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Changes to visa eligibility causing confusion for Aussie workers

Immigration consultant says 'hundreds' of working holiday visa holders could be affected

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As one of many young Australians in Whistler on a working holiday visa, Jordan Decker thought he could extend his stay in Canada indefinitely — at least until he turned 30, the final year of eligibility. But after a decade in the community, Decker recently got held up at the border, where he was surprised to learn that changes to the International Experience Canada (IEC) program meant he was no longer eligible for another working holiday visa.

"Honestly, I felt like I got a bit of a pity visa at the border," Decker said of the border agent who eventually granted him a visa extension after hours of questioning. Fortunately for Decker, a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen, he was able to extend his stay this month after landing permanent residency status. But with a litany of changes to the IEC program in recent years, he isn't the only young Aussie in town who's run into confusion.

"The eligibility requirements change all the time and it's hard to keep track of them. Even consultants have a hard time keeping track," explained Kosuke Homma, a consultant with Canadian Resort Immigration.

The working holiday category is meant for Australian citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 who wish to travel to Canada for up to 24 months and intend to find temporary employment to help pay for their trip. Up until two years ago, Aussies who met the eligibility requirements were free to apply for an unlimited number of working holiday visas. Under the current regulations, however, Australian citizens may only participate in the working holiday category once — although those who took part in the program prior to 2015 may be eligible for a final 24-month visa.

"That's the scary thing about this, because (Australians) were free to get another work permit every two years in the recent past," explained Homma, who estimates the number of Aussies in Whistler with expiring work permits could be in the hundreds.

Jenny Perez of Perez McKenzie Immigration said she's met with "a lot" of Australians in recent months inquiring about their visa status, and she's given them all similar advice.

"The message to all of them has been to wait until the 2018 season opens when the wording of that visa's (eligibility) may change," she said.

In the meantime, Perez has been working with her Aussie clients to find alternatives to the working holiday program. She said one benefit to the eligibility changes has been that Australian citizens are now more apt to consider permanent residency.

"Under the old system what happened was a lot of Australians took their time because they knew they could always access another working holiday visa very easily," she explained. "I think this is better because now it's making them think about it and make a decision about residency sooner."

For more information on the IEC's working holiday program, visit www.cic.gc.ca.

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