On June 1, 2014, amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (Regulation) modifying working rights for foreign nationals under the International Student Program (ISP) will officially come into force.

Under the revised Regulation, international students will now be permitted to work off-campus without having to apply for a work permit, albeit under certain conditions and while being subject to greater oversight from the authorities.

Currently, international students with valid study permits are permitted to work on the campus of the educational institution at which they are a full-time student, without requiring a work permit, but must apply for one should they desire to seek employment off-campus, as required under the Off-Campus Work Permit Program (OCWPP).  Under the OCWPP, no such permit may be issued unless the student has completed six (6) months of full-time study in the twelve (12) months prior to the date of application.  Furthermore, although they may work full-time during scheduled breaks during the year such as winter or summer holidays, students are generally not permitted to work more than twenty (20) hours a week during the regular school year.  These limits, however, are not enforced by law.

Effective June 1, 2014, permits for off-campus work will no longer be required, nor will international students be expected to study full-time for a period of six (6) months prior to seeking such employment.  It is important to note, however, that a smaller pool of students will be able to benefit from these changes and that stricter conditions will apply for those that do.

First, the new rules governing off-campus work require that international students hold a valid study permit similarly to before, but moving forward, these study permits will not be issued as liberally.  Indeed, whereas study permits were previously issued to students attending any type of educational institution, whether or not accredited or regulated, such permits will now only be issued to students enrolled at a “designated learning institution”, as defined in the Regulation.  This was done to prevent foreign nationals from using study permits as a means to enter Canada for non-educational purposes.  A list of designated learning institutions may be found on Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) website and does not generally include language schools or general interest or preparatory courses.

Second, the work limits under the OCWPP, which provide that a full-time international student is not permitted to work in excess of twenty (20) hours a week during the regular school year, will now be expressly provided by law.  This is important because a full-time student caught working in excess of such limits could be required to apply for a work permit, and more importantly, could be found to be in breach of his or her study permit conditions and, as a result, be subject to a removal order.

Finally, in order to facilitate the transition to post-graduation work, international students will be permitted to work full-time upon completion of their program if they file an application for a work permit prior to the expiration of their study permit and until a decision on the work permit has been made.

The regulatory amendment coming into force on June 1 also provides for broader enforcement powers for CIC.  Indeed, the new legislative framework will enhance CIC’s ability to monitor compliance with study permit conditions and, if necessary, withdraw the legal status of international students who fail to meet these conditions.  Study permit holders, for example, may be asked to produce evidence such as tuition receipts and academic transcripts as part of this monitoring.

The revised Regulation is being enacted in part to ensure that foreign students are primarily in Canada for the purpose of study and to provide international students with opportunities to gain valuable Canadian work experience, which could in turn help eligible students meet the requirements to stay permanently in Canada.  Moreover, it demonstrates that the Canadian government recognizes the value of recruiting more international students to support economic growth and to address social, demographic and labour market needs over the short and long terms.

Finally, although these Regulations do not impose requirements on businesses, employers hiring international students should be vigilant and strive to reasonably ensure that their student employees are complying with the law.  In the event such students are found to be non-compliant, they could be removed from Canada, thereby potentially causing operational hardships for their employers.

Taj Kudhail