BlogBack to School in the times of COVID

4 September 2020

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COVID-19 has dramatically transformed virtually all aspects of Canada’s immigration program but perhaps no sector has faced as much confusion and disruption as that for international students. Border closures have made it next to impossible for international students who have already commenced studying in Canada and have a valid study permit, to be able to return to Canada. Prospective internationals students are facing significant delays in the processing of applications and, if remarkably are issued a study permit, are not able to come to Canada unless they can provide that their entry to Canada, is non-discretionary. There are potential obstacles at every stage from the point of application to whether an international student will be able to even enter Canada. Students have been directed to commence their studies on-line from overseas, but with no guarantee that they will ultimately be issued a study permit in the future. As September brings in the start of a new school year, let’s review some of the key issues facing international students in Canada’s immigration program.

New Applicants overseas

For the aspiring international student, the current situation is bleak. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offices are working on reduced hours and many Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed such that key aspects of the application process are unable to be completed including biometrics or medical examinations. Processing is slow. Foreign nationals who have been issued a study permit before March 18, 2020 may be able to travel to Canada but only where they can establish that their purpose in coming to Canada is non-discretionary. A non-discretionary purpose requires the student to demonstrate that their program of study requires their presence in Canada such as for laboratories or workshops and that their program of study is not feasible online. For international students who are issued study permits after March 18, 2020, they are being advised that they may not be exempt from Canada’s current travel restrictions and they should not make plans to travel to Canada until the travel restrictions are limited. Any student being allowed entry to Canada is subject to the 14 day quarantine provisions and must demonstrate both their knowledge of and ability to comply with the requirement to self isolate. For more on the on the crucial elements of a quarantine plan please refer to our recent blog Canada’s new line of immigration business: The Quarantine Plan, August 11, 2020:

Students already in Canada

There are numerous provisions for international students already in Canada. You can apply to extend your status from within Canada and you are now permitted to take your

studies online and be compliant with IRCC requirements. If your Designated Learning Institution (DLI) closes, you will have 150 days to enroll in a program of study at a new DLI or change your status to a worker or visitor. You are now able to work in Canada, even if COVID-19 has forced you to become a part-time student or take a break in your studies, so long as you can demonstrate that prior to COVID-19 you were a full-time student and authorized to work either on or off campus. For international students working in an essential service or function, you are now authorized to work MORE than 20 hours per week. (For a list of the essential services as defined by each province or territory please refer to this link: There are also many beneficial provisions for Post Graduate Work Permit ( PGWP) applicants such as being eligible for a PGWP if your classes have switched to an online format and being able to start working immediately while your application is pending so long as you have applied for your PGWP before your study permit expires. There are also revised provisions for PGWP applicants applying from outside of Canada.

Internationals students, whether prospective or those already in possession of a study permit, are facing considerable disruption in their plans to obtain an education in Canada. There is a myriad of IRCC provisions to address the issues concerning international students. Trying to make sense of them is an education on its own – even as a Canadian immigration lawyer! Be sure to refer to the IRCC website often to find the latest information as it pertains to your own circumstances as an international student. For the most recent IRCC directive for international students, please see the following link:

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Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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About the Author