Date of post: February 17, 2021
Note: This article addresses the Canadian education system and study permit eligibility requirements for people who want to study in a province or territory other than Quebec.
Canadian education system
It is important to understand the Canadian education system before looking at the study permit application hence the education you want to pursue will affect the study permit requirements and procedures.
Level of education
In Canada, you may attend a school at one of the following levels:
- Secondary (high school).
- Post-secondary (undergraduate and diploma programs at either a university or college).
- Post-graduate (graduate, professional, and advanced diploma/certificate programs that require a post-secondary education as a prerequisite).
The levels are hierarchical. For example, you cannot attend a post-secondary school without first completing your secondary studies.
However, you can have more than one credential (degree, diploma, or certificate) at the same post-secondary level or higher.
Public school or private school
Schools are either public or private in Canada.
One of the major differences between the two is that public schools receive funds from the government, and therefore, the tuition fees are cheaper than private schools. On the other hand, private schools’ funds largely come from tuition fees.
Distance, online, or in-person learning
Distance or online learning means you can complete your studies remotely. If that is the case, you do not need to come to Canada.
In-person learning means you must attend classes physically to complete your studies.
It is also common that a program consists of both distance/online and in-person learning.
Full-time or part-time
Generally speaking, the school you are attending will tell you whether your program is full-time or part-time.
A full-time study requires your more regular and frequent engagement. The hours required for a full-time study may vary depending on schools.
Education in Canada is usually not free unless you have received a full scholarship or other support.
Further, international students pay tuition fees around 2 to 3 times more than domestic students.
English as a second language (ESL)
Some education in Canada will not lead to credentials (degree, diploma or certificate) upon completion, such as English as a second language (ESL) study. ESL can be a prerequisite for further education, employment, or resettlement in Canada.
Canadian schools usually require international students whose first language is not English to present a qualified language test result as a condition of admission. Those who do not meet the language proficiency requirements may need to complete ESL study before starting their programs.
International students and Canadian study permits
A study permit is a legal document that grants you permission to remain in Canada as a student. As a study permit holder, you can attend and complete authorized studies in Canada. You may also be eligible for some governmental benefits.
Generally speaking, people who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or registered Indians need a study permit before they can start their studies. However, some international students may study in Canada without a study permit.
Study without study permit
You do not need a study permit if
- You pursue a short-term study (less than 6 months).
- A program you enroll in is distance or online learning.
- You work in Canada as a foreign representative, or you are a family member of such an individual.
- The school you enroll in is at a secondary level or lower, and you are a minor (less than 18 or 19 years of age depending on the province/territory).
- You are a member of a foreign armed force.
- You are a registered Indian in Canada.
If you can study in Canada without a study permit, you may come to Canada as a visitor.
Principles for study permit applications
Before we look into the legal procedure and eligibility requirements for a study permit. You may wonder why only certain people can get a study permit? What is an immigration/visa officer going to look at in a study permit application?
To answer these questions, we need to understand the principles for study permit applications.
Section 216(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, SOR/2002-227 sets out the issuance of study permits:
“216 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), an officer shall issue a study permit to a foreign national if, following an examination, it is established that the foreign national
(a) applied for it in accordance with this Part;
(b) will leave Canada by the end of the period authorized for their stay under Division 2 of Part 9;
(c) meets the requirements of this Part;
(d) meets the requirements of subsections 30(2) and (3), if they must submit to a medical examination under paragraph 16(2)(b) of the Act; and
(e) has been accepted to undertake a program of study at a designated learning institution.”
This means that for an immigration/visa officer to issue you a study permit, you must:
- Apply for a study permit by following the procedure, using the required forms, and providing all supporting documents,
- Demonstrate that you will leave Canada when you finish your studies,
- Meet study permit eligibility requirements,
- Present a medical examination, if applicable, and
- The school you are going to attend is on the list of Designated Learning Institutions (DLI).
Therefore, it is not enough if you just focus on the eligibility requirements. You shall ensure you meet all the principles.
One of the principles indicates that you must leave Canada by the end of your studies. However, What if you also want to become a permanent resident? This is an indication that you want to stay in Canada instead of leave after your studies.
It is not uncommon that many people have the same desire.
Having both intent to study and become a permanent resident after study is called dual intent.
In fact, a dual intent does not necessarily lead to a refusal decision. However, it is problematic if:
- You do not show a genuine desire to study in Canada, and/or
- You cannot present strong ties to your home country.
Having the principles in mind, now we can look at the eligibility requirements for a study permit.
To be eligible, you shall:
- Have received a valid Letter of Acceptance from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI).
- Have either paid or shown enough money for tuition fees, textbooks, other required equipment/uniform, living expenses in Canada, and transportation between Canada and your home country.
- Be in good health and present a medical examination if applicable.
