Immigration Minister Fraser’s announcement does not excuse blame for all international students in Canada - Immigration Lawyer Vancouver, Canada | Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre

BlogImmigration Minister Fraser’s announcement does not excuse blame for all international students in Canada

20 June 2023

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A student’s responsibility is to actively pursue their studies by attending class regularly and ultimately to complete their program of study

Last week’s announcement by Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Canada (IRCC), the Honourable Sean Fraser, was indeed a welcome development for international students in Canada who have unknowingly fallen prey to unscrupulous immigration representatives.  But let’s be clear – this does not let all Canadian international students off the hook for transgressions while studying.  The onus on all foreign nationals seeking status in Canada is a very high standard and it is worth reviewing to remind students what their responsibilities are while studying in Canada.

1. A student’s “job” is to study

First and foremost, international students are issued visas and permits to study in Canada, not work nor to play.  In our immigration office we are often consulted by students who are at risk of not having their study permits extended for failing to meet the terms of their permits or their program of study. A student’s responsibility is to actively pursue their studies by attending class regularly and ultimately to complete your program of study.  Skipping class and dropping courses such that you are no longer considered a full-time student or working more than studying, can lead to a refusal of a further study permit.  It can also result in not being able to qualify for permanent residence in the future because it can jeopardize your ability to obtain a post-graduation work permit (“PGWP”).

To be eligible for a PGWP, students must maintain “full-time student status in Canada” during each academic session of their program of study, except for the last semester before graduation. Exceptions can be made for authorized leave from school for health or personal reasons, but these situations need to be clearly documented.

This was discussed in a 2021 case called Munyanyi where the Court overturned the refusal of a PGWP. In that case, the student twice failed to take a full-time course load because he failed to pay his student fees on time, but the Court ruled in his favour because he provided clear evidence that the reason he failed to pay his fees on time was because of a shortage of foreign currency in his home country to make a bank transfer, and because there was evidence that he was allowed to take a term off from school without requesting permission from the school. In other words, there was strong evidence that the student was actively pursuing his studies in Canada, despite these financial difficulties, and that was a factor that should have been considered by the immigration officer.

2. Suffering from mental health challenges

Many students suffer from anxiety and in some cases, depression.  Let’s face it – leaving home, coming to a new country with a different culture and in some cases, a different language, can leave students feeling isolated, overwhelmed and alone.  Not to mention that there is the general stress of having to pass your courses.  But most schools recognize these challenges for students and have systems in place for them to receive treatment for these conditions such as on-site counsellors and psychologists.  Access those resources!  All students have medical coverage in Canada which allows you to receive treatment for medical conditions.

In recent years I have seen an increase in the number of international students coming to see me claiming that they have been unable to study due to anxiety or depression but they have taken no steps to obtain treatment for their condition.   Furthermore, many of these students, while being “unable” to study, have maintained employment in Canada.  Go back to point #1 above – studying is a student’s first responsibility, employment is a far second.   If you are unwell from any kind of medical condition, be sure to seek treatment, communicate with your school about the situation, and be sure to document it!  As an immigration lawyer, I will need strong evidence of your medical condition to request the understanding of an immigration officer to renew your study permit in Canada or to apply for a PGWP if you miss any time for health reasons.

3. Do your homework and check out your immigration representative

In relation to the Minister’s announcement from last week, this is probably the most important message to take away. You are responsible for ensuring that your immigration representative is properly licensed to assist with immigration applications for payment, and you are also responsible for everything that goes in your application, even if you hire a licensed representative.

In a recent case called Kaur that was released in January 2023, the Federal Court held that Ms. Kaur, an international student, was responsible for submitting a fraudulent letter of acceptance to attend Seneca College, even though she said she never signed any immigration forms, because she took a hands-off approach to her case. Judges are not sympathetic to immigration applicants who do not help themselves. You can be held responsible for the actions of your representative if you choose to be a passenger in your application process.

Whether you choose to seek assistance from an immigration professional from outside or inside of Canada, they must be a licensed immigration lawyer or consultant if they are charging fees for assisting you. Ask to see their credentials.  How an alleged “immigration representative” responds to this request may tell you everything you need to know.  Don’t simply rely on the recommendation of a friend or relative.  Quite frankly, just like the Kaur case, it is this type of blind trust that has led many international students to hire – in some cases unknowingly – an unlicensed representative.

There can also be serious consequences to hiring an unlicensed representative, including the risk of being banned for five years from Canada for committing a misrepresentation.

In a 2020 Federal Court case called Brefo,a judge of the Court found that it was reasonable for an immigration officer to ban a visa applicant for misrepresentation because they used an unlicensed representative. The judge reasoned that withholding the information that an unlicensed representative was used was important because it might have “compromised” the officer’s ability to assess whether the information provided by the applicant was truthful.

Minister Fraser’s announcement is a positive development for international students who have unknowingly relied upon the promises of unethical “immigration professionals”.  But it is not simply a “hall pass” for all students in Canada who have experienced issues with either their immigration representative or completing studies in Canada.  An international student needs to be able to demonstrate that they have worked hard to fully complete their program of study and engaged the services of a properly licensed immigration lawyer or consultant.

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