Study Permit (Student Visa)

Canada is well known for its education system, providing excellent opportunities to students from around the world. Most people planning to study in Canada will need a study permit. However, under certain circumstances a study permit is not required.

Most people confuse a study permit with a student visa. Legally speaking, Canada will never issue a student visa. If you intend to study in Canada, you should apply for a study permit. If you are from a country that requires a visa to visit Canada, a temporary resident (visitor) visa will be issued. At the port of entry, a student will be issued a study permit, provided all requirements are met. Note that a visa is essentially a document allowing you board a flight or transportation to travel to Canada, and you will only obtain temporary residence status at the port of entry when you are authorized to enter Canada.

How to apply for a study permit

Before coming to study in Canada, you need to first find a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) in Canada and then apply for a study permit.  All primary and secondary schools in Canada are automatically designated but do not appear on the DLI list.  If you want to send your minor children to study in Canada, she must follow a different rule to apply for a study permit.

Once you have gathered the documents, such as proof of acceptance, proof of identity etc., depending on the specific visa post that processes the application, you can apply for a study permit.  Since the processing time may vary throughout the year and among different visa offices, it will save some time and troubles that you apply as soon as you receive your letter of acceptance from your DLI.  Now certain foreign nationals may also apply for and receive a study permit  in Canada.

Citizens of certain countries such as the U.S.A. may apply for a study permit at a port of entry. However, it is recommended that one should apply for a study permit at a Canadian visa post well before the commencement of their study. For citizens of countries that need a temporary resident visa in order to travel to Canada, they will be issued such a visa if their applications for study permits are proved. When they arrive at a Canadian port of entry, they will be asked a few questions (a procedure called “examination”) and be issued a study permit on the spot.

Study permits are typically granted for the same length of time as the program of study. As an international student, you must keep enrolled and registered in your academic program. Also, you have to make sure that you are in progress towards completing your program.  The punishment is severe if you fail to do so.  That means you can be removed from Canada.

Once you have completed your program, sometimes receiving your final assessment of the last course you took, your study permit will become invalid after 90 days.  In the case that you switched from one program to a shorter-term program, the expiry date of your study permit will be 90 days after the completion of the newer yet shorter program.  Please be aware of this when you make your decision about switching between programs or even DLIs.

Besides the different expiry dates for your study permits, you also have to make sure that the new institution is on the DLI list.  As long as you change the program/DLI/field of study/level of study at post-secondary level, you do not need to apply for a new study permit for the new DLI.  This may include your transfer from a college to a university, a master program to a PhD program.  However, If you change the DLI, you should notify CIC about the change.

Living and studying in a foreign country always means a huge spending.  As an international student, you must prove that you have sufficient funds to pay for tuition fees, living expenses and return transportation.  If your family is coming with you and will take care of you when you pursue your degree, you also need to prove that there are sufficient funds for them to live in Canada and return.  Police certificate and medical examination may also be provided.

Work while you study

Are you a full-time international students with a valid study permit?

Are you pursuing an academic, professional or vocational training program at a post-secondary DLI?

If your answers are yes, then you are eligible to work off campus immediately without a work permit.   Under the current rule, you are allowed to work off campus for up to 20 hours per week in a semester.  You can even work full time during the breaks.  Before you work, you should get registered and enrolled in your DLI and make sure your program is at least 6 months in length.  Also, you need to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN).  Focusing on your work is a good habit, but you have to keep in mind that you need to meet the conditions on your study permit all the time while working off-campus.

During their studies, international students may be qualified for a co-op work permit, which is separate from your study permit.

Unfortunately, if you are studying English/French as a second language (ESL/FSL), or participating in general interest or preparatory courses,  you cannot work during your studies.  You will then need a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to apply for a work permit.

After students graduate from a post-secondary program, they may be most likely eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP).

Arriving in Canada

When you arrive in Canada, please make sure you have kept the following documents in a convenient place:

  • A valid passport or travel document;
  • The letter of introduction from the visa office when you received your study permit;
  • A valid temporary resident visa (if required);
  • A copy of the letter of acceptance from your DLI;
  • Financial proof for your stay in Canada;
  • Other documents recommended by the visa office where you applied.

Do NOT pack these documents into your checked luggage.

Extend your study permit

Normally you need to extend your study permit at least 30 days before the expiry date of the current one.  You can apply online or by mail.  It is faster and easier to apply online since you can scan the documents, take a photo and pay the fee in seconds.  After you submit the application, you can continue your study even your current study permit expires.

We probably hear about the story that somebody forgot to renew her study permit and now she is in trouble.  This means she has to apply for restoration of her temporary resident status as a student within 90 days of losing it.  The bad thing for her is, although she can stay in Canada during the time of waiting for the decision, she cannot attend school until the status is restored.  It is difficult to catch up with your classmates if you are weeks behind because you cannot sit in a classroom.  And it will be even worse if you fail to restore your status.  So make sure you have an idea about when you have to renew your study permit.

Studying Without a Study Permit

In some situation, a study permit is not required for a person to study in Canada. Such situations include:

  • where the program of study is six months or less, and it can be completed within the period authorized upon entry into Canada;
  • where the courses are not academic, professional or vocational in nature and can be completed within the period authorized upon entry into Canada; and
  • where the courses included in tour packages as a secondary activity for tourists; and
  • where the courses take place in nursery schools or kindergartens.

It should be noted that one can only apply for an initial study permit outside Canada. In certain circumstances, one may wish to apply for a study permit even if it is not required. One should contact counsel for personalized advice in making such type of decisions.

Family members of an accredited foreign representative and members of a foreign armed force under the Visiting Forces Act do not need a permit to study in Canada. However, family members of the member of the visiting forces must apply for and obtain a study permit in order to study in Canada, unless their programs of study do not require such a permit.

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