- Meet additional country-specific requirements if applicable.
Your English/French language level is not an eligibility requirement unless you apply for a study permit under the Student Direct Stream.
Designated Learning Institution (DLI) and Letter of Acceptance
A DLI is a school approved by the provincial or territorial government that can accept international students. In Canada, all primary and secondary schools are DLIs.
You can find a list of DLIs on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.
You must have already received a Letter of Acceptance from a DLI to apply for a study permit. Mere desire or intent to study is not sufficient.
Your Letter of Acceptance can be either absolute or conditional. A conditional Letter of Acceptance requires that you complete a certain prerequisite course/program before you can start your study.
A Letter of Acceptance usually requires you to enroll in the program before a deadline. Therefore, you shall ensure you receive a study permit well in advance. It is important to check the processing time for study permit applications.
If you are unable to start your study in time, remember to inform your school and defer the enrollment date.
The Immigration/Visa Officer will look at whether you can support your studies and living expenses in Canada.
If you are going to study at a secondary level or lower, and/or you do not have any sources of income, the person or company who will support you financially must show they have the abilities.
The sources of income may be at least one of the followings:
- Employment income, self-employment income, dividends of shares in a company/partnership, rent income, etc.
- Investment, stocks, etc.
- Personal savings.
- Gift, grant, etc.
- Loans such as student loans.
- Other sources such as sales of a property.
Usually, if your program is less than one year, you must show enough money for the entire study and living expenses. If your study is more than one year, you may only show enough money for the first year of study and living expenses.
IRCC requires that you must have at least $10,000 per year or $833 per month to cover your living expenses (outside Quebec). You need more money if your family members also come to Canada with you.
Having good health does not merely mean you are healthy enough to complete your studies. For some people, it also means you are admissible to Canada.
Admissibility is a separate issue from the eligibility requirements. Section 38(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, S.C. 2001, c. 27 provides who may be medically inadmissible to Canada:
“38 (1) A foreign national is inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition
(a) is likely to be a danger to public health;
(b) is likely to be a danger to public safety; or
(c) might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.”
Note that a medical examination is only a requirement for international students who
- Plan to stay in Canada for six (6) months or longer, AND
- Have lived or travelled for six (6) months within one (1) year before the application in a country or territory that is on the list published by IRCC.
Being medically inadmissible generally means you will not receive a study permit. However, there may be solutions, such as a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP).
Some international students further need to meet certain country-specific requirements. Therefore, it is important to check whether these requirements apply to you.
Where and how to submit a study permit application
You can submit your application outside Canada, at the Port of Entry (POE), or in Canada. However, the three options may not be available to you at the same time.
Regardless of where you submit your application, you have an equal chance to succeed.
Apply outside Canada
There are no restrictions on applications submitted from your country of origin or residence.
Apply at POE
If you want to apply for a study permit at the POE, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or a resident of Greenland or Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.
Apply in Canada
You can apply for a study permit in Canada when you are:
- A valid study permit holder or work permit holder, or you are a family member of such an individual including who can work or study in Canada without a permit.
- A student in Canada at a primary or secondary school.
- An exchange or visiting student.
- Completing a prerequisite course/program in Canada for your intended study.
- A family member of an individual whose permanent resident application is in process.
- A refugee claimant (except for Designated Foreign Nationals) whose claim is in process.
Student Direct Stream
The Student Direct Stream (SDS) is a pathway to apply for a study permit for people who live in certain countries. The biggest benefit of the SDS is the quick proceeding time (usually within 20 calendar days).
The SDS is only available for people who live in one of the following countries:
- the Philippines
To apply under the SDS, you need to further present the following documents:
- A valid International English Language Testing System (IELTS) – Academic result with a score of 6 or higher in each skill, or a valid Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) result with a score that is equal to Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) 7 or higher in each shill.
- Receipt issued by your school for the first year tuition fee.
- A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) of $10,000 Canadian dollars.
- Most recent secondary or post-secondary education transcript(s). The SDS is not available if you are going to study at a secondary level or lower.
You can only apply under the SDS when you are outside Canada.
Study permit holder responsibilities
As a study permit holder, you need to maintain certain responsibilities under the Canadian immigration law framework.
When you receive your study permit, often it contains conditions you must follow, such as the school you must go to, the date you must leave Canada, etc. You need to maintain the conditions at all times.
If your conditions change, you must inform IRCC. This is particularly important when you want to renew your study permit.
Further to the conditions listed on your study permit, you need to:
- Maintain an active student status,
- Ensure you always have a valid temporary resident status while in Canada,
- If you want to work, ensure you can work without a work permit,
- Abide by all Canadian laws,
A breach of your responsibilities may lead to a revocation of your study permit and removal from Canada.
