Learning Moments - Work Experience during Full-time Studies and Express Entry
This article by Andrew Carvajal is part of the Immigration Education Alliance (IMEDA) weekly column titled "Learning Moments" and published online.
Hello fellow practitioners. Today’s column deals with foreign work experience completed during full-time studies and whether it has an impact on a candidate’s Express Entry score.
I have a client who has extensive periods of study over the last 10 years, including a part-time Master’s degree and currently full-time studies towards a PhD. During these study periods, my client has accumulated both full-time and part-time foreign work experience. Can this foreign work experience, whilst studying, count towards CRS points within Express Entry under the transferability section? I cannot find any preclusion under the Ministerial Instructions requirements for foreign work experience, although I know there is for Canadian Work Experience.
Our reader is correct that foreign work experience obtained during a period of study (even if enrolled in full-time studies) is eligible for foreign work experience points under Express Entry’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Foreign work experience completed while studying is also eligible work experience for the purpose of the Federal Skilled Worker Program and Federal Skilled Trades Program.
The restriction that work experience must not coincide with full-time studies is only relevant to the Canadian Experience Class Program and the points awarded for Canadian work experience under Express Entry’s CRS.
For example, section 15 of the Ministerial Instructions respecting the Express Entry system states the following restrictions with respect to assessing an Express Entry candidate’s “Canadian Work Experience”: 
Work experience — requirements
(7) For the purposes of this section,
(a) a period of employment during which the foreign national was engaged in full-time study is not to be included in calculating a period of work experience;
(b) a period of self-employment or unauthorized work is not to be included in calculating a period of work experience;
(c) the foreign national must have had temporary resident status during their period of work experience and any period of full-time study or training; and
(d) the full-time equivalent for part-time work experience is 30 hours of work per week.
The same restrictions apply to a candidate’s spouse’s Canadian work experience (section 19(8)), as well as to the transferability points assigned for Canadian work experience (section 24(3)).
To the contrary, all of the restrictions stipulated above (no work during full-time studies, no self-employment, no unauthorized work, and retention of temporary resident status) are not found in the section of theMinisterial Instructions that deals with foreign work experience (section 25).
The restriction on work experience completed while enrolled as a full-time student found in the Ministerial Instructions is in fact identical to the restriction placed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations in relation to qualifying work experience for the purpose of the Canadian Experience Class Program. Subsection 87.1(3) of the Regulations provides that:
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2),
(a) any period of employment during which the foreign national was engaged in full-time study shall not be included in calculating a period of work experience;
(b) any period of self-employment or unauthorized work shall not be included in calculating a period of work experience; and
(c) the foreign national must have had temporary resident status during their period of work experience.
This restriction is not found in the Regulations as it pertains to the qualifying work experience for the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) or the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP). As a result, an individual’s Canadian work experience while enrolled as a full-time student can count towards the eligibility requirements of the FSWP or FST. Nonetheless, the candidate will not be awarded any points for Canadian work experience or foreign work experience under Express Entry.
Turning back to our reader’s scenario, if a client obtained professional foreign work experience while pursuing a Master’s or PhD degree, it should count towards the program eligibility for the FSWP or FSTP, as well as the foreign work experience points under Express Entry. This scenario is in fact very common amongst post-graduate students who may be working as research assistants, teaching assistants or university lecturers.
There is an important caution that should be made when representing clients with work experience obtained while they were students. If the client’s professional work experience was gained prior to the completion of their first post-secondary degree (e.g. the client’s first college or university degree), it is possible that an officer may not accept it asprofessional experience. For example, if a person was pursuing his first engineering degree and his only work experience was in the position of “civil engineer”, which was obtained prior to graduation, it is possible that an officer could question whether such experience is appropriately qualified as professional engineering experience. We have seen officers accept foreign professional experience prior to the completion of a first post-secondary degree, however, we have also heard about refusals when the occupation normally requires an individual to have completed a degree beforehand.
At our office, we like to take a conservative approach and advise clients in professional occupations that it is possible that their experience will only count after completing their first degree. After all, the Express Entry system even asks candidates to declare when they first became qualified to work under the National Occupational Classification that is declared as the primary NOC in the profile. Any experience gained prior to the date declared in the profile, is not included in the system’s calculation towards the program eligibility requirements.
If a client wanted to count experience prior to the completion of their first degree, their representative would need to declare that the client was qualified to practice in this occupation prior to the completion of the post-secondary degree. This could be misrepresenting the nature of some occupations.
Different immigration practitioners may have different approaches, but we prefer a conservative approach when it comes to counting professional experience gained prior to completion of a first post-secondary degree if, in our opinion, that degree is necessary. If the client’s experience is in a trade, for example, then perhaps it would be proper to declare that they became qualified to work in that occupation after high school.
The caution stipulated above does not apply to our reader’s case, however. Experience gained after the completion of a first post-secondary degree (such as a Bachelor’s) and while pursuing a second degree such as a Master’s or PhD should be safe from such scrutiny.
Andrew Carvajal is a Toronto lawyer and partner at Desloges Law Group specializing in immigration law, administrative law and Small Claims Court litigation.