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New regulations proposed for student visas in Canada

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Source: ICEF Monitor

As Canada rises up the ranks of leading destination countries for international students, its federal government is planning some important changes to the Canadian student visa system, with the goals of establishing improved protection for students, greater accountability in the visa system, and prevention of fraud.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has just announced that in January 2014, the following changes will take effect for student visas (also known within Canada as “Study Permits”):

  • All Study Permit holders will be required to be enrolled and actively pursuing a course or programme of study at a designated education institution after arrival in Canada, in order to maintain legal status;
  • Provincial/territorial governments will designate institutions that are eligible to receive international students, and only students admitted to those institutions will be able to secure a Study Permit;
  • Designated institutions will have to report to provinces/territories and CIC on international student enrolment and good standing status;
  • Only those students attending designated education institutions will be granted access to Work Permit programmes;
  • Work Permit programmes will also only be accessible by full-time students who are enrolled in and actively pursuing an academic, professional or vocational programme leading to a degree, diploma, or certificate;
  • Full-time international students with valid Study Permits will be allowed to work off-campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week without a Work Permit (that is, Off-Campus Work Permits would no longer be required for such students).

Those institutions that do wish to be designated as eligible to host international students will have to minimally comply with a set of common standards:

  • Be recognised by the provincial/territorial government as being in good standing;
  • Have adopted policies and put procedures in place that protect international students including a transparent tuition-fee refund policy made available to all incoming students;
  • Have clear and well-communicated policies re: language proficiency and credential assessment and recognition for international students;
  • Have sufficient administrative capacity to provide services that meet the unique needs of international students;
  • Undertake promotional activities authorised by the province/territory and in line with the Education Canada brand;
  • Publish a policy that outlines what it takes to be a student in good standing (and this must be consistent with provincial/territorial requirements);
  • Maintain enrolment-reporting requirements and have a designated individual responsible for confirming the initial enrolment of a student with a Study Permit and reporting on the ongoing enrolment status of all international students with Study Permits at the institution.

Who is eligible?

There are a number of questions arising from the proposed CIC changes but a key one is which institutions will be designated as eligible to receive international students.

If provinces are designating eligible institutions, it seems likely that most will emphasise institutions that are directly under their jurisdiction — that is, those that are regulated in one way or another by provincial or territorial governments in Canada.

This tendency is reflected in the official CIC release that anticipates eligibility for the following categories of institution:

  • Public post-secondary learning institutions recognised by the province (as well as private post-secondary learning institutions in Quebec that operate under the same rules as public ones there);
  • Private post-secondary learning institutions recognised by the province but only when students are enrolled in a study programme that leads to a degree as authorised by the province;
  • Learning institutions within a public school board or district that are funded by and accountable to the province;
  • Independent or private learning institutions that deliver provincial curricula.

Canadian language institutes, which are not commonly regulated at the provincial level, do not appear on this list. This raises the question of how such programmes would be recognised under the new regulations and what the implications may be for students engaged in longer-term studies, or any language programme requiring a Work Permit, in 2014.

Gonzalo Peralta is the executive director of Languages Canada, the Canadian accrediting association for language institutes. In a recent discussion with ICEF Monitor, he noted:

“If all the stakeholders work together — governments, institutions, associations — we should see an outstanding environment for international students in Canada.

At the same time, we don’t want this new policy to have a negative impact on our sector. Language education is not recognised in the proposed regulations — the provinces have been asked to designate eligible institutions but they do not regulate language instruction — and our top priority is to have this recognition established before the regulations are implemented in January 2014.”

To that end, we have established cooperative agreements between Languages Canada and the federal government and also with provincial governments across the country. We are also participating fully in CIC’s consultative process for the new regulations.”

Consultation before implementation

CIC is now entering into a consultation process with all stakeholders who will be affected by the changes, including provincial/territorial governments and education associations. The intent of the consultations will be to fully communicate the extent and intended interpretation of the changes as well as to refine the regulations further as required.

While questions around the implementation of the proposed changes remain, CIC’s goal of increasing the integrity and accountability of Canada’s International Student Program is being supported by most stakeholders.

Languages Canada is entirely supportive of [the proposed changes] as they pertain to issues of quality assurance, protection of students, and prevention of fraud,” says Peralta. “The devil, as they say, is in the details.”