Work during study
Depending on the level of your studies, you may be eligible to work either on or off campus, during either your regular school terms or scheduled breaks between terms, without a work permit.
Usually, your study permit will indicate whether you can work or not. If it does not say, you need to check the eligibility requirements.
Nonetheless, you can only start working when your study permit is valid, and your student status is active. You also need a social insurance number.
Work on campus
To be eligible to work on campus, you must be a full-time student at one of the following schools:
- Public post-secondary schools (college and university) in Canada,
- Canadian private schools that can legally award degrees under the provincial law,
- Private college-level schools in Quebec that follow the same rules as public schools and receive a minimum of 50% of the funds from the government.
You may be eligible to work on campus for up to 24 hours per week during your school terms.
Work off campus
You can work off campus during your school terms or the scheduled breaks between terms.
To be eligible to work off campus, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are a student at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) at a post-secondary level or higher,
- The program you enroll in is full time and is 6 months or longer, and
- You will receive a diploma, certificate, or degree upon completion of your studies.
If you are a part-time student, you cannot work off campus unless you are a full-time student in your final term of study, and you can complete it on a part-time basis.
You may be eligible to work off campus for up to 20 hours per week during your school terms or full-time during the scheduled breaks between terms.
Things to keep in mind
If you are on a leave (authorized or unauthorized) from your studies, or you are changing your school, you cannot work until you resume studying.
Co-op work permit
A co-op, also known as an internship, is a part of your studies that requires you to complete to obtain your education credential.
Unlike work on or off campus, you always need a co-op work permit before you start your internship, regardless of whether you earn a salary or not.
Family members of a study permit holder
Studying in Canada is an extraordinary experience. However, it does not mean you have to part from your family.
Certain family members of you can accompany you to Canada while you complete your studies. Some of them may even be eligible to work or study at the same time.
Under the Canadian immigration law framework, a family member means one of the followings:
- Spouse or common-law partner, and
- Dependent child(ren).
Parents are not family members for the purposes of this immigration procedure. Therefore, they cannot receive the procedural benefits for a study permit or work permit.
If a parent of a minor child who studies in Canada wants to accompany the child as a custodial parent, they may apply for a visitor visa or other temporary resident status provided they are eligible for.
Spouse or common-law partner
Your spouse or common-law partner may apply for an open work permit if you meet all Work of campus requirements we discussed above.
They may also apply for a study permit either in or outside Canada or just visit you on a visitor visa.
Dependent children may accompany you in Canada either as a visitor or study permit holder. However, they are not eligible for an open work permit.
Post-graduate work permit
A post-graduate work permit (PGWP) is an open work permit for certain international graduates. It offers great benefits for those who wish to obtain qualified work experience in Canada and become permanent residents.
To be eligible for a PGWP, you must meet the following requirements:
- You have successfully graduated from an eligible post-secondary program offered by a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). Note that only public DLIs and some private DLIs offer programs that entitle you to a PGWP.
- Your program is a minimum of 8 months in length on a full-time basis. However, your final term can be part-time.
- The program will grant you a credential (certificate, diploma, or degree).
Who is ineligible for PGWP
If you have received a PGWP before, you cannot apply for a new one.
Further, you are ineligible for a PGWP if your study is one of the following:
- ESL study,
- Programs that consist of 50% or higher distance or online learning,
- Programs offered by non-DLIs, and
- Certain exchange or fellowship programs.
Distance or online learning and COVID-19 travel restrictions
You are eligible for a PGWP only when the program you enroll in has less than 50% distance or online learning components. In this case, the length of your PGWP will include the terms you complete via distance or online learning.
In light of the COVID-19 travel restrictions in Canada, you may be able to complete your entire or most of your studies via distance or online learning. Therefore, IRCC announced on February 12, 2021 that international students who complete their studies in their home countries can still apply for a PGWP. (IRCC’s news article regarding this announcement).
However, it is still important to distinguish whether your program normally has 50% or more distance or online learning components.
Transferring between schools
If you transfer between schools during your entire studies, you may combine the two or more studies together provided you meet the above eligibility requirements.
Apply for PGWP
You can apply for a PGWP within 180 days after you receive your final marks. You may submit your application either in or outside Canada. If you apply in Canada, you must have a valid
status (study permit, visitor record, or restoration of your status).
Validity of PGWP
The validity of a PGWP is between 8 months and 3 years, depending on the length of your program.
- If your program is between 8 months and 2 years, the validity of your PGWP will be equal to the length of your study.
- If your program is 2 years or longer, the validity of your PGWP will be 3 years.
You may complete your studies in less time than what the program normally requires. If that is the case, the PGWP validity is still based on the normal length of your program.
Finally, the PGWP is only valid up to the expiration date of your passport. If your passport is about to expire, you may want to renew it first.
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