As much as permanent residency applications were affected due to travel restrictions, international students were particularly affected.
International students who applied for a study permit and were approved were mandated to study remotely due to the pandemic. The border for international students only opened in October 2020 with proof of a COVID 19 readiness plan to be presented at the port of entry. In addition, a letter of acceptance from a registered designated learning institute proving your presence was required in Canada.
If you were an international student that was approved for a study permit, but your presence was not mandated for your program, you were allowed to start your program online from your country of residence.
The travel restrictions not only affected international students, but academic institutions were also affected, due to the decrease in number of international students applying to come and study during a global pandemic. It is a known fact that schools in Canada rely on a specific number of international students per school year for financial reasons.
A study conducted showed that in 2019 there were roughly 830,000 international students in Canada versus 2018, where there were approximately 721,000 students in Canada studying at all levels. This number contributed $21.6 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product.
The numbers for 2020 are not available as of today, however it will be very interesting to compare the above statistics once they are revealed.
After five years of an average of 10% growth annually, international student enrolment at universities this year was down 2%. While these aggregate numbers might not seem so bad, given the circumstances, it is important to note that 51 universities saw a decline in international students compared to last year. Of these universities, 26 saw a decline of over 10% and 14 saw a decline of over 20%.Immigration in the time of COVID 19: Issues and Challenges- A parliamentary Commission Report, May 2021
How did Online Learning Accommodate International Students?
When the borders closed in March 2020, Canadian schools had the ability to completely shift to online learning within 10 days, moving approximately 1.4 million students to a virtual classroom within that time frame.
That is exceptional. Even though some schools already had the capacity to provide online learning prior to the pandemic, the ones that did not had to move swiftly to transform in class learning to online learning to ensure all of their students would be able to continue with their program from home.
For the international students that were not in Canada, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) implemented many public polices to allow them to still benefit from studying at a school in Canada from their country of residence.
More importantly, IRCC to this day, is continuously implementing temporary public polices to ensure that international students feel supported by the country in which they are choosing to study in.
The rules and or exceptions made for international students with these public polices and that are still in place today include the below:
- If you are enrolled in two programs at a Canadian institution that is considered to be designated learning institute, you are allowed to complete 50% of your entire programs, combined online.
- An international student that is enrolled in a program that started before May 2020, may
complete continue to complete their program online until April 30th, 2021. Should you continue learning online past the said date, the number of months after this date, will be deducted from your post graduate work permit.
- For all students that completed a short-term program that started between May 2020 and September 2020, you were allowed to have completed your program in its entirety online.
The basis of the above public policy is to help alleviate the concern for international students studying remotely and adapt new temporary regulations to support them in receiving their post graduate work permit thereafter.
What does it Mean for the International Students Studying In-Person?
Assuming you have been approved for a study permit and have entered Canada showing proof of a COVID 19 readiness plan, a quarantine plan, proof of booking for a mandatory 3 day hotel stay at a registered government hotel and proof that your presence is mandated, you were allowed to start studying in a classroom. This still stands true today, however depending on the province some programs are still being offered online only.
Having your presence being mandated has been a relief for many international students as the basis of studying in Canada is not only to earn a degree that is considered as an international accreditation but to also to be able to experience living in Canada, connecting with another community, and building and developing a network.
In this pandemic, most of us can now admit that we have all taken for granted the experiences we once had before. Being able to have in-person connections and experiences. An exchange of energy that comes only with human interaction.
What if I am in Canada and have Already Received a Post Graduate Work Permit?
IRCC even went further to implement a public policy that most thought would never occur which allowed international students who had already received a post graduate work permit the opportunity to apply for another one. Normally, a post graduate work permit can only be applied for once, unless it is indicated on the authorization that the duration granted was due to the expiry date of your passport.
This new policy means you can apply for to extend your post graduate work permit until July 27th, 2021, should you meet the below requirements:
- Your post-graduation work permit (PGWP) expired on or after January 30, 2020, or will expire within 4 months from the date you apply for this open work permit.
- You were in Canada as of January 27, 2021, when the public policy took effect, and have stayed in Canada since then.
- You either:
- have temporary resident status (this could be from having a valid PGWP, visitor record, or another permit that allows you to stay in Canada), or
- lost your temporary resident status, but you’ve already applied to restore it, or
- lost your temporary resident status, but you’ll apply to restore it at the same time as you apply for this open work permit
- You include in your application that you’re applying for an open work permit under this public policy.
- You have a valid passport.
- The work permit will be issued for up to 18 months from the date of approval or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. For example, if your passport is valid for 6 months, then you will be issued an open work permit for 6 months.
- To maximize the duration of the open work permit, make sure your passport is valid for at least 18 months from the date of approval.
International Students Employed as Essential Workers in Canada
In April 2020, IRCC announced that they would remove the barrier of the maximum hours allowed to work as an international student should they be employed as an essential worker. Instead of only being allowed to work for 20 hours a week, essential workers on a study permit could work full time.
This temporary measure was implemented to ensure that those that had the capacity to help, could in fact contribute to society during this pandemic when it was needed most.
“Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making important contributions as frontline workers in health care and other essential service sectors. We know and value their efforts and sacrifices to keep Canadians healthy and ensure the delivery of critical goods and services.”– The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Processing of Study Permit Applications:
Given the circumstances of this global pandemic, processing times were naturally affected for all applications submitted for a study permit.
The countries most affected with delays for study permit applications were from African and African French speaking countries. This was due to limited amount of visa offices in these particular regions.
India and Pakistan, the two countries that the government of Canada receives the most applications for were not impacted with delays.
It is also noted that the approval rate from African and African French speaking countries have always had a higher refusal rate compared to India and Pakistan.
The visa office in Kenya, is noted as having the highest refusal rate for study permit applications.
According to data from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from January to May 2019, the applications for study permits from non-francophone countries had an approval rate of approximately 63%. That rate goes up to 68% for India and China. Applications for study permits from francophone countries had a rate as low as 36%. That rate goes down to only 26% if France is excluded.Immigration in the time of COVID 19: Issues and Challenges- A parliamentary Commission Report, May 2021
The rate of refusal from these French speaking African countries, has a significant impact on the number of international students in Quebec, a province that’s official language is French.
25% of the Canadian population is in Quebec. Should you choose to study in Quebec, a CAQ application is needed prior to being able to submit an application for a study permit at the federal level. Only 10% of international students that are approved to study in Canada come to Quebec due to this extra hurdle. An additional approval from a province hinders the number of applicants that choose Quebec as their province of choice.
Hopefully, the above statistics will allow for a revamp in the near future for needing a provincial authorization to come and study in Quebec as this is the only province that requires a provincial approval and or authorization before submission of a study permit application to the federal government.
How these Temporary Public Policies Affect Those Wanting to Apply for Permanent Residency?
On April 14th, 2021, IRCC implemented four new public polices to help all individuals there were and are on a temporary residence in Canada to apply for permanent residency.
While there was a cap on two of the four programs, the cap for the international graduate stream may be reopened to accept new applications.
Regardless of what the outcome is of the above, what we can take from all this data and these new public polices, is the simple fact that the government of Canada will always support international students in Canada.
It may be conflicting to have to prove that you will respect the authorization to receive a study permit should it be granted to you, however time and time again, IRCC proves that once you are here, they need you to help the economy and contribute to Canada’s GDP.