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Canada cuts international students a temporary break

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 @ 2:07 PM | By Annsley Kesten

Annsley Kesten %>
Annsley Kesten
On July 20, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced temporary policy changes to the international student program in the context of COVID-19.

These measures include: providing clarity on international students’ ability to enter Canada during the border closure; eligibility for part-time students to engage in off-campus work; and special measures relating to post-graduate work permit eligibility.

Students entering for non-discretionary purposes

Canada’s borders are currently closed for any discretionary or optional travel. With respect to foreign students, this has created uncertainty for both border officers as well as students abroad who are unsure if their studies are considered discretionary or optional under the law.

In its policy update, IRCC provided guidelines by which officers will determine if foreign student’s travel should be considered non-discretionary. Foreign students who are established, residing and studying in Canada are non-discretionary travellers and are permitted to return to Canada. Further considerations regarding non-discretionary entry assessments include: whether they are expected to begin studying upon arrival after completing their quarantine; whether their presence in Canada is necessary for their continued participation in the program; whether pursuing online studies remotely is not feasible; or the whether the semester has been cancelled or deferred.

These measures provide welcome clarification for students who may have departed Canada over the summer academic break but must now return to Canada while the border closure is still in effect. For students who are scheduled to commence their studies in Canada in the fall semester, these guidelines indicate that they will likely need to demonstrate that in-person class attendance is required in order to enter Canada.

Part-time students temporarily permitted to work off-campus

Under normal circumstances, part-time international students are not eligible to engage in any off-campus employment. If foreign students have been forced to reduce their course load to part-time status or take a break in their studies due to COVID-19, IRCC has announced that these students are temporarily authorized to continue to work on or off campus. These students continue to be subject to the authorized number of hours they would have been permitted work as a full-time student. These expanded measures will allow students to have greater financial resources at their disposal as well as reduce levels of unemployment.

Post-graduation work permit eligibility

Ordinarily, students who complete more than 50 per cent of their program of study by online distance learning are not eligible for a post-graduation work permit. However, due to COVID-19, many schools are instituting mandatory online classes in order to reduce the spread of the virus. While these measures may be prudent from a public health perspective, many international students intend to apply for a post-graduation work permit in order to secure full-time employment after graduation, which would allow them to gain valuable Canadian work experience. By shifting courses to a mandatory online format, international students are effectively penalized for a decision that was outside of their control, even though the decision was likely in the interests of public health.

In order to address this issue, IRCC has announced a temporary reprieve for students whose schools require that they engage in distance learning. Students who were already studying in Canada and whose classes were moved online due to COVID-19 will not be penalized with regard to post-graduate work permit eligibility. For study permit holders or approved study permit applicants outside of Canada who are not able to enter Canada due to travel restrictions, IRCC has announced that these students will remain eligible for a post-graduate work permit if at least 50 per cent of their total program of study is completed inside Canada. Normally, any distance-learning courses completed while outside of Canada would be excluded from the time accumulated toward the length of the post-graduation work permit.

IRCC has also lifted restrictions relating to part-time students’ post-graduation work permit eligibility. Normally, international students must be enrolled on a full-time basis during each academic session in order to be eligible for a post-graduation work permit. For students whose programs were put on hold or were shifted to part-time studies in the winter, spring or summer 2020 semesters, their future eligibility for a post-graduation work permit will not be affected.

The above measures highlight the Canadian government’s commitment to supporting international students, who provide substantial cultural, social and economic contributions to Canada. During these stressful times, these temporary policy changes will provide students with more certainty regarding their ability to enter and financially support themselves in Canada, as well as their ability to engage in online courses without fearing that they are jeopardizing their long-term goals.

Annsley Kesten is a senior associate at BARTLAW LLP, Canadian immigration, barristers and solicitors.

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