What does the academic future hold for international students?

Preparing for the start of the school year
As the summer nears to an end, students will be preparing for the start of the school year. They will be double checking that they have the most recent version of Zoom on their computers, and possibly upgrading their home internet. COVID-19 has impacted everyone, and international students have especially been left wondering what their academic future in Canada holds.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has, in response to COVID-19, implemented several public policies that international students should know about.  Most of them can be found on the IRCC website under the ‘Visitors, foreign workers and students’ and the and ‘Study permit: COVID-19 program delivery’ sections. Prospective and current international students should check the webpage daily. The date that the webpage was last modified can be found at the bottom of the page.  Unfortunately, IRCC updates its COVID-19 policies through stealth editing (i.e. reworking articles without notice that the content has been changed), so it may be advisable to save the webpage to PDF to track changes.

Here are some of the key measures:

Restrictions on travelling to Canada
As of July 15, 2020, international students who have a valid study permit, or were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, can travel to Canada for a non-discretionary purpose. In determining whether a student’s travel to Canada is non-discretionary, the Canada Border Services Agency will consider whether they are established residing and studying in Canada, whether they are expected to begin studying upon arrival, whether their presence in Canada is necessary for their continued participation in their program, whether pursuing online studies is not an option for their school or from their home country, and whether the semester has been cancelled or delayed.

Those who are travelling by air need to pass a health check conducted by an airline before they will be allowed to board their flight. Anyone showing signs of COVID-19 will not be allowed to board their flight. After arriving they will need to quarantine for fourteen days.  During this 14-day period, they must remain in their place of residence, and arrange for items, like groceries, to be delivered to them.

Online courses
IRCC has modified its Post-Graduate Work Permit Program so that those who are taking online-only courses remain eligible for a work permit upon graduation. As well, those who have study permits, or have been approved for study permits, but who cannot travel to Canada, will be eligible for a post-graduate work permit.

In the above situations, students may begin their classes while outside of Canada and complete up to fifty percent of their program while outside of Canada due to an inability to travel, and still be eligible for a work permit.
Students who complete the fall 2020 semester from outside of Canada will not have this time deducted from the duration of their post-graduate work permit.

Working while in school
IRCC has implemented a public policy to allow full-time students to work off-campus if COVID-19 has resulted in them becoming part-time students.  Such students can work up to 20 hours per week during the academic session, and full-time during scheduled breaks in the academic year.
Students are allowed to work more than 20 hours if they are a study permit holder, are eligible to work off campus, and are providing an essential service.  Public Safety Canada has provided guidance on what constitutes essential services, and it pertains to specific services in ten areas of critical infrastructure, including Energy and Utilities, Information and Communication Technologies, Finance, Health, Food, Water, Transportation, Safety, Government and Manufacturing.

Perhaps the biggest question that most study permit applicants have is when will their applications be processed.  This, unfortunately, remains uncertain. On July 14, 2020, Marco E. L. Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced that IRCC would be providing priority study-permit processing for those who have applied online.  Meanwhile, on July 20, 2020, IRCC announced that there are no measures in place to provide for expedited processing of study permit applications.

The Department is also looking into turning the study permit application process into a 2-stage approval process that will provide pre-approvals to students so that they can start their programs abroad with the confidence that their study permit applications will ultimately be approved. However,  as per IRCC, it is important for prospective students to note that commencing their studies online from abroad following approval-in-principle of a study permit application is not a guarantee that they will receive a full approval of their study permit application, or be authorized to pursue their studies in Canada.

As with almost everything during COVID-19, the result is uncertainty.
Hopefully IRCC’s efforts to present welcoming and facilitative messaging and policies translates into flexibility at the individual officer level.

-Canadian Immigrant

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