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Canada expands post-graduate work permit eligibility for students impacted by COVID-19

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Canadian immigration officials have announced three new elements of flexibility for international students beginning their studies online from outside of Canada
  • The new guidance allows students to engage in online study through April 2021, and, with some conditions, to count those online courses toward eligibility for a post-graduation work permit in Canada

Updated 26 August guidance from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) includes three important announcements for international students.

  • Through 30 April 2021, IRCC is now allowing students to begin their studies online while still abroad and to count those remote studies towards post-graduation work permit (PGWP) eligibility – provided  that at least 50% of their programme is eventually completed in Canada.
  • Students enrolled in programmes of between 8 to 12 months in length, and with start dates between May and September 2020, will be allowed to complete their entire programmes via online study while abroad and still remain eligible for a PGWP in Canada.
  • Finally, those students enrolled in programmes beginning between May and September 2020 – and who study online in the period up to 30 April 2021 and graduate from more than one eligible programme – may combine the length of their programmes of study when they apply for a post-graduation work permit (so long as at least 50% of their total studies are completed in Canada).

In order to be eligible for any of these options, students must have submitted a study permit application before beginning studies in spring, summer, or fall 2020, or the January 2021 semester.

This latest guidance from IRCC updates earlier directives with respect to flexibility in post-graduation work permit terms. It also reflects the continuing uncertainty around the mode of programme delivery at many institutions this fall as well as the ongoing challenge of securing international flights and study permits due to either travel restrictions or disruptions in normal processing services.

“Many prospective international students who would like to study in Canada this fall are facing uncertainty due to travel restrictions,” says a related statement from Canadian immigration officials. “[IRCC] recognises this, and will continue to ensure that Canada’s immigration programmes are flexible to respond to these uncertainties.”

The significance of this development traces back to the importance of the post-graduate work programme itself. The very-popular PGWP allows international students who have completed a programme of at least eight months’ duration to stay on to gain valuable work experience in Canada, experience that can count towards a future application for permanent residency in the country. Depending on the length of their study programme, students may be eligible for post-graduate work terms of up to three years.

This experience can in turn be a stepping stone to permanent residency in Canada. Canada’s Express Entry programme, for example, relies on a points-based system for evaluating applicants. Additional points are awarded for those who have completed post-secondary studies in Canada, and those with Canadian work experience can accumulate further points as well.

More broadly, the availability of strong post-study work opportunities is a powerful draw for international students and a major factor in destination attractiveness.

With all of that in mind, these latest announcements from IRCC have been warmly welcomed by Canadian educators as well as agents and partners abroad. They are overshadowed only by another recent immigration directive indicating that students with valid study permits (dated 18 March or earlier) may travel to Canada only if they can demonstrate their travel is “non-optional and non-discretionary”. What this means in practice is that students whose programmes have transitioned to online delivery because of COVID could be denied entry to Canada.

The “could” part of that statement is important as the IRCC guidance leaves some discretion with Canadian border officers to determine whether an individual’s student is optional or not. In so doing, Immigration officials have created some additional confusion and uncertainty for students planning to travel to Canada this summer or fall.

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