Sometimes it is hard to visualize the entire process and journey of an international student in British Columbia. I live in Victoria, British Columbia, which is near Vancouver. Many international students come to Victoria and Vancouver for study. But what processes do these students undergo to be allowed to study in British Columbia? There are many factors to consider. One of the most important steps to fully understand is the immigration process; specifically, the correct way (and incorrect way), of obtaining a study permit. Without following key steps, at key times, you may find that your son or daughter, is suddenly without a permit and cannot leave the country. This blog will focus on the importance of understanding the law with respect to getting a proper visitors visa and study permit.
As a teacher of international students, I am always confronted with the realities of immigration law. For example, our school planned a trip to the United States, which was intended as a mandatory, all grades, trip. Unforeseen by our staff, many of our international students did not have up to date study permits, and this prevented them from exiting the country (if you exit the county on an expired permit you will not be allowed back in). In the end, these unfortunate students were unable to accompany their friends on the trip. It was a tragic situation that should have, and could have been avoided. Let’s look at the correct steps to getting a study permit, and how to make sure it remains up to date.
Understanding if You Need a Study Permit
There are some instances that do not require a study permit. If you are taking any of the following, you will not require a study permit.
- Attending a pre-school
- Completing a distance learning program (online learning)
- A non-credit academic course (also known as an audit course)
- Courses included in a tour package (such as a secondary activity for tourists)
- Taking a course that is non-academic, professional, or vocational – that is, it doesn’t relate to career, employment, or academics.
- Taking any course that is 6 months or less in duration
Having said that, if you are taking any other courses or programs in Canada that are not mentioned above, it is likely that you will require a study permit. Consult this list of Designated Learning Institutions to be sure your intended program is recognized by the Canadian government.
Step 1- Eligibility and Admissibility
Step one begins back in your home country. Several factors will make you ineligible for a study permit in Canada. You should first determine if any of them apply to you before going through with any applications. These factors include: past criminality, serious medical conditions, insufficient finances, having an accompanying family member who has a criminal past. These factors are known in a legal sense, as being “inadmissible” to Canada. So regardless if you’ve been accepted to the school of your dreams, you will still not be able to enter the country. If you are inadmissible for any reason, there are ways to overcome this, but it would require a specialist, such as a certified immigration consultant to properly approach; that is my advice, at least.
Step 2 – Obtaining a LOA (Letter of Acceptance) from a Designated Learning Institution
Once you have determined that you are legally allowed to enter the country (you are not inadmissible), then the second step is to seek out a school and apply. If you are applying to K-12 boarding schools in Canada, I suggest you apply between January and April. This is commonly the time when boarding schools start to reassess their enrollment numbers for the following year, and give out acceptance letters. If you are an international student, sometimes your chances of acceptance are influenced by when you apply. Applying late in the season, such as May or June, will limit your choices, as many spots may have filled up. This is why many international families decide to hire an education consultant. They will take on the application process and ensure everything is done properly. These education consultants also have strong ties to the sector, and will act as an “in” for your child’s application.
If you are applying to a post-secondary institution, college, or university, you may consult the specific program website for application deadlines. Because many of these schools operate year-round, on a semester-based system, you will have several opportunities to apply throughout the year for different entry points. Having said that, planning and preparation is key. Many programs will adhere to very strict deadlines. Missing it b even one day will result in your application being denied. It is vital that you take time and have patience in deciding which program to apply to. Again, many students hire consultants for this process since applying to a post-secondary institution is a complicated process for an international student. Also be aware that the application fees for these schools are nearly always non-refundable. Be prepared, and be patient.
When you apply to a school and are accepted, they will issue you an official letter of acceptance. This is a very important document for your study permit application. Typically, the high schools in Canada will send out letters of acceptance in March, April, and as late as May in some cases. Once you’ve received a letter of acceptance you are ready to apply for a study permit in Canada.
Step 3 – Knowing the Conditions of Your Study Permit
It is always important to remember that as a student or worker in the country, you are here temporarily to fulfill a specific purpose. As far as the government of Canada is concerned, you are here to get an education, and will leave at the end of your studies. This is why it is very important that you maintain your status as a student while you are in Canada. If for any reason, you drop out of school, or change your purpose in Canada, your status in Canada is likely to change. If you fail to remain registered in a Designated Learning Institution, you will also lose your study permit. One other thing I will mention is that many people think they can come to Canada to study, then try to apply for Permanent Residence while they are a student. This is called “dual intent” and if you do this, you may be ineligible for applying since you do not have the right to apply for Permanent Residence when you have entered the country on a temporary study permit.
