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This article is your definitive guide to alternative immigration options for people who were hoping to use the IEC Working Holiday to come to Canada in 2021.

Each year, tens of thousands of youth from around the world travel to Canada to work and travel using International Experience Canada (IEC), a work permit option that includes the popular Working Holiday program. For years, IEC Working Holidays have provided a reliable and simple pathway for youth from participating countries to come to Canada. In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 has caused IEC and the Working Holiday program to come grinding to a halt.

In March 2020, IEC was paused due to COVID-19: no invitations were issued in regular IEC invitation rounds after that date. Then, after months of being paused, the 2020 IEC season officially closed in November 2020. Now 2021 is well underway without any official news as to when the 2021 IEC season will open.

As such, many people have been asking us: What are my options to come to Canada other than the IEC Working Holiday? Well, first of all, bear in mind that the Canadian government is only recommending travelling right now if it’s essential. If you have an important reason for travelling to Canada this year, we’ve compiled this list of your alternative options to the IEC Working Holiday to come to Canada in 2021.

#1 — Wait for IEC. Yes, we’re serious.

Okay, so this probably isn’t the answer you were looking for, but before we get into your alternative immigration options, we wanted to stress the fact that the IEC Working Holiday program is relatively simple and straightforward when compared to Canada’s other immigration options. The Working Holiday program doesn’t require a job offer, it doesn’t have any complicated ranking system, and the processing times are fast (excluding the anomaly of the past year).

If you can handle waiting it out, it’s likely to be your easiest option.

Canada is estimating that the majority of Canadians will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September of this year. Provided the inoculation campaign isn’t derailed by major hiccups in vaccine rollout, vaccine supply, and virus variants, this means that Canadian life could be getting back to normal closer to the end of this year. Hopefully IEC and the Working Holiday program will follow suit.

One thing to keep in mind is that even when IEC opens, there are quotas for each country and invitations are issued through a randomized system. You may want to refer to the quota history for the previous season to get a sense of the quotas available to each country — although quotas could change next season.

If you think you can hang on and wait until then, great! If not, let’s really dive into your alternatives.

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#2 — Get a Labour Market Impact Assessment-based (LMIA-based) work permit

There are many different types of Canadian work permits. But, aside from IEC, one of the other popular options for people residing outside Canada, is a Labour Market Impact Assessment-based (LMIA-based) work permit.

An LMIA-based work permit requires that you land a job from a Canadian employer. But, this can’t just be any job offer — the job offer must be supported by a document called a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, or LMIA. An LMIA is a document that your employer must obtain (you can’t get it yourself) that proves that they attempted to hire someone in Canada, but were unable to do so, hence why they are hiring a foreign national.

LMIAs are complicated documents for Canadian employers to get. They have to prove they posted their job in different locations, they have to submit a detailed application, and they usually have to pay a CAD$1,000 processing fee. For all of these reasons, most Canadian employers prefer to hire people who already have the legal authorization to work in Canada — it just saves them a lot of hassle.

All that said, tens of thousands of positive LMIAs are issued every year, so it’s possible. It’s just challenging.

If you can get a job offer supported by a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, you can use this to apply for a closed work permit — authorizing you to come to Canada and work for that specific employer. Learn more about LMIA-based work permits here.

#3 — Apply directly for permanent resident status

Canada has several immigration pathways that allow you to apply directly for permanent resident status, or PR. Getting PR means that you can live in Canada for as long as you want, working for any employer in any location, plus you get access to Canada’s healthcare system and social services. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

But, it’s extremely competitive and processing times are long.

The Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW), a program within Canada’s Express Entry immigration system, enables skilled workers to apply directly for permanent resident status, without ever needing to have set foot in Canada before. The downside? Express Entry uses a complex points-based system to rank interested candidates based on their age, work experience, language skills, level of education, and more. Only the candidates with the highest scores are invited to apply.

There are other Canadian immigration programs that allow you to apply directly for permanent resident status, including Provincial Nominee Programs (you can sort through more than 80 PNP streams here) and Quebec immigration. However, these are equally as complex as Express Entry, and often similarly competitive. Family sponsorship could also be an option, although you’d have to already be in a marriage or common-law relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

One last thing to bear in mind is that many people applying for permanent residence from outside Canada are experiencing huge delays in their application processing. Plus, under the current COVID-19 travel restrictions, those who have been approved for permanent residence aren’t even allowed to travel to Canada to activate their status unless they meet one of a handful of rare exemptions.


#4 — Come to Canada as an international student.

Many international students are still able to enter Canada and pursue their studies despite COVID-19 travel restrictions. Students at schools that have been included on the approved list are able to enter Canada to attend school.

Coming to Canada as an international student is one of the few reliable ways to enter Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, but becoming an international student is a big commitment. You have to gain admission to a school, apply for a study permit, and pay for tuition and associated fees.

Studying in Canada opens a lot of doors in Canada. Most international students are eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit after graduating from a Canadian school, and there are many Canadian immigration programs targeted towards people with Canadian education and work experience.

So, it’s a big commitment, but it can have a big payoff. The choice is up to you!

#5 — Come to Canada as a visitor (if you can)

The last option we wanted to mention is coming to Canada as a visitor. Normally, this would be high up on our list, but the reason we left this one until the end is because most people can’t come to Canada as visitors right now. Canada’s borders remain closed to the vast majority of foreign nationals, and unless you meet one of the handful of exemptions to travel restrictions, like having a close family member in Canada, you won’t be able to pursue this option.

If you do meet one of the exemptions to travel restrictions, please be aware that there’s are likely some kind of special measures you’ll have to go through in order to enter Canada amidst the travel restrictions.

Travel to many locations has been a challenge for the past year, and it seems like much of 2021 will be the same. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, “Now is just not the time to be flying.” However, if you have important reasons for getting to Canada, we hope this guide helps you find a way!

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