A look at Canada’s recent policy updates in support of international students during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has released a summary of temporary measures currently in effect for international students, study permits and post-graduation work permits.

The introduction of strict travel restrictions introduced to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus has had a profound impact on Canada’s immigration programs in recent months. Travel restrictions limit, among other things, the entry of international students into Canada. Under the federal government’s Order-in-Council, only international students who fall under these three categories can enter Canada at the moment:

  • International students with a valid study permit; or
  • International students approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020; or
  • International students coming from the United States.

Canada recognizes the important contribution that international students make to the social and economic life of the country. That is why it has put in place a number of measures to ensure that international students who choose to study in Canada can do so. The changes include a two-stage study permit process and the ability to begin studies online, with this time counted towards the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).

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For those who are following these changes, or whose applications may be affected by them, here is a consolidated overview of current temporary policies regarding studies in Canada.

The information is based on the latest backgrounder listing facilitative measures to support international students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic published on the Government of Canada website.

Study permits

The coronavirus outbreak has made it difficult for international students to get the documents they usually need for Canadian study permits.

To remedy the situation, IRCC has implemented a two-stage approval process that made it possible for international students to begin their fall semester online without a final study permit. Those who have been unable to provide biometric data, the results of an immigration medical examination, or other required documents, may still be considered for a study permit. Those approved in the first stage will have already met most of the criteria for a study permit.

IRCC has stated that complete study permit applications that have already been submitted will be processed as quickly as possible.

Students who successfully complete both stages will be able to travel to Canada once travel restrictions are eased.

Post-Graduation Work Permit Program

After a student completes an eligible program at a designated Canadian educational institution (for example, a university or college), he or she may obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) for up to three years. The final duration of the PGWP depends on how long the individual has studied at a Canadian institution of higher learning.

Prior to the pandemic, distance learning could not count towards PGWP eligibility. IRCC made a series of announcements over the past months to allow online learning to count towards PGWP eligibility.

Currently, students can study online from abroad until April 30, 2021, without affecting their eligibility or the duration of a future post-graduation work permit. There is however one condition: they must be able to complete at least 50 per cent of their program in Canada.

In addition, students who are enrolled in 8- to 12-month programs that began in the spring, summer or fall (May-September) semesters of 2020 will be able to apply for a post-graduation work permit even if they complete their entire program abroad.

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Finally, students who are enrolled in a program with a start date between May and September 2020, who study online until April 30, 2021, and who graduate from more than one qualifying program of study, may be able to combine the duration of their programs of study when applying for a PGWP in the future. The same condition applies to students in this situation, which requires that 50 percent of their total studies be completed in Canada.

Students who are already in Canada

IRCC has said that students already in Canada for the winter, spring and summer terms will not lose their eligibility to obtain a PGWP if they are required to complete more than 50 percent of their program online, reduce their studies to part-time or take a full break due to the restrictions imposed on in-class learning as a result of the pandemic.

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