International youth choose Vancouver for work and play

Participants in the IEC program enjoy the B.C. winter. -  Photo courtesy of SWAP

Participants in the IEC program enjoy the B.C. winter. – Photo courtesy of SWAP

Around this time of year, thousands of 18 to 30-year-olds around the world apply to take part in International Experience Canada (IEC), a one or two year working holiday program. For good reason, Vancouver is one of the most popular destinations for participants who choose to come to Canada.

Ida Segerhagen, from Trellebord, Sweden, came to Vancouver as a part of the IEC program three years ago and was thrilled with her experience.

“After a year on the working holiday I learnt so much, working in a country and learning how to talk to people in business,” says Segerhagen. “Anyone wanting to learn another language should go and work in a different country. Now my cousin is coming in the summer to do the same thing I did!”

The IEC program is particularly popular among Europeans and Australians. Participants of the program do a variety of things when they are here, according to Gillian Plummer, inbound coordinator for SWAP., an organization that specializes in providing information and assistance to people who land in Vancouver for a working holiday.

Each country is allocated a different number of spaces in the program, depending on the size of the population and the reciprocal agreement each country has with Canada. As Plummer explains, there are benefits to the program both for the program participants and for the Canadian economy – participants gain valuable international work and travel experience, while filling jobs that are sometimes neglected by Canadian workers.

“Australians here are mostly backpackers so they are more about the holiday side. A lot of them tend to province jump so they will spend six months in Banff, then they will go to Ontario, then to B.C. They jump with the resorts as well. Canadians don’t tend to work in the resorts so the government sees it as labour filling. Similarly, the Irish tend to work in construction a lot, so [they] fill a gap there,” says Plummer.

Plummer has witnessed numerous changes during the years she has been involved with SWAP and has seen Canada welcome increasing numbers of working holiday applicants. Less than five years ago, there were 2,500 spaces in the program for citizens of the U.K. and Ireland and these openings barely got filled. Today, all of the spots fill up quickly. People now come for longer periods of time as well. In 2011, applicants were given the option of applying for a second consecutive year.

Oliver Raynor. - Photo courtesy of Oliver Raynor

Oliver Raynor. – Photo courtesy of Oliver Raynor

“People used to come over for the summer, have their fun, then return home. Jobs that were mostly sought out were retail, resorts and hospitality. Now people are thinking more long-term and travel has become more popular. Travel is cheaper and Canada is now better known around the world,” says Plummer.

This year, the application has gone online, making the process more convenient. To simplify things, applications are now sent directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, unlike in the past when they had to be made through a third party such as the British Universities North America Club in the U.K. or the International Exchange Program in Australia and New Zealand.

Oliver Raynor, a 29-year-old from Leicestershire, England, agrees that the application process and his experiences in Canada have been smooth and positive.

“The application process took around a couple of months from downloading it to getting approved. After settling in I got a decent job working in TV and had constant work from there on in. I think my accent worked wonders- it helped keep me in work!” he says.

Raynor bought an apartment downtown and immersed himself in the Vancouver way of life. He returned to the U.K. at the end of last year after two years of living in the city.

Many participants in the program are surprised to find vibrant communities of their fellow countrymen in the city, though connecting to these communities can take time.

“I thought I was the only Swedish person here because I hadn’t met any others in the three years I had been here!” says Segerhagen, who remains in Vancouver working as a receptionist at a financial firm. “But recently I found a group called ‘Swedes In Vancouver’ and I went along to one of their evenings and met 15 other Swedes!”

As the popularity of the IEC program continues to grow, Segerhagen may find many more Swedes – and Germans, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits and others – making Vancouver their temporary home.

For more information about the IEC program, visit