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July 3, 2013

International Experience Canada (IEC): Opportunities Abroad for Students and Youth.

Edward C. Corrigan

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In 1967 the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Department of Employment and Immigration (predecessor of CIC and HRSDC) and the Secretary of State (predecessor of Canadian Heritage), and the Cabinet approved the creation of an international travel and exchange program. Since 1986, DFAIT has had the federal responsibility of managing the International Experience Canada (IEC) program.

This program was previously known as the International Youth Programs and the International Exchange Programs. The purpose of these International exchange programs is “to foster close bilateral relations between Canada and other countries through cultural exchanges that give participants a mutual understanding of the other culture through a travel, life and work experience abroad.” These programs are also known as Working Holidays Abroad.

Canadians and foreign nationals between the ages 18 and 35 can benefit from the IEC program under bilateral arrangements on youth mobility established by the Canadian government and foreign governments. In addition organizations recognized and monitored by DFAIT that support youth mobility, such as SWAP Working Holidays (formerly known as Student Work Abroad Program (SWAP)), International Association for Students of Economics and Commerce (AIESEC), Chantiers Jeunesse, Canadian Host Family Association (CHFA), International Rural Exchange (IRE), GO International, and Mennonite Central Committee of Canada can arrange youth exchanges with foreign countries. These organizations have multilateral arrangements with partners in more than 50 countries. The Department of Foreign Affairs also facilitates a number of inter-institutional exchanges.

Other means for obtaining work permits for young foreign nationals in Canada and young Canadians working abroad fall under the following categories:

-Young Professionals

-International Co-op (Internships/Work placements/ Inter-institutional agreements)

-International Co-op (On-the-Job training) 18-35 employer -specific 12 months

If there is an agreement with Canada there will be similar programs under the bilateral exchanges with respective countries for Canadian students and youth who wish to travel and work abroad.

These youth International work programs are based on country agreements where their nationals are allowed to visit and work in Canada for a period of time. In return Canadian youths can go to foreign countries and gain foreign experience and see different parts of the World. Since the programs are based on an exchange of young people there are considered employment neutral. However, many of these programs have quotas so that spaces may fill up quickly. Some of the programs are limited to full time students. Some open work permits also require medicals or they are subject to occupation restrictions until a medical is obtained.

Similar bi-lateral exchange programs exist for teachers that allow them to work in a foreign country for a specified period of time.

Examples of Countries where bi-lateral agreements for Working Holidays Abroad with Open Work Permits exist.

Australia- Age 18-30. 24 months. No limit.

Costa Rica- Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted 

France - Age 18-35.  12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

Germany- Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

Greece- Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

Hong Kong- Age 18-30. 12 months. One time only.

Ireland- Age 18-35. 24 months. One time only.

Italy- Age 18-35. 6 Months. One time only.

Japan- Age 18-30. 12 months. One time only.

Korea- Age 18-30. 12 months. One time only.

Mexico- Age 18-29. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted

Poland - Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times–Repeat category is not permitted.

Spain- Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

Sweden- Age 18-30. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

United Kingdom- Age 18-30. 12 months. Two times repeat category allowed.

Ukraine- Age 18-35. 12 months. Two times repeating category is not permitted.

Bi-lateral youth exchange agreements exist for most European countries and a number of other countries as well.

Foreign nationals applying under a bilateral arrangement are permitted to benefit from the IEC program, in most cases (Australia being an exception), twice in their lifetime. However, they generally need to apply under a different category (i.e., Working Holiday, International Co-op or Young Professionals) each time. In addition the two stays must be not continuous.  The guidelines on repeat participation vary for foreign nationals applying under a Canadian organization.

Organizations supporting youth mobility IEC also recognizes a number of organizations that have multilateral arrangements with partners in foreign countries.

Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario, Canada.  He can be reached at or at (519) 439-4015.

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