Canada has long been recognized as one of the top destinations for international students pursing higher education.  Indeed, the federal government issues thousands of Study Permits every year to Foreign Nationals who are intending to study in Canada.  However, with its growth, the International Student Program has experienced an increasing number of problems in recent years.  In many cases, unlicensed and unscrupulous agents have provided fraudulent documents to facilitate Study Permit applications.  In other cases, students who had enrolled in and paid tuition fees to unregulated institutions became victims when these institutions suddenly went out of business.  As a result of this exploitation of prospective students, the federal government has introduced changes to current regulations.  In doing so, they aim to reduce the potential for abuse of the Program, and to improve services for genuine students.  

On February 14, 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced a number of changes to the current International Student Program, which took effect on June 1, 2014.  At the forefront of the changes to the Program is the introduction of a designated learning institutions list, which limits prospective students to a selection of “pre-approved” schools that are qualified to host international students.  All such schools have now been issued designated learning institution numbers, which must be provided as part of the applications for Study Permits.  In essence, only students who have been accepted into one of the designated learning institutions will be eligible to apply for Study Permits.  (Institutions at the primary- and secondary-school level are automatically considered designated institutions.)  A full list of designated learning institutions in each province has now been published on the CIC website.  

Other reforms to the International Student Program include:

Proof of actively pursuing studies.  Students must demonstrate their enrollment in and continued intention to pursue their studies in Canada.  Twice a year, all designated learning institutions are required to submit reports to CIC on their international students’ registration status.  To that end, students may also face routine checks from CIC to provide proof of their academic status.  Failure to maintain their enrollment or registration in classes can result in the international student being issued an Exclusion Order by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and removed from Canada for a period of up to two years.

Permission to work off-campus.  Students no longer need to apply separately for an Off-Campus Work Permit.  They are now automatically authorized to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the school year, and full-time during scheduled breaks.  However, only students registered in a degree, diploma, or certificate-granting programs are eligible to work off-campus under this change.

Limiting the issuance of Co-Op Work Permits.  Under this particular change, only international students who are pursuing studies at a secondary school or a designated learning institution may apply for a Co-Op Work Permit.  Students must continue to demonstrate that the co-op placement is an integral part of their course of study.

Allowing certain types of visitors to apply for a study permit from within Canada.  Visitors who are at the pre-school, primary, or secondary level will now be eligible to apply for a Study Permit from within Canada.  In addition, students who are on an academic exchange or are visiting students at a designated learning institution, or have completed a course or program of study that is a pre-requisite for admission at a designation learning institution may also submit applications from within Canada.  Applications for Study Permits can be submitted either online or by mail, to the Case Processing Centre in Vegreville, Alberta.

Scheduled expiration of Study Permits.  Study Permits will automatically expire and become invalid 90 days following the completion of studies.  Therefore, post-secondary graduates are advised to apply for Post-Graduate Work Permits immediately following completion of their program, in order to ensure they have authorization to remain in Canada.  Secondary school graduates are also advised to apply for a new Study Permit (or another status document) immediately following completion of their secondary school studies.

Permission to work full-time following completion of studies.  Eligible international student graduates, who have already submitted applications for Post-Graduate Work Permits, are now authorized to begin working full-time upon completion of their studies.  This form of “implied status” will allow them to work until they receive a decision from CIC on their Work Permit applications.

Despite the numerous changes the federal government has introduced to the International Student Program, many existing regulations remain unaffected.  For example, Study Permits are still not required for a program of less than six months in duration, and accompanying family members of Study Permit holders may still be eligible to apply for open Work Permits.  Furthermore, CIC has announced a “grace period” for International Students who enrolled in a non-designated institution prior to June 1, 2014.  Students who are currently studying at a non-designated institution can still complete their studies for up to three additional years (until 2017).  Similarly, international students currently holding Off-Campus and Co-Op Work Permits issued by non-designated institutions may continue working under these authorizations until the completion of their studies, also for a period of up to three additional years.

It is important to note that these changes do not otherwise impact a Visa Officer’s assessment of a Study Permit application.  When assessing an application, Visa Officers are still taking into consideration all determining factors, including evidence of financial support, credibility of the applicant and his or her supporting documents.  Therefore, students who have been accepted into designated learning institutions may still be refused a Study Permit if a Visa Officer is not satisfied with any other part of the application.  It is imperative that students continue to make every effort to demonstrate their genuine intent to study in Canada.

In introducing the above changes, CIC’s ultimate goal is two-fold: to ensure that genuine students are given every benefit of Canada’s excellent higher-education programs, and to regulate educational institutions so that only reliable and reputable establishments are conducting business in the industry.  This can be viewed as part of CIC’s continued effort to crack down on immigration fraud at every level.

For more information on the changes to the International Student Program, visit www.cic.gc.ca, or call J. Kenney Consulting Ltd. at 604-568-4200 or 604-649-2627 to schedule a free consultation.  You can also view our website at:  www.jkenneyconsulting.com.