IRCC Tweaks Its Policy to Support International Students

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COVID has caused several kinds of disruptions. International students in Canada are not exempted from it. They have had many uncertainties to deal with, including not knowing how their future will pan out in Canada. Some of these are about the online study period in Canada and the post-graduate work permit (PGWP). The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has tweaked the policies, albeit temporarily, to bring some semblance of certainty to these students.

As COVID plays yo-yo in Canadian provinces, the travel situation for international students is becoming more uncertain. The borders are still closed – for international students and others –  and only those travelling for a ‘non-discretionary or non-optional’ purpose are allowed to enter Canada.

Fresh international students, those who were yet to arrive here and start their programs, have many questions. What percentage of their program can be done online, and from abroad? Will this study period impact their PGWP and, ultimately, their immigration prospects?

With the Fall academic intake looming ahead, the IRCC made policy changes to help students submit a study permit application before September 15, 2020. As the IRCC said, this measure will reassure students that they can enrol and begin their studies this Fall online, even when they cannot submit all required documentation. 

The latest measures aimed at providing some sense of certainty to international students

Study permits processed on a priority

Study-permit for students who have submitted a complete application online will be processed on priority. As local visa offices and consulates are closed, there will be a backlog of applications. However, students get a jump start with priority processing, which is on par with diplomatic, immediate business, labour market-related or health-related visas.

Online study period considered for PGWP

Canadian education is recognized globally. One can explore the global job market with a credential from a Canadian University. That said, most international students prefer to look for work in Canada and use this work experience to apply for permanent residency at a later date. Before the pandemic, students have to be physically present in Canada to be eligible for a post-graduation work permit. The government has relaxed this rule to help students start their studies online from homes.

The time spent doing an online education abroad will be considered towards PGWP. The time starts from the date of the study permit application. At least 50% of their program should be completed in Canada.

    • These changes mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they have begun their studies online from abroad, according to a statement by the IRCC.

2-stage approval process launched

The Study visas for Canada require applicants to prove their eligibility and submit documents. To make the visa process easy, Canada has implemented a temporary 2-stage approval process. This takes a lot of stress away for those international students who could not or cannot submit all of the required documents required for processing their applications. The pandemic is everywhere. As the systems have become disrupted, many students find it challenging to procure materials or submit them along with their applications.

The two stages of the approval process are approval-in-principle and eligibility/admissibility.

Step 1:

    • Who gets approved in principle? There are three main things in play here.
    • The student should have been accepted by an authorized Canadian educational institution.
    • Students should demonstrate that they have the available funds.
    • They should prove that they are eligible for the study permit.

Those who meet these criteria will be approved in the first step of the two-step process for a student visa to Canada.

Students can begin studying online from abroad, once they get the in-principle approval. They can have the time from when they received in-principle approval count towards their PGWP.

Step 2:

The final approval is given after the student proves that he or she meets all requirements. Some of the eligibility requirements include submitting biometrics and documents such as an immigration medical exam and a police certificate. The student can then travel to Canada and resume studies here.

This process is available to students starting a program in the fall semester and submits a study permit application before September 15, 2020.

IRCC hopes that these changes will give students more certainty about their future in Canada.  Earlier, the government had made a few temporary policy changes to support international students and Canadian institutions.

    1. Students are allowed to continue working on- or off-campus if their study permit allows it.
    2. They were assured that they wouldn’t lose their eligibility for a PGWP if they were forced to complete more than 50% of their online program (contrary to the rule that was existent pre-COVID days) due to the pandemic.
    3. Change in Canada student working hours:  International student working hours, for those already in Canada, was limited to 20 hours a week unless they worked in essential services. Now and up until August 31, 2020,  they are allowed to work for more than 20 hours a week.

Even as IRCC makes changes in study permit processing times and PGWP rules, stranded students know that it is not the same as studying in Canada as an international student. They face additional challenges.  For instance, there is a time gap of 9.5 hours between India and Canada, and for most students, it is a tough thing to handle. It may harm health and social well being if they are studying at night continuously.

Furthermore, the infrastructure in second-tier cities and rural India leaves much to be desired. In many places, poor Wi-Fi connectivity and frequent power outages are the norms. According to some voices, the better option is for the government to allow these students to come back after a year without impacting future opportunities.  Will the IRCC take note of these voices?