Canada confirms student visa changes

13 February, 2014

The Canadian government has published final amendments to the International Student Program, meaning that from June only provincially approved institutions will be able to accept international students.

Photo: Stock.hchng

Other changes in the long-awaited regulations, published yesterday in the Canada Gazette, the government’s official newspaper, allow for international students on academic courses to be able to work more easily and provide greater powers for Citizenship and Immigration Canada CIC to ensure that students are genuinely studying.

In the notes accompanying the regulations, CIC said, “The overall objective of these amendments is to strengthen the integrity of Canada’s immigration programme by explicitly requiring study permit holders to actively pursue their studies, reducing the number of non-genuine and poor-quality educational institutions hosting study permit holders, and facilitating the entry into Canada of those foreign nationals that sincerely wish to obtain a Canadian education.”

As expected since the publication of proposed amendments in late 2012, the new arrangements will limit the issuance of study permits to institutions that have been approved, or “designated” by their provincial/territorial government. Non-designated institutions will still be able to accept students on courses of six months or less on visitor visas.

In terms of compliance, the new regulations allow immigration officers to request study permit holders to produce evidence of compliance either when a student is suspected of non-compliance or as part of random checks. The rules will allow for removal of non-compliant students. CIC said this ended an open system that undermined integrity and bought Canada into line with its international competitors.

Furthermore, a study permit will become invalid 90 days after the completion of studies, a move designed to end a loophole of students being able to switch to shorter programmes of study and remain in the country without studying for long periods.

With regards to work rights, the rules allow full-time students pursuing an “academic, professional or vocational” programme at a designated institution to work off-campus for 20 hours per week, without the need for a separate work permit.

However, in a blow for the language school industry, the work rights are not extended to language study, threatening the work co-op programmes offered by some schools. In the notes to the regulations, CIC states it has “seriously considered” feedback from Languages Canada, but is refocussing work rights to potential immigrants.

In an interview with Study Travel Magazine, Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada, said, “We are astounded that language study is not considered ‘academic’. It is the strategic starting point, it is impossible to work and study if you don’t have language skills.”

He confirmed that Languages Canada would continue to lobby the government on this point and that the association would be seeking other channels to welcome work co-op students.

He also highlighted that applications made before the regulations come into force on
June 1, will be considered under the present arrangements, regardless of when the programme of study is actually due to commence.

A concern within the international education industry is the timeframe for the new regime, with individual provinces at different stages in establishing their designation requirements.

Last week, British Columbia announced that all institutions wishing to host international students would be required to hold the province’s Education Quality Assurance label as designation.

Peralta welcomed the move, noting that BC was the most important jurisdiction for Languages Canada, accounting for 40 per cent of members, many of which were already EQA accredited. The EQA was established in 2009, and Peralta said the province was a leader in terms of regulation, but that management of EQA had changed without consultation and notice and that the province was behind some of the others in adjusting to the new designation rules. “There is a lot that is good already in place, and we are confident that this will turn out well,” he said.

He added BC Ministry of Advanced Education had yet to put more details in place. “At this point we are not against the requirements, but we have questions around how it is handled.”

Peralta said that Languages Canada had been working with provincial/territorial governments in establishing membership as an entry point for respective designations. “Languages Canada is such a strong baseline. Instead of governments having to inspect institutions, we can guarantee quality and protect students. That provides a lot of ease to governments.”

In the publication of the regulations, CIC said it anticipates a slight decrease in international students in the first year after the rules come into effect due to non-genuine students being deterred. “After the initial year, however, international student entries to Canada are expected to increase, given that Canada will be a more attractive study destination,” it said.

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