Hundreds of people, many of whom were international students, protested at the Vancouver Art Gallery on a rainy Saturday as B.C. announced updated guidelines for its provincial nominee program (PNP). (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of people, many of them international master's students, gathered in downtown Vancouver on Saturday to protest a recent update to a program that offers a pathway to permanent residency.

On Tuesday, the province announced updated guidelines for its provincial nominee program (PNP), which sees B.C. invite immigrants to fill certain high priority jobs and become Canadian permanent residents.

Master's students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are no longer automatically eligible for the PNP program, and instead need a year of full-time work experience before registering.

Students at Saturday's protest argued the update came with little notice and has caused upheaval in their lives, even as the province says the move makes things clearer for prospective applicants.

Zongwang Wang, who studies computer science, says the changed guidelines came as a surprise and without warning for many students who had uprooted their lives to come to B.C.
Zongwang Wang, who studies computer science, says the changed guidelines came as a surprise and without warning for many students who had uprooted their lives to come to B.C.

Zongwang Wang, who studies computer science, says the updated guidelines came as a surprise and without warning for many students who had uprooted their lives to come to B.C. (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC)

"We're protesting the sudden implementation of the new B.C. PNP policy, which gives people no buffer zone for current and incoming students, which we think is very much unfair," said Zongwang Wang, a computer science student.

Wang said he gave up his job as an investment manager in New York City to move to Vancouver, saying he saw PNP requirements as a stepping stone to helping make Vancouver a technology hub.

"For myself, speaking from preparation to application all the way until graduation, it takes three-plus years," he said. "You can just not change [guidelines] overnight."

The province says the updated guidelines, which will go into effect in January 2025, will lead to better outcomes by letting prospective applicants know upfront the level of education and language skills needed to have a chance of being nominated.

"This clarity will make it harder for bad actors to take advantage of people by misrepresenting the B.C. PNP as an 'easy pathway' to permanent residency," reads a fact sheet from the province.

University of British Columbia students are pictured during the first day of school in Vancouver, B.C, on Tuesday,September 5, 2023.
University of British Columbia students are pictured during the first day of school in Vancouver, B.C, on Tuesday,September 5, 2023.

University of British Columbia students are pictured during the first day of school on Sept. 5. The province says the updated guidelines will provide more clarity to prospective immigrants. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For Kexin Hu, a Simon Fraser University philosophy student, the language used by the province evokes xenophobic and racist sentiments.

"Canada needs its skilled immigrants as much as skilled immigrants need Canada," she said. "They're still like painting this picture of immigrants [as] homogeneous, lazy ... I'm furious to see that."

An online petition with more than 2,000 signatures calls on the province to implement a grace period for master's students already in B.C., and to conduct "meaningful consultations" with students before changing immigration guidelines.

Previous guidelines not accurate: premier

Premier David Eby said previous guidelines regarding STEM master's students did not reflect the reality of who was getting invited to apply for the PNP program.

"People have higher qualifications for English language, for example. They have a job offer in hand, for example, and those are the people getting the limited spaces that we have," Eby said.

Premier David Eby is pictured during a news conference regarding student housing at Douglas College in New Westminster, Thursday February 29, 2023.
Premier David Eby is pictured during a news conference regarding student housing at Douglas College in New Westminster, Thursday February 29, 2023.

B.C. Premier David Eby says unscrupulous immigration brokers were advertising the PNP as 'very easy to get in,' even though the reality was quite different. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said there were more than 62,000 post-graduation work permit holders in B.C., but only 3,000 B.C. PNP spots for the international graduate stream — meaning around 4.8 per cent of those immigrants could receive invitations.

"Under recent changes announced by Canada, graduates of master's programs can receive a three-year open work permit, giving them ample time to meet the qualifications for the new PNP Master's graduate stream," the spokesperson wrote.

The updated guidelines come after the federal government announced it will cap the number of student permits over the next two years.