Duration of the Permit
Most of the time your study permit will be issued for the duration of the program you are studying, up to 1 year. This means that if you come for an 8 month program, your permit will match the length of the program at 8 months. If your program is longer than a year, such as a 4 year degree, you will be issued a permit for up to 1 year. You will not be issued a permit for the entire duration of your studies. This is a safety measure designed to ensure that you are in school during the period of your permit. Since it is common for plans to change year-to-year, a permit will reflect the shortest reasonable amount of time for a study period. This is why it is very important to understand when your permit expires, and what to do to renew it. Renewing a permit is not a complicated process, but you will need to have a new letter of acceptance indicating your acceptance for the following year. More information on extending a study permit can be found here.
Working During your Study Period
For International post-secondary students in Canada, it is possible to work up to 20 hours per week while you are studying at a designated learning institution. In order to work off-campus during your studies, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must hold a valid study permit
- You must be enrolled full-time in a designated learning institution
- The program of study must be at least 6 months in duration
- You continue to meet the conditions of your study permit while you are working.
Often it is the case that post-secondary international students in Canada come for study and end up working a few hours per week to supplement their studies. Sometimes their employers offer them more hours and these students are tempted to quit their studies and work full-time. Please be aware that if you choose this route you are almost certainly putting an end to your time in Canada. If you fail to meet the conditions of your study permit, you will lose your status in Canada and will likely be found inadmissible for working illegally. If you start out a student and wish to change your status to a worker, I recommend hiring a registered Canadian immigration consultant to take you through that process. It is possible, but it will require professional advice and guidance. Be careful that you continue to meet the conditions of your study permit in Canada.
Step 4 – Gather Documents and Apply for your Permit
Once you have received a letter of acceptance, you may apply for a study permit. Please refer to this guide for a complete list of documents required. I will outline them below. Be prepared to supply the following documents in your study permit application:
- Application for Study Permit IMM 1294
- Family Information form IMM 5707 or IMM 5645
- Declaration of Common-Law IMM 5409 (if applicable)
- Proof of payment (copy of fees paid for study permit)
- Copies of passport or travel document
- Two passport-sized photos
- Letter of acceptance from a Designated Learning Institution
- Proof of Finances
- Copies of Marriage Certificate (if applicable)
The application process itself can be done through a paper-based, mail in format, or you can go online and apply here. I have found recently that many students are being denied permits because they do not have sufficient financial proof of support, or they have not made a convincing argument that they will leave the country at the end of their studies. Visa officers will often ask for evidence to support your claim that you are only coming to study (and not work or immigrate). If you have strong ties to your home country, you should be prepared to provide documents outlining this. Some examples are employment records, assets, bank accounts, sworn affidavits from family members and friends. If you have family members already in Canada, and you say that you are coming over to study, a visa officer will be suspicious that you are coming to work or immigrate. Again, the onus is on you to prove that you will meet the conditions of a study permit, and that you will leave the country at the end of your studies.
Step 5: Getting Through the Border and into Canada
Canadian law stipulates that anyone coming the country must be assessed by a visa officer before granted entry. This means that even if you have been issued a study permit, work permit, or visa from your home visa office, you will still be assessed once you land in Canada, and there is still a chance that you will be denied entry. This final stage of assessment is the most important step of the process, and you must be prepared. The main question you will be asked is “What is the purpose of your visit/stay in Canada?”. At this point, it is vital that all information you provide is truthful and honest. You must be clear and concise in your communication. Do not use language that implies you are not sure what you will do. You are here from one of three reasons: to visit, to study, or to work. Each of these reasons requires a different permit, so if you have been issued a study permit, stick to the reasoning that you are here to study, and that you intend to leave after your program. To prove this, you may be asked to show the same documents you used in your application. Be prepared by having these documents ready to show. If the visa officer is doubting that you have enough money to pay for your stay in Canada, you can show him bank statements which prove you have access to the funds. If he is concerned you will not leave Canada after you study period, you can show documents that prove you have strong ties to your home country, and that you have valid reasons to go home.
Understanding the Bigger Picture
Getting a study permit might seem like a lengthy, complicated process, but it is actually quite simple and easy so long as your intentions are genuine. Canada is a very desirable place to live, and as a result, many people each year try to enter the country under suspicious circumstances. To avoid any problems at the border, or any issues in the application process, you must have it clear in your head that you are coming to Canada to study and there is no other intention. If you fail to live up to the conditions of your stay in Canada, your status in Canada will be reviewed and you will be asked to leave the country, or will be unable to return. Also, as a temporary resident, you do not have any appeal rights to decisions made by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. If you try to cheat the law, or lie on any of your applications, you will most likely be found out and the end product will result in you having to leave the country. To best prepare yourself for studying in Canada, follow these steps, or hire a trusted regulated Canadian immigration consultant to do the process for you.