The Government of Canada announced in Oct. 2022 that, as a temporary measure from Nov. 15, 2022 until Dec. 31, 2023, it is lifting the 20-hour-per-week cap on the number of hours per week that eligible international post-secondary students may work off-campus during the academic session.

However, in Nov. 2022, further details were provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that appear to limit this temporary measure to international students who had, or who had applied for, a study permit prior to the Oct. 7, 2022 announcement. Newer international students may not be eligible, depending on when they applied for their study permit.

This temporary measure was implemented to address Canada's labour shortage and to provide international students with Canadian work experience. Canada has more than 500,000 international students.

This change will offer benefits to international students and Canadian employers. However, students must ensure their studies remain their primary focus in order to maintain their student status and eligibility to work off-campus, and employers must be diligent in ensuring international students are, and remain, eligible to work during their studies.

Background

Study permit holders are generally authorized to work in Canada without obtaining a work permit. International students may work off-campus without a work permit if they:

  • hold a valid study permit
  • are a full time student at a designated learning institution (college or university, or certain secondary-level institutions in Quebec)
  • are enrolled in a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional program, or a secondary-level vocational program in Quebec
  • are enrolled in a program which is at least six months in duration and leads to a degree, diploma or certificate
  • have not yet received written confirmation of program completion. A foreign national may work under the off-campus work permit regime "until the first date they receive written confirmation of program completion from their educational institution (for instance, an email, a letter, a transcript or a diploma), provided their study permit remains valid during this period."

Students must also have begun their studies before they are eligible to begin working, and must continue to meet the conditions of their study permit at all times. They must also obtain a Social Insurance Number.

The Oct. 7, 2022 announcement temporarily removed the 20-hour-per-week cap on work during the academic session, but the other requirements for off-campus work and study permit conditions remain in effect.

However, IRCC subsequently provided further details regarding eligibility.

From Nov. 15, 2022 until Dec. 31, 2023, an international student may work more than 20 hours per week off campus during an academic session if they:

  • Are a study permit holder and are studying at a Designated Learning Institute full-time (or part-time during the final academic session), OR
  • Have been approved for a study permit but have not arrived in Canada yet but will before Dec. 31, 2023
  • In addition, the study permit application for the underlying study permit (including extensions) must have been received by IRCC on or before Oct. 7, 2022, the date of the announcement.

In effect, this means that the temporary policy only applies to international student who already had a study permit or who applied for a study permit (a new one or an extension) on or before Oct. 7, 2022. Newer international students or those who file an extension after Oct. 7 will be treated differently and will still face a 20 hour per week time cap on off-campus work while in class.

Considerations for employers

Increased hours for eligible international students will offer several benefits to employers, including reducing their need to access the more onerous Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) or International Mobility Program (IMP) employer-specific work permit programs, both of which place greater compliance burdens on employers. The removal of the 20-hour-per-week cap will also allow employers to better integrate and leverage the skills of international students into their organizations.

While the specific compliance requirements applicable to employer-specific work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (LMIA-based work permits) and the International Mobility Program (LMIA-exempt work permits) will not apply in respect of students working off-campus, employers must nevertheless be diligent in ensuring that any international students they employ are eligible to work off-campus and remain compliant with the conditions of their study permits.

Employers have a duty to ascertain the status of the people they employ, and are required by law to exercise due diligence to ascertain the immigration status of their workers. Under Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, if an employer is unable to establish that they have exercised due diligence, they are deemed to know that the person is not lawfully permitted to work in Canada. An employer found guilty of the offence of employing a person without proper authorization to work permit may be convicted of a summary offence subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 6 months in jail, or an indictable offence subject to a fine of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years.

Employers must therefore be diligent in ensuring that any international students they employ are eligible to work off-campus, and by extension that they are meeting the conditions of their study permits.

Outside the scope of immigration law, employers may also need to review their employment agreements to assess whether modifications are necessary before changing an international student's hours from part-time (up to 20 hours per week) to full-time hours, or whether language needs to be included to deal with the anticipated reduction of weekly hours of work that would be required if the 20 hours per week cap is reinstated after Dec. 31, 2023.

Considerations for international students

By being able to work more hours during the academic session, eligible students will be able to gain valuable work experience in Canada, be better able to support themselves in the face of rising tuition and living expenses, and contribute to addressing Canada's labour shortage.

However, students must take care that they remain focused on their studies. If they are no longer able to maintain a full-time course load (as defined by their institution), or if they withdraw from their program of studies, they would no longer be eligible to work off-campus.

Students must also ensure they continue to meet the conditions of their study permit, including actively pursuing their studies by being enrolled during each academic session and making progress towards completion of the program.

IRCC may ask study permit holders to prove they are meeting their conditions, either as part of a random check or if they have reason to believe the student may not be meeting them. Failure to meet the study permit conditions can result in a finding of non-compliance for the international student and can result in immigration consequences including loss of study permit, removal from Canada, a prohibition on future study permits for a period of six months, or future refusals. Similar consequences may also apply if the international student is found to have worked or studied without authorization.

Completion of program & post-graduation work permit

Employers must be careful about the transition period where the international student is graduating.

Once a student receives written confirmation from their institution that they have completed their program of study (e.g. email, letter, transcript or diploma) they are no longer eligible to work under the off-campus work permit exemption and must stop working.

If they are eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP), the graduate may resume working full-time once the PGWP application is submitted. They do not need to wait for the PGWP to be issued, and are authorized to work while IRCC is processing the application provided their study permit was valid when the PGWP application was made, they completed their study program, and they met the criteria to work off-campus while studying.

Students may also continue working following completion of their program of study if they are starting a new program of post-secondary study within 150 days, provided they have or have applied to extend a study permit, have received written confirmation that the previous program has been completed, have a letter of acceptance for a new full-time study program at a DLI, and they met the criteria to work off campus during their previous studies.

Conclusion

The temporary lifting of the 20-hour-per-week cap on off-campus work will assist some Canadian employers to address labour shortages. However, both employers and international students must ensure that they continue to abide by the eligibility requirements.

Employers should have hiring systems and processes in place that will allow them to verify an international student's authorization to work under the off-campus work regime and to confirm if the specific student is eligible under this temporary policy. This will demonstrate due diligence in case the employer ever faces on inspection or review by IRCC.

The removal of the limitation on work hours is temporary and will end Dec. 31, 2023 unless it is extended. Employers engaging international students will need to monitor whether the time cap is reinstated to ensure that they do not inadvertently provide excessive hours to international student after Dec. 31, 2023.

This article was originally published on Oct. 13, 2022 and has been updated on Nov. 25, 2022 to reflect new information released by the IRCC.