Posted on - Sep 20, 2013

By Catherine Sas Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

The start of each new school term brings exciting opportunities for international students. In addition to experiencing a new country and obtaining an international education, international students have numerous opportunities to work and live in Canada both during and after their studies. Yet, nearly every month I am consulted by international students facing removal from Canada without being allowed to complete their studies. What can international students do to maximize their opportunities not only from an educational perspective but also for immigration purposes?

Many international students come to Canada not only to pursue their education, but also to gain valuable work experience and ultimately to obtain permanent residence. The Off-Campus Work Permit program allows students attending public universities, colleges or recognized private educational institutions to work up to twenty hours per week during the school year and full time during school breaks. After graduation students are also eligible for a Post-Graduate Work Permit from between one and three years depending on their length of study in Canada.

Students can also apply for permanent residence after completion of their studies through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) or the Skilled Worker Program for PhD Graduates. Yet, many students never attain these goals and are ultimately required to leave Canada. How can international students maximise their opportunities to study, work, and ultimately live in Canada? Here’s what every international student needs to know:

1. Choose your school carefully

Not all schools are eligible for Off-Campus and Post-Graduate Work Permits. In order to obtain an Off-Campus or Post-Graduate Work Permit you need to attend a public college or university or a recognized private educational institution. Many private schools, particularly English as a Second Language (ESL) schools will not entitle you to obtain either a work permit or, ultimately, permanent resident status. Be sure you check up front to make sure the school you are planning to attend will allow you to benefit form the Off-Campus and Post-Graduate Work Permit Programs.

2. Attend class regularly and study hard

This may sound trite, but it’s key from an immigration perspective. Almost every month I am consulted by students who come to see me facing the loss of their study permit and potential return to their country of origin simply because they haven’t studied during the time they have been in Canada. Often it’s because they are just overwhelmed by adapting to a new country as well as facing the challenge of studying in a foreign language. However, frequently it is because they are socializing with friends or working illegally (more on this later). As simplistic as this sounds it really is essential: attend class regularly and study hard. Even if you obtain failing grades, if you can demonstrate that you have been attending class regularly and making your best efforts to study hard, an immigration officer will generally renew your study permit. Your student permit is not a social pass – it comes with both privileges and responsibilities. Treat your study permit with respect, go to class and give your studies your best effort.

3. Your application is your responsibility

I am regularly consulted by students who have either prepared their study permit application on their own or retained the services of an immigration lawyer or consultant and do not have a copy of their application. They have no documentation to show me what’s been done in the past. From Canada Immigration’s perspective, your application is your own responsibility and not the responsibility of your lawyer, your consultant or your parent. Be sure to keep a copy of your application. This is even more important with the online application processes where you can do everything electronically and if you submit the application too quickly you cannot make a copy of it after you have submitted it. Furthermore, if you are working with an immigration professional whether lawyer or consultant, you need to be sure to go over all the application forms. It will not be a satisfactory explanation to say that any mistakes that are made in the application are the fault of your immigration representative. Canada Immigration is very clear that if you sign the form whatever information is contained in that application form is ultimately your responsibility. Take it seriously.

4. Renew your study permit before it expires

Once again, this may seem patently obvious but it is remarkable how often I am consulted by students who have completely missed the deadline for the expiration of their study permit. You need to renew your study permit before the day on which it expires. If you miss submitting a renewal application before the expiration of your current study permit, you will have ninety days to make a restoration application. However, while the application is being processed you can’t attend school. You will not be able to pursue your studies until they actually grant you the reinstatement. For most international students this creates a crisis as you will likely lose the entire term and it delays the completion of your program. You also run the risk that you may not be reinstated and you will have to depart Canada.

5. Learn English or French

If you are attending a school in Canada then you will be attending class in either English or French. Be sure to learn the language of your study program! Again, this may appear to be obvious but I am regularly consulted by students who have been studying in Canada for several years and when they come to see me they bring an interpreter because they can’t speak English. If you want to maximize your opportunities for both your education and your ability to find a good job after you graduate, then you will need to be able to communicate in English or French. Furthermore, many immigration programs now require an applicant to demonstrate proficiency in one of Canada’s two official languages. So focus on immersing yourself in your environment and learning the local language.

6. Be careful who prepares your immigration application.

Since June 30th 2011, Canada’s immigration laws only permit a licensed lawyer or a registered immigration consultant to prepare and submit immigration applications for a fee. Previously, many others assisted in the process such as travel agents or even the schools themselves. Unless the school employs a licensed lawyer or registered immigration consultant, then they are prohibited from offering this services. Even if they don’t charge you anything additional to provide this service, your school fees are considered payment and they can not assist you with your study permit applications or any other immigration application unless they are employing a licensed lawyer or registered immigration consultant. Be careful about being promised too much. It is not up to your immigration professional to obtain your letter of acceptance, proof of language proficiency or other supporting information for the application. I am frequently consulted by students who can’t explain why they chose the school they are attending or don’t have copies of the supporting documents because “my consultant did everything for me”. Your education is your own and you need to be responsible and aware of this key part of your life. Be sure to check the references of your immigration professional and make sure that they give you a copy of every application that they submit on your behalf.

7. Only work when authorized to do so

A study permit is a study permit – not a work permit! Be sure that you only work when you are authorized to do so and only for as much as you are authorized to do so! Often students are given co-op work permits concurrent with their study permits. Only work in accordance with the terms of the permit. I routinely see cases of students who come to Canada and spend most of their time working rather than studying either working beyond the limits of their work permit or working with no permit at all. Some of the saddest situations that I have seen involve students who came to Canada on a study permit and were caught working illegally. They are now unable to finish their studies, neither able to work after graduation nor to apply for permanent residence. They are issued removal orders and required to leave Canada and will most likely never be able to return. Only work if permitted to do so and within the limits of your work permit.

Studying in Canada provides many opportunities for international students – a good education, valuable work experience and ultimately, permanent residence. But studying in Canada is a privilege and comes with many responsibilities. Take your education seriously and be sure to respect Canada’s immigration laws so that you will be able to fully benefit from all that studying in Canada has to offer!

Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 6 consecutive years.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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