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Looking for a Canadian Adventure? IEC might be for you

The International Experience Canada (IEC) program is a great way to see all the wonderful sights in Canada while also gaining work experience and making an income to support yourself while abroad. Today we will discuss the benefits of this program; who can apply for the IEC; how to apply for the IEC and the application process; along with how to extend or change your work permit, and of course how this program has changed during Covid-19.

The Benefits of the IEC Program

The IEC program has many benefits, but it is a great deal for young people due to how affordable the visa is, and the opportunity that it gives you to work and travel within Canada. Though you may have heard of the most popular stream, The Working Holiday Visa, did you know there are three categories of IEC visas? First is the Working Holiday, which provides an open work permit, allowing you to travel around Canada and work. Many people on the IEC working holiday visa elect to work in Canada in the tourism industry, such as in hotels, resorts, restaurants, or tourist attractions. This allows them to live in beautiful places in Canada like Jasper, Banff, or Whistler national parks, fully experiencing all the beautiful wilderness that Canada has to offer.

Equally, two other streams allow for people to pursue work experience in their field directly: the Young Professionals and International Co-op (Internship) IEC visas. We will discuss the criteria of these three visas further later in the post. Another benefit of an IEC visa is its affordability, with fees beginning at $156 for visitors from Commonwealth countries, like Britain and Australia. This provides an affordable option for young people to gain work experience in Canada and earn an income while abroad.

Who Qualifies for IEC?

The IEC program exists by way of international agreement. In other words, your home country (or country of citizenship) must have an agreement with Canada that allows you to apply for this visa. There are 36 countries with an IEC agreement with Canada, including Japan, Australia, Italy, Korea, Sweden, and more. You can check the full list of countries and their specific eligibility criteria here.

The IEC has restrictions in terms of who can access the visa program in a few different ways. The first and most significant is age. The IEC program in Canada is restricted to individuals between 18 and 35 years of age. Some IEC programs in other countries where Canada has an agreement only allow people between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. If you have children or other dependents, they are not eligible to come with you to Canada on any of the IEC visa pools, in terms of having status by way of a Spousal Open Work Permit, as an example.

Working Holiday
The Working Holiday visa is what most people think of when they think of the international experience program, because of the number of people who come to Canada to work through this visa pool. The Working Holiday is aimed at young people who wish to vacation in Canada while making an income to fund their trip. It provides an open work permit, which allows you to work in multiple locations in Canada and for more than one employer. This means that you can easily travel and work in different locations around Canada. Normally, you can land in Canada without a job offer on this visa, but there were/are some exceptions. As an example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you must provide proof of a valid job offer to receive an invitation to apply in 2021. The length of your working visa depends on your country of origin and the agreement that Canada has with your home country. Be sure to look at the specific requirements depending on the country.

Young Professionals
The next category of program pool available under the IEC is the Young Professionals. This allows people to pursue work experience in Canada which supports their professional development. This category is for people who have valid job offers in Canada with one employer. The work permit that you receive through this pool is an employer-specific work permit. This means that for the duration of the work permit, the worker must stay with that one employer, in one location in Canada. This work must be paid and not self-employed. Your job offer for this stream must be in the National Occupation Classification (NOC) code skill level 0, A, or B. In other words, this applies to jobs that are either managerial, professional, or technical. The Young Professionals category is great for applicants since the quotas are not typically met and people can always apply under this category.

International Co-op
The final category is the International Co-op (Internship). This is a category for workers who are registered students at post-secondary institutions and wish to complete an internship or work placement in Canada. To qualify for this stream, you need to have a valid job offer or internship offer, and it must be directly linked to your area of study. Depending on the province and its labour code, it may need to be a paid or unpaid internship. This stream offers you only an employer-specific work permit, which means that you cannot change employers for your internship during your time in Canada. This is a great opportunity for students to expand the knowledge they have learned during their studies and get experience in the global labour market.

Alternatively, if your country does not have an agreement with Canada which allows you to apply for the IEC, then you can use a recognized organization to apply. Many exchange organizations facilitate youth worker development by organizing visas for IEC and non-IEC agreement countries. By looking up the list of recognized organizations, you can find an organization that will support you in your IEC visa process whether you are trying to visit Canada on a working holiday visa, a young professionals visa, or an international co-op visa, and whether or not you are from an IEC agreement country.

Applying for the IEC

There are three steps to applying to any IEC program: entering the pool and creating your profile, getting invited to apply, and submitting your IEC application. All of this occurs before you arrive in Canada.

The first step of applying for any IEC visa is to create your online IEC profile. You will need to answer some questions about your country of citizenship, whether you have a job offer, and whether you are a student. You will then be given a code that lets you into your IRCC account. Once you log in there, you will have more forms to fill out. At that point, you will also need to decide which pool you want to be in, either Working Holiday, Young Professional, or International Co-op. Your profile will then go in a pool for the IEC.

