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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Elizabeth Eberly

Why Maintaining Full-Time Status is Crucial for International Students in Canada



Many years ago, I attended an immigration law conference in Ottawa, Ontario and one of the presenters gave a presentation on study permits.  I will never forget her first comments on the subject: “study permit applications are not for the faint of heart”.  My years of practice since then have proven those words to be true, and I have talked to many international students who have unknowingly jeopardized their plans for their future in Canada.  I would therefore like to take this opportunity to talk about one of the common issues I have come across in my practice, which is the consequences of failing to maintain full-time student status as an international student in Canada.


Study Permit Conditions – How to Take a Leave from your Studies


International students are ordinarily subject to conditions that require that they 1) enroll, and remain enrolled, at a designated learning institution until they complete their studies, and 2) actively pursue their course of program of studies.  It is beyond the scope of this blog post to discuss all the ways in which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (‘IRCC’) assesses compliance with these conditions, but additional guidance can be found here.  


One of the ways in which IRCC assesses whether international students are actively pursuing their studies is to determine whether the international student has at least part-time status.  Although it may seem simple to maintain at least part-time status, I have met many international students who have needed to take a break from their studies altogether.  Simply put, life often gets in the way, whether due to a sudden loss of financial support, a family emergency, or a physical or mental health crisis, among other reasons.  As a result, IRCC does allow international students to take leave from their studies in Canada.  However, IRCC requires that the leave should not exceed 150 days and must be authorized by the international student’s school.  


International students taking authorized leave may be asked to prove that they are meeting their study permit conditions, and should be prepared to provide an official document from their school confirming the details of the authorized leave.  This document should include the reason for the leave and the date of approval.  International students may also be asked to provide evidence of the reason for the leave, like a doctor’s note confirming the medical need and length of leave required.  

If the international student does not resume their studies within 150 days, they can either change to another status or leave Canada.  If the international student does neither of these things, then they are considered non-compliant with their study permit conditions.


Failing to comply with study permit conditions can have serious consequences, and the international student could be found inadmissible to Canada for non-compliance, and be required to leave Canada under an exclusion order.  Failing to comply with study permit conditions may also prevent the international student from being able to renew their study permit or from being issued a work permit.  


The Benefits of Maintaining Full-Time Student Status


Many international students with a valid study permit can also work without a work permit, whether on or off campus.  However, this work authorization often requires that the student have full-time student status.  I find it helpful to refer directly to subsections 186 (f) and (v) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (‘Regulations’), which set out the circumstances under which study permit holders can work without a work permit, whether on or off campus.


Working On Campus


Subsection 186 (f) of the Regulations authorizes on campus work.  Here’s what it says:


186 A foreign national may work in Canada without a work permit

(f) if they are a full-time student, on the campus of the university or college at which they are a full-time student, for the period for which they hold a study permit to study at that university or college;


As you can see, in addition to having a valid study permit, international students must also have full-time status in order to work on campus without a work permit.  This means that if the international student is not a full-time student, this work authorization does not ordinarily apply to them.  


Working Off Campus


Subsection 186 (v), of the Regulations authorizes work off campus.  Here’s what it says:


186 A foreign national may work in Canada without a work permit

(v) if they are the holder of a study permit and

(i) they are a full-time student enrolled at a designated learning institution as defined in section 211.1,

(ii) the program in which they are enrolled is a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional training program, or a vocational training program at the secondary level offered in Quebec, in each case, of a duration of six months or more that leads to a degree, diploma or certificate, and

(iii) although they are permitted to engage in full-time work during a regularly scheduled break between academic sessions, they work no more than 20 hours per week during a regular academic session;


Again, the first thing to notice is that international students must ordinarily have full-time status in order to work off campus without a work permit.  If an international student drops down to part-time status or takes a leave from their studies, then this work authorization does not ordinarily apply.


There are some exceptions to the requirement to maintain full-time student status.  For example, international students who are otherwise authorized to work on campus, and have maintained their full-time student status during their studies, but only need a part-time course load to complete their program of studies, may be authorized to work on campus during their final semester.  The same is true for off campus work as well: 


“Students who have maintained full-time status for the duration of their program of study, and who only require a part-time course load in their final academic session in order to complete their program of study, are allowed to work full-time during the regularly scheduled break before their last semester and are allowed to work off campus up to 20 hours per week during their final academic session.”


Working in Canada without authorization can have serious consequences.  Foreign nationals who have worked in Canada without authorization can be found inadmissible to Canada for non-compliance, and be required to leave Canada under a removal order.  Working in Canada without authorization may also prevent international students from being able to renew their study permit or from being issued a work permit.  


Post-Graduation Work Permit Program


Many international students have long-term intentions of applying for permanent residence and to that end, intend to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit after they have finished their studies.  One of the eligibility requirements for a Post-Graduation Work Permit is that the international student maintain “full-time student status in Canada during each academic session of the program or programs of study they have completed and submitted as part of their post-graduation work permit application.”  As a result, international students must ordinarily maintain full-time student status in order to maintain their eligibility for a Post-Graduation Work Permit.


There are some exceptions.  International students may still be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit even if they studied on a part-time basis, but only if they had part-time status in the final semester of their program of studies.  International students may also still be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit even if they took a leave from their studies, as long as the international student complied with their study permit conditions with respect to any leave from their studies.


While I hope that this blog post will help you with navigating Canada’s complex immigration system, it does not constitute legal advice.  If you are an international student in Canada and you are struggling to maintain full-time status, it can be challenging to know what to do and how the different options may impact your plans for your future in Canada.  If you have any questions, you should consider speaking with an immigration lawyer and I would be happy to speak with you.


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