ApplyInsights: Canadian College Graduates Drive Surging PGWPP Interest

Canada’s Post Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) offers international students one of the world’s smoothest pathways to securing work in their trained field.

It’s a program whose popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. PGWPP approvals rose from nearly 5,400 in 2005 to more than 120,000 in the first 10 months of 2021.

Today, we’re diving into newly released IRCC data detailing PGWP trends in all of 2021. We’ll unpack the numbers, discuss the growth of the PGWPP over the past six years, and highlight the Canadian institutions producing graduates who heavily pursue PGWPP opportunities. Let’s get into it.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • ApplyBoard projects 2021 PGWP approvals to surpass 140,000, setting a single-year record high.
  • Over 98% of students who applied for a post-graduate work permit from January to October 2021 were granted one.
  • College graduates accounted for over 65% of PGWP approvals in 2021.
  • Since 2016, nine of the top 10 fastest-growing schools ranked by PGWP approvals are ApplyBoard partner schools.

The PGWPP’s Rapid Growth Since 2016

The PGWPP gained little traction during its infancy, but we’ve seen particularly explosive growth over the past six years:

The Canadian government issued more than twice as many PGWPs in the first 10 months of 2021 as in all of 2016.1 That’s an astonishing number on its own, but it’s even more impressive when we account for the fact that there’s an additional two months of data still to come.

Through October 2021, 119,500 students were approved for the PGWPP, just 4,000 students shy of 2020’s full-year total (a previous single-year high). We project 2021 full-year PGWPP numbers to eclipse 143,000 approvals, which would increase the 2016-2021 PGWPP growth rate to 160%.

While it’s difficult to project the ripple effect COVID-19 will have on the PGWPP, this steady growth trajectory is a strong indication that PGWP interest will continue to move in a positive direction.

A major driver of this consistent growth is the sky-high PGWP approval rates. Since 2016, the PGWPP has seen at least a 96% approval rate each year, with a record 98.5% approval rate in 2021. All while the volume of PGWP approvals has increased by an average of 23,000 each year since 2017.

PGWPP Distribution Across Study Levels

As little as six years ago, students pursuing PGWPPs skewed heavily towards college (diploma) and university (undergraduate) graduates. In 2016, one in every two PGWPPs were issued to students at these study levels.

Let’s examine what the PGWP study level distribution has looked like since 2016:

In 2016, university graduates carried the PGWPP approvals, as bachelor’s and master’s students accounted for over 50% of all PGWPPs. College diploma and certificate holders accounted for four of every 10 PGWPPs issued in the same year.

Today, PGWPP distribution looks incredibly different. In 2021, college graduates accounted for the largest share of PGWPPs issued across all study levels, at nearly 50%, while an additional 15% of PGWPPs were approved for college certificate holders.

Meanwhile, the share of PGWPPs going to university graduates has decreased substantially, as undergraduate and master’s students accounted for only 30% of approvals in 2021.

A driving force behind this shift could be the experiential learning that is woven into Canadian college education. Colleges equip students to go out into the workforce and make an immediate impact.

In 2021, the top 10 institutions ranked by PGWPP acceptances were all colleges.

This shift in study level distribution is an indication that students are looking for more direct pathways to securing post-graduate work. Not only do Canadian colleges offer programs that are shorter and boast lower tuition rates than most universities, but they also offer very high enrollment capacity.

Because of this, international students looking for an efficient, cost-effective education are targeting colleges that can lead them to strong post-graduation employment opportunities, at an increasingly high rate.

As Canadian colleges continue to welcome international students, increasing their already massive international enrollment numbers, expect this snowball effect to continue. It would not be a shock to see college graduates take an even bigger slice of the annual PGWPP pie in years to come.

Top Canadian Institutions Powering the PGWPP

In 2016, there were just eight institutions across Canada with 1,000 or more graduates who were approved for a PGWP. Just six years later, four times the number of institutions meet the same criteria.

The following racing bar chart tracks the evolution of the top 10 Canadian institutions ranked by PGWP approvals since 2016:

While colleges have consistently held top spots in the PGWP approval rankings, universities used to account for a significant share of the top contributing institutions.

In 2016, there was a 50/50 split between colleges and universities in the top 20 institutions by PGWPP approvals. Through October of 2021, universities held just 5 of the top 20 spots and zero of the top 10.

The growth of Northern College (+50,567%), University Canada West (+15,743), and St Clair College (+1,923%) were particularly impressive over this time period. They represented the three fastest-growing institutions in PGWP approvals since 2016.

Here’s the list of fastest-growing institutions by PGWP approvals from 2016 to 2021:

Despite lacking the highest volume of PGWPP approvals, the schools on this list have displayed phenomenal growth over the past six years, particularly Northern College and University Canada West, which have seen an incredible surge in PGWP growth.

ApplyBoard is proud to say that nine of the 10 institutions on this list are ApplyBoard partner schools. We look forward to helping all of our partners continue welcoming students who are keen to become a part of the PGWPP.

Looking Forward

Students from all over the world, at all study levels, have made it clear that post-graduate work is a top priority. With an approval rate of over 98% last year, the PGWPP provides students with a plan to address that priority.

What started as a program that was largely pursued by university graduates from the biggest source markets, has blossomed into a streamlined pathway that every type of international student finds value in.

The latest PGWP data gives schools, recruitment partners, and most importantly, students, a reason to be excited. Those who are a part of Canada’s international education ecosystem should note the following takeaways:

  • Students who value the opportunity to work and potentially immigrate to Canada following their education should strongly consider PGWPP eligibility when targeting Canadian institutions during the application stage.
  • Canadian Schools, in particular Canadian colleges, should leverage their co-op program offerings and promote experiential learning opportunities during the recruitment phase, to enhance the PGWP to PR pathway value proposition.
  • Recruitment partners, should make a point to discuss booming PGWPP growth with students from emerging countries and work to educate potential students on the post-graduation employment opportunities that could await them following their studies in Canada.

Published: March 4, 2022

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CMO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government and third-party data, alongside ApplyBoard internal data, to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 300,000 students around the world.


1. All statistics courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. More recent data not yet available.


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