Your profile will stay in this visa pool (or group) until you receive an Invitation to Apply for a work permit until all of the profiles are removed at the end of the IEC season (you can find the schedule here), or until you are no longer eligible for the IEC. Depending on the agreement, each country has a certain allotment of visas for the IEC program, and the IRCC will select the allotted number of people from each category and issue invitations to apply in the following order:

  • International Co-op
  • Young Professionals
  • Working Holiday

Some countries, such as Australia, have an unlimited quota for the Working Holiday visa program in Canada. Once your application is selected from the IEC pool, then you will be invited to apply for the visa. Once you are invited to apply for your chosen IEC program, you will have 10 days to decide whether or not to accept the invitation, and 20 days to apply online for the work permit. You may also elect to decline your invitation. Your application needs to include a number of supporting documents, and without them, your application will not move forward. At this point, you will also need to pay your application fees. Additionally, If they are not already on file, then you will also need to supply your biometric information. After you apply, if your application is approved, then you will receive a Port of Entry letter. You must bring this, along with your valid job offer (for all IEC programs due to Covid-19) when you cross the border to land in Canada.  

Can I Apply for IEC Twice? Can I Extend my Visa?

Generally, people can only apply for IEC one time in their lives. Depending on the country you are from, you may be able to apply for the IEC program twice under different categories. Make sure you check your country and its requirements, to see if you can apply more than once.

If you are in Canada and your IEC work permit is expiring, then you can apply to extend your IEC participation, or apply for another type of work permit. You should do this before the expiry of your IEC permit. If you do not do this, then you cannot work while you wait for a decision about whether your work visa is extended. If your work permit is still valid and hasn’t expired, then you can continue to work while you wait for the decision about extending your IEC work permit.

Another thing that might happen when you are in Canada on any IEC program, is that you may wish to change jobs. The working holiday visa allows complete flexibility in this regard, as it provides an open work permit. For the other two streams available under the IEC program, you must contact the IRCC to change your work permit.

Immigration Strategy: IEC Worker to Canadian Permanent Residency

Most people who apply for IEC come to Canada for work and travel experience. Although it is a great experience for young people, a lot of people fall in love with Canada and think about returning permanently. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people who did not strategize properly and are unable to use that Canadian work experience for their PR application, but we’ll speak about this soon. There have been many people who have come back to us after their time in Canada on an IEC permit and want to apply for CEC and unfortunately, they do not qualify because their work was unskilled.

Let’s talk about the worker to PR strategy. If you are on an IEC work permit for 1-2 years, you will get Canadian work experience. Once you have at least one year of Canadian work experience, you are eligible to apply for Permanent Residence through the Express Entry Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program. Since the CEC program is popular and Canada always wants to invite workers, students, and people currently in Canada to stay, having work experience in Canada is key to get an invitation to apply. To qualify for the Canadian Experience Class, that one year of work experience must be a Skill Type 0, Skill Level A, or Skill Level B job. We have endless content about the CEC program, so check out our blog here! We also have an entire lesson about this strategy in our FREE Roadmap to Canada Course! If you want to learn more and enroll in the course, check it out here.

Where many people slip up here is that they come to Canada on an IEC work permit, and they work in an unskilled job. It is very common for young people to come to Canada and work as tour guides, wait staff, or in retail, but unfortunately, these are Skill Level C jobs and do not count as skilled work. It is so important to think about your future in Canada and use that experience on your IEC work permit to lead to a pathway to Permanent Residency and eventually a Second Passport. Even if Canada isn’t on your radar for a permanent home, it doesn’t hurt to set yourself up for that alternative option!

Changes to the IEC Program Due to Covid-19

COVID-19 has brought a lot of changes to travel, borders, and immigration all over the world. The IEC program has also been affected. Although it is still an available program and IEC applications are being accepted, there have been changes to the Working Holiday Visa and changes to entry in Canada, in general that need to be noted.

As mentioned earlier in this post, all IEC streams now require a valid job offer to enter Canada, even the Working Holiday Visa. There are also some protocols that must be followed concerning entry. As of September 7, 2021, all foreign nationals who qualify for the fully vaccinated travel exemption may enter Canada. As of August 9, travelers are longer required to quarantine for three nights at a government-organized quarantine hotel. The list of vaccines that qualify for this exemption is limited, so make sure to check the list.

Final Thoughts

The IEC program offers an excellent way for young people to gain valuable Canadian work experience and see the country. The Working Holiday visa grants its holder an open work permit which allows a person to work anywhere in Canada, while the International Co-op and Young Professions visas are tied to a specific workplace. All three streams available under the IEC allow young people to work in Canada for an affordable rate and with an easily navigable visa process.

If you want to learn more about the IEC program, check out our YouTube video here where we do a deeper dive into the program.

Ready to get started? Here are three ways we can help: 
1. Join our Facebook Community to connect with an amazing group of Second Passporters... This is a space where the community can share information, updates, and connect as a group of people with all the same goals!
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3. Ready to begin your journey? Join our 5-Day Immigration Blueprint ChallengeBy the end of the 5 days, you will have an Immigration Blueprint™ outlining your pathway to Canada.


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