Due to the high quality of education and the cultural diversity it offers, Canada is one of the most popular countries chosen by people from all over the world as their ideal destination for education. And according to recent data, Canada’s popularity is still on the rise.
If you are considering studying in Canada soon, or are already here as an international student, this article is for you. It contains general information about the benefits and obligations of international students, as well as some helpful tips on how to maximize the benefits of the Canadian education experience.
Aside from the most common benefits associated with studying in a highly developed English-speaking country, the international student program offered by the Canadian government comes with the following perks.
Working While Studying
Most international students can work on or off-campus while they are studying. To be able to do this, a student must be enrolled full-time at a post-secondary institution. There is no limit on the maximum number of work hours per week if you are working on campus. If you choose to work off-campus, which is the more popular option, the maximum limit is 20 hours per week, which does not apply if it is during school breaks. On- or off-campus work can be performed if the student has a valid study permit, and there is no work permit required. It is worth noting that students who are still studying in ESL/FSL programs and have yet to start their academic programs cannot work off-campus, but they still have the on-campus option available.
(Tip: ESL/FSL student study permits prohibit off-campus work, so it is important that students apply to update their study permits once they progress into academic programs and before starting to work off-campus.)
Work Permit for Significant Other
Another benefit is that international students who have a spouse or common-law partner may be able to bring their significant other to Canada on a work permit. The requirements are as follows:
- The international student holds a valid study permit;
- He/she is enrolled full-time in select types of educational institutions (ask your consultant about what they are), and;
- the spouses or common-law partners of the international students are not full-time international students themselves
Under current Canadian immigration law and policy, the work permit issued to the spouse or common-law partner would have the same validity date with the study permit of the inviting student and would allow the spouse or common-law partner of the student to work for any employer, without needing an LMIA.
Work Permit after Graduation
The next benefit is called the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, which is essentially a program for international students to acquire their own work permits after graduating. The program has the following requirements:
- The student has graduated from a program of study that was at least eight months in duration;
- The student has studied continuously on a full-time basis in Canada for that program (no part-time terms except for during summer breaks, and no missed terms);
- The majority of the study cannot be through online education;
- The educational institution attended is on the list of eligible institutions (ask your consultant about this list);
- The student applies within 90 days of receiving notice of graduation, and;
- The student’s study permit has not yet expired when they apply for the work permit.
Generally, the rules about such work permits were made so that the length of the work permit will directly correspond with the length of study time. For instance, if you graduated from a one-year program, the post-graduation work permit will last one year. If you graduated from a two-year or three-year program, you can get a work permit for up to three years. For more information about the validity of post-graduation work permits, contact your Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant.
It is worth noting that a student can only be issued a post-graduation work permit once in a lifetime. So, if you are considering going for a second program of study, it is better to apply for the work permit only after graduating from the second program, so that you can fully maximize the benefit of the work permit.
Pathway to Permanent Residence
Perhaps the most appealing benefit associated with studying in Canada is the opportunity to qualify for permanent residence. As international student graduates are young, creative, and highly educated, they make ideal immigrants to Canada. The federal government and the provinces try to retain qualified international graduates who would like to make Canada their permanent home. Whether a graduate applies through the federal CEC program or the many provincial nominee programs, generally the requirements would involve certain levels of Canadian work experience, education, and language proficiency. Some provinces, such as Manitoba, may also have some unique programs for international graduates; Manitoba offers its own entrepreneurial immigration program for Manitoba graduates (ask your consultant about which programs might suit you and what their specific requirements are).
As many programs require Canadian work experience, it is essential that international graduates take full advantage of the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, which is ultimately designed to help them with work experience. It is worth mentioning that the Spousal Work Permit Program mentioned earlier could also bridge the way to permanent residence, because while the spouse or common-law partner of the international student gains Canadian work experience, they may end up qualifying on their own for certain programs. Once a spouse or common-law partner applies for permanent residence, the international student can be included in the application as an accompanying family member.
Subject to few exceptions, international students in Canada are required by law to actively pursue their course or program of study. This means they will have to show reasonable progress toward completing it. It used to be the case that study permits were issued to people who were not studying at all after arriving in Canada. With the introduction of the “actively pursuing” clause in 2014, the Government of Canada now has the legal authority to issue removal orders to those who do not participate sufficiently in their studies.
To enforce this clause, the Government of Canada regularly conducts audits on the status of valid study permit holders. Audited students must comply by providing proof that they have been actively pursuing their studies.
Since the phrase “actively pursuing,” as stipulated in immigration law, is ambiguous enough for broad interpretation, the Government of Canada applies a 150-day rule to define it as a non-legal guideline, which translates into the following:
- Students can take leave from school for various valid reasons including illness, family emergency, academic suspension, etc. For students to be considered as actively pursuing their studies, such a leave must be officially authorized by the schools and cannot last for more than 150 days at a time
- Students can transfer between schools and study programs, but if there is a gap between when the student leaves the previous program and when the new program starts, the gap should not be longer than 150 days
- If the student’s study term is deferred while he/she is in Canada, he/she must start studying by the next available term, or within 150 days, whichever comes first
Below are some tips for international students based on the benefits and obligations mentioned above.
As you can see, although there is quite a lot of benefits associated with being an international student, your eligibility to enjoy some of them might depend on which type of educational institution you are attending. Before you decide on a school, it is important to find out whether that school will allow you to benefit from the programs you are intending to pursue. If in doubt, it is recommended that you book an appointment with a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) to discuss your plans.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time
As an immigration consultant, I have been asked by many international students about the impact a part-time course load might have on them. To answer that question from an obligation point-of-view, studying part-time is not necessarily a breach of the “actively pursuing” rule according to immigration law. You will not be in breach of your study permit conditions for the simple fact that you will be enrolled as a part-time student (Quebec is different).
However, from a benefits point-of-view, international students are better off not taking part-time course loads. Students are not allowed to work on or off campus if they only study part-time (except for during summer breaks), and neither will their spouses be eligible to apply for work permits when they are only registered part-time. What’s more tragic is that according to the requirements of the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, students who have part-time records (except for during summer breaks and the last study term) may not be eligible to participate in the program and will thereby lose a potentially important tool for acquiring permanent residence.
This article is for general guidance only and should in no way be considered legal advice. For specific information pertaining to your case, please consult your immigration consultant directly.