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A Quick Guide to Study Permits in Canada

Over the past decade, the number of international students studying in Canada has increased at an average rate of 7 per cent per year. This amounts to a grand total of 356, 574 students from approximately 185 countries as of December 1st 2015. Canada offers a variety of  study  permits for international students who are preparing to attend—or have recently graduated from—an officially recognized post-secondary university, college, trades school or CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel, Quebec only). Eligibility for these study visas and permits, however, are highly dependent upon the conditions and stage of your studies.  It is important, therefore, to be aware of the various study and work permits available to you (and your spouse) throughout the course of your studies.

Carla Silveira and Danielle Sayed—co-founders of Puzzle International Solutions Inc. (Puzzle Canada) —help international English as a Second Language (ESL) and post-secondary students secure the legal and logistical resources they need to make their time in Canada a success. From finding a place to stay—not to mention a ride to and from the airport—to ensuring your study documents are in order, through a immigration consultant certified by ICCRC, if Puzzle Canada cannot provide a service directly in house, they will refer you to someone they know and that you can trust (

With the help of Puzzle Canada we reviewed the CIC requirements for study and work permits. Here are the basic facts you should know if you’re considering pursuing post-secondary studies in Canada.


Study Permits

According to the CIC, all foreign nationals are required to secure a study permit in order to engage in academic, professional or vocational education or training. This education or training must last a minimum of six months and be conducted at a Designated Learning Institute (DLI) in Canada.

If, for some reason, you must extend your stay in Canada as a student, you must complete the Application to Change Conditions or Extend Your Stay in Canada at least 30 days prior to the expiration of your current permit.

Minors, less than 17 years of age studying in Canada without a parent or legal guardian must also include the Custodianship Declaration along with their study permit application.


ESL and Short Term Program Students

If you are interested in pursuing your post-secondary studies in Canada, but don’t feel that your level of English is quite up to the task, you can choose to first attend a 12 weeks English as a Second Language (ESL) University and College Transfer Program. Because these courses are generally less than six months, they fall under the category “Short term programs” and therefore do not require full study permits. In fact, as of July 2016, international ESL students who have already received conditional acceptance to full time post-secondary programs are required to provide that they have completed their University and College Transfer Program. before applying for a full study permit. Until then, a standard Visitor’s Visa, with Permission to Study is sufficient.


Work Permits 

As of June 2014, international students no longer require a separate work visa to work either on or off campus during their studies. With a standard study permit, full time international students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during regular academic sessions (fall and winter terms) and up to 40 hours per week during scheduled breaks, such as the winter, spring or summer holidays. Furthermore, spouses of full time international students are allowed to apply for an open work permit; meaning they do not require a job offer or a LMIA before arriving in Canada.

If a co-op, internship or work experience placement is a part of your academic program, however, you are required to apply for a work permit in addition to your study permit. Your work placement cannot form more than 50% of the total program of study and must be certified by a letter from an academic official at your institution.


After Graduation

To work in Canada following your graduation, you must apply for a work permit under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP). A work permit issued under the PGWP can last the length of your study program for a maximum of 3 years. For example, if you graduate from a four-year program, you could be eligible for a 3 year work permit under the PGWPP. Work experience gained through a PGWP can count as Skilled Canadian Work Experience, allowing recent graduates to qualify for Permanent Residence in Canada through the Express Entry program.

The PGWP has faced considerable controversy in recent months. According to a federal report obtained by the Globe and Mail in March 2016, the majority of former international students employed through the PGWPP hold low-skilled jobs in the service sector, “facilitating [a] large pool of temporary labour [which] may be in conflict with the objectives of the Putting Canadians First Strategy” under which it was initially created. Furthermore, the current Express Entry points system does not award applicants extra points for having studied in Canada; offering little support for former international students in their efforts secure Permanent Resident (PR) status.

In March 2016 John McCallum, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration called for the creation of a federal-provincial task force to look into how the current Express Entry can be adjusted to better serve former international students.

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© 2016. Kaila Simoneau for Loretta Murphy Translations. All Rights Reserved.

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