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What the government is doing to continue support for international students

Included in Discovery: Atlantic Education & the Law – Issue 09

Brendan Sheridan

With the 2021 fall school semester under way, it has been a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic first resulted in school closures and travel restrictions, and forced many students and educational institutions to move to online learning environments. While many schools are re-opening, there are still some students who are unable to study in-person in Canada due to ongoing travel restrictions and study permit processing delays. As discussed in our Spring 2020 and Fall  2020 issues of Discovery, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has been implementing temporary policy changes for those international students studying online, to provide them with flexibility during the pandemic. The government has continued to modify and introduce new measures to support international students:

1. Travel restriction exemptions:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students coming from outside of the United States have had to meet an exemption to the travel restrictions to be eligible to travel to, and enter, Canada. Initially the Government of Canada had limited the travel exemption for international students to those who held valid study permits or an official approval letter that was issued on or before March 18, 2020. This exemption was modified in late 2020 to broaden who is eligible to travel to Canada.

The travel exemption for international students now has two primary requirements. First, the students must either hold a valid study permit, be eligible to apply for a study permit at the port of entry, or have received written approval of their study permit application. Second, students must be attending an institution that is listed by the Government of Canada as having appropriate measures in place to support the student’s quarantine. This is helpful for international students who received their study permit approvals over the last year and are now seeking to join their schools when on-campus classes resume.

Those who plan to attend an educational institution that is not currently listed by the Government of Canada are not eligible to enter the country under this international student exemption. The institution list is updated regularly and new schools are added frequently, so non-qualifying international students may be able to travel to Canada under this exemption in the future.

Additionally, the Government of Canada has recently implemented a broad exemption to the travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers that may also be applicable to some international students. This exemption to the travel restrictions allows individuals who are fully vaccinated to travel to Canada. To be considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of this exemption, individuals must have completed their COVID-19 vaccine dosage regime of an approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca, or Janssen / Johnson and Johnson) at least 14 days before their entry to Canada. While the students should still either have a study permit in-hand or already be approved for the permit, this exemption should make the assessment process simpler for many students.

2. Greater Post-Graduation Work Permit flexibility:

In the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 issues of Discovery, we discussed new temporary measures introduced by the Government of Canada to preserve international students’ eligibility for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (“PGWP”) despite pandemic-related distance and online learning requirements. As a reminder, the PGWP Program provides students who have graduated from certain Canadian educational institutions with a route to obtain an open work permit (otherwise known as a PGWP). Among other requirements, to be eligible for a PGWP, a student would generally need to study in Canada in a program eight months in duration or longer, maintain full-time student status during each academic session, and have held a study permit within 180 days of applying for the PGWP.

Recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on the ability for international students to qualify for this permit, the Government of Canada has made temporary modifications to the PGWP eligibility requirements. To be eligible for the temporary changes discussed below, students must either have a valid study permit, have been approved for a study permit, or have applied for a study permit before beginning their program and have it eventually approved.

Due to the continued processing delays and travel restrictions, many students will need to begin or continue their studies online from outside of Canada. The Government of Canada is temporarily allowing all students who were enrolled in PGWP-eligible programs in progress in March 2020, or who started a program of study from spring 2020 up to and including fall 2021, to complete up to 100 per cent of their program online from outside of Canada without impacting their PGWP eligibility.

Also, PGWPs are generally valid for the same length of time as the study permit, with a minimum length of eight months and up to a maximum length of three years. IRCC is currently allowing any time spent studying online outside of Canada up to December 31, 2021 to be counted towards the length of the PGWP. Any time spent studying outside of Canada after December 31, 2021 will be deducted from the length of the PGWP. It is also important to note that time spent studying outside of Canada only begins to count towards the length of a PGWP once IRCC receives the study permit application.

It was noted in the Fall 2020  issue of Discovery that students who graduate from more than one PGWP-eligible program of study may be able to combine the length of their programs of study (if they are each longer than eight months) when they apply for their PGWP on graduation. IRCC has recently announced that students can now complete 100 per cent of both programs online from outside of Canada if both programs were either in progress in March 2020 or began between spring 2020 and fall 2021.

Finally, while students graduating in Canada are still required to apply for their PGWP within 180 days of holding a valid study permit, and within 180 days of receiving written notification of their program’s completion, there are temporary policy changes for graduates outside of Canada. Students who graduate from outside of Canada do not currently need to hold or have held a valid study permit within 180 days of their PGWP application as long as they either have a study permit or study permit approval and apply for their PGWP within 180 days of receiving written notification of their program’s completion.

3. Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program becoming a permanent program:

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (“AIPP”) is a permanent residence pathway that helps employers in

Atlantic Canada hire foreign skilled workers who want to immigrate to Atlantic Canada, and international graduates who want to stay in Atlantic Canada after they graduate. There are three subprograms under AIPP, one of which is the Atlantic International Graduate Program.

AIPP is currently in a temporary pilot phase, but the Government of Canada has announced that due to its success it will be made a permanent program. It has yet to be announced whether there will be any changes once the permanent program comes into place, but it is nonetheless exciting news as it provides international graduates in Atlantic Canada with another permanent avenue for applying for residence in Canada.

As we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that these measures may change and new measures may be introduced, depending on how the pandemic progresses.

Our immigration law team  would be pleased to provide up-to-date advice on COVID-19 issues impacting educational institutions and international students alike.

This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Education group.


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