On May 14, 2020, Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada (IRCC), announced a special program to assist international students studying in Canada are affected by the impact of COVID-19.

Under normal circumstances, international students participating in post-graduate programs at a designated learning institution (DLI) from within Canada are eligible for a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) after completing their educational program. The PGWP Program, however, limits the ability of international students to pursue distance programs, in Canada or abroad, and the time spent studying abroad is deducted from the duration of the PGWP for which a student is eligible.

In response to COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing requirements, most designated learning institutions in Canada have turned to online classes for ALL students. This is part of the measures to contain the virus. As the pandemic continues and COVID-19 continues to spread, post-secondary institutions and future students are concerned for students who have received study permits for the fall semester.

For international students whose courses in the fall of 2020, they are now eligible to enroll in online classes and are still eligible to apply for a PGWP and work when they return back to Canada once the travel restrictions are lifted. This is in accordance with the guidelines provided to students who are already studying in Canada or whose program was launched in the spring or summer. Students who start their courses abroad and complete up to 50% of their program through distance learning due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions currently in place, will still receive a PGWP once they come back to Canada and this time will not be deducted from the duration of a future post-graduate work permit for studies completed abroad, until December 31, 2020.

In order to qualify for a PGWP, international students must complete a full-time program of study that is a minimum of eight months in length from a DLI in Canada. Their study program must lead to a diploma, degree, or certificate. The length of the PGWP depends on the length of the student’s program of study in Canada. Students can now begin their program online, and still be eligible for up to 3 years depending on the length of the program.

Essentially, an international student who receives admission to a program at a Canadian DLI this Fall, can begin their program online and still be eligible for a PGWP for the maximum three years so long as they arrived to Canada by the end of 2020 and completed a qualifying educational program at a DLI of at least two years in duration.

IRCC initially implemented this temporary measure in early April and permitted international students approved for a study program in May or June and unable to travel to Canada in light of the travel restrictions, the ability to start and complete 50% of their classes outside of Canada and obtain a PGWP once they then return to Canada to complete the studies. The time abroad would not be deducted from their overall PGWP. Prior to this, online courses did not count towards the study requirement for a PGWP application.  The May 14 announcement is an extension to this temporary measure for students who will begin their semester in September.

International students are a significant benefit to the Canadian economy. In 2018, internationals students brought in almost $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP, created nearly 170,000 jobs and provided permanent residency to 54,000 foreign students. International students are able to use their Canadian degree/certificate/diploma and subsequent work experience to gain additional points on their Federal Express Entry profile. In addition, with Federal Express Entry moving to targeted draws, such as those with Canadian Experience, international students will have an advantage.

Currently, only international students who received their study permit prior to March 18 are able to come to Canada; however, IRCC continues to accept and process new study permits. An announcement will be made when new study permit holders will be able to travel to Canada again.

The new rule will definitely attract more students to apply to Canada. With other pathways limited due to current travel restrictions, study permits are an excellent way to start the process as you are still able to return to Canada once travel restrictions are removed.