Advice for international students: the importance of study permit compliance
In 2020, over 400,000 international students at the post-secondary level in Canada will return to school. Many will want to stay and work in Canada after graduating. All will be subject to mandatory conditions of their stay as a student in Canada. It is important for all international students, and especially those who wish to one day work in or immigrate to Canada, to understand these conditions, as the consequence of failing to comply with any of the conditions could mean removal from Canada and a one year bar from returning.
The law on study permit compliance
Regulation 220.1(1) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations says that the holder of a study permit in Canada must enroll at a post-secondary institution that accepts international students, also known as a designated learning institution, and remain enrolled at the designated learning institution until they complete their studies. In addition, students must actively pursue their course or program of study.
Canadian immigration authorities typically interpret this legislative requirement as being that students must be enrolled full-time or part-time during each academic semester (excluding regularly scheduled breaks), that they must make progress towards completing their program’s courses and that they cannot take authorized leaves longer than 150 days from their program.
The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website states that a leave will count as authorized if a school has authorized a leave from study due to medical reasons, pregnancy, a family emergency, death or serious illness of a family member, or any other type of leave that a school authorizes. A leave will also be authorized if a school has closed permanently, if a school is on strike, if someone has changed schools or if the student or their school has deferred their program start date if the student starts studying during the next semester and gets and updated letter of acceptance.
It is important to note that in cases where students have changed programs or institutions multiple times that IRCC may determine that the student is not making reasonable progress towards the completion of their studies, and accordingly determine that the student has not complied with the requirement that they actively pursue their studies.
IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency monitor study permit compliance as part of random checks as well as where there is a reason to believe that someone is not actively pursuing their studies. It is not uncommon, for example, for individuals who have left Canada and are trying to re-enter during school days to be asked why they are not in school.
There have been several Federal Court of Canada cases demonstrating how strict the rules are. Canadian judges are just as strict in their interpretation of the rules.
In Kone v. Canada, Mr. Kone was enrolled in a program at the University of Ottawa. In May 2016, his father died and he returned home for the funeral. He returned to Canada in September 2016 after the semester had already started, and moved to Montreal to live with his brother. He registered for the winter 2017 program at the Teccart Institute, and returned to Ottawa in the fall of 2017 to resume studies at the University of Ottawa. Immigration officials determined that he did not comply with the condition that he actively work towards the completion of his studies, and the Federal Court found that there was no reason why he could not have returned to Canada to resume his studies before the fall semester started.
In Gursimran v. Canada, a student at Simon Fraser University failed several courses. She then switched to Kwantlen Polytechnic University, but continued to fail several courses. Finally, she enrolled at Canadian College, where she passed 10 of her 13 courses. However, following a car accident, she withdrew from the semester. After returning to Canada from a one-day trip to the United States, the Canada Border Services Agency determined that she was not actively pursuing her studies. The Federal Court found that she was non-compliant, stating that “she changed schools and programs, moving from business programs into a general arts and science program in spite of her permit specifying that she is to study business or commerce. Additionally, she took off two semesters in three years, and failed more courses than she has passed.”
Finally, in El Kamel v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), Mr. El Kamel was supposed to go to school in Moncton. He arrived in Canada on August 29, 2017, had a fever caused by diabetes-related hypoglycemia, and decided he was too ill to travel to Moncton. He informed the school of his decision to withdraw from the fall semester. After spending two weeks in Montreal he decided to stay in Montreal, and got accepted to the Teccart Institute. On December 29, 2017, he went to the port of entry to apply for a new study permit. Instead of being granted a permit to study in Canada, he was issued a removal order for having failed to study. The Federal Court of Canada upheld the decision.
Don’t be a fool, stay in school
The rules for study permit compliance are being interpreted in an increasingly strict manner. International students need to understand the importance of actively working towards the completion of studies, and taking their education in Canada seriously. As the above cases show, the consequences of failing to actively study are severe. To quote Van Wilder, “don’t be a fool (and get deported), stay in school.”