Posted on - Dec 15, 2015

By Victor Ing

Victor Ing

Attracting and retaining international students has long been a priority for Canada’s immigration program. Every year thousands of students from all over the world enter Canada to seek a quality education. The top source countries of international students in Canada in the past 10 years have been China, India, Korea and France.

Students have shown to be a valuable source of new Canadian immigrants for many reasons. They are generally young and have a Canadian education, can speak fluent English or French, and will already have lived and possibly even worked in Canada such that they are integrated into our communities. It should come as no surprise that these same factors like age, language ability and Canadian education and work experience are highly valued by the Canadian government in the Express Entry selection system for choosing skilled workers to immigrate to Canada. Students are therefore ideal candidates for permanent residence.

In addition to gaining a valuable education in Canada, international students also have opportunities to gain work experience. There are two general ways that students can work during their studies.
As of June 1, 2014, students can work part-time for up to 20 hours per week during the school year and full-time during school breaks without having to separately apply for a work permit. This allows students to work without the need for making an application to work and then waiting months for the permit.

International students are also allowed to work full-time during the regular school year if their school programs require a co-op or internship component to complete as part of the curriculum. Students who want to participate in a co-op or internship program should apply for a co-op work permit if they are eligible, in addition to a study permit, when a letter of acceptance has been issued. A co-op work permit will only be granted if the work is an essential part of the student’s academic, vocational or professional training program. Furthermore, the permit will not be granted if the employment component exceeds 50% of the total length of the program of study. This is because completing the academic component of the program of study should be the student’s main focus while in Canada.

The ability to work while studying is very positive for students, but it can also be very confusing as to how the rules about working apply to them. In the past, if students did not have a work permit then it was clear they should not be working. Now with the ability to work without a work permit, students may be inadvertently breaching the terms of their study permits and putting their status in Canada at risk by working illegally.

Not all students can work while in Canada. If you are taking an English or French as a second language programs you are not eligible to work while studying, as are students who are taking general interest or preparatory classes. Students can only take advantage of working off-campus if they are full-time students in Canada at designated learning institutions, and they should only work as much as they are authorized to do so.

Whether students are considered full-time is determined by the school’s definition of a full-time program of study. This means that students will have to stop working even if they initially were considered full-time students but later lose full-time status by dropping courses. Students are supposed to be dedicating themselves to their studies while in Canada and not using their study permits primarily to work. Failing to genuinely pursue studies in Canada may affect a students’ ability to renew his or her study permit later on or may even result in an exclusion order.
Students should be encouraged to take advantage of working while studying in Canada to gain work experience and to build their business connections and network in the community. These experiences will ultimately strengthen their ties to the country and help them seek Canadian permanent residence if they wish to remain in Canada after their studies. However, students are in Canada first and foremost to study and should therefore remain committed to their academic pursuits.


Victor Ing is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada, and provides a full range of immigration services.

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

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