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Charting the Course: Updates and Guidelines for International Students in Canada in 2024

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In the last five months, rules surrounding Canada’s international student program changed at a pace that has sowed a lot of confusion.

Below is CILA’s brief to help navigate the policy shifts for international students in Canada in 2024. This guide aims to provide clarity and assist individuals in adapting to these changes effectively.

In brief, the key updates include revised cost-of-living requirements, introduction of Provincial Attestation Letters (PALs), changes to PGWP eligibility for graduates of programs delivered through sub-licensing agreements between public and private designated learning institutions (DLIs), and updates to open work permit eligibility for spouses of international students. We go through these items in more detail below.

1) Revised Cost-of-Living Requirements

In December 2023, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that by January 1, 2024, international students must demonstrate financial resources totaling at least $20,635 to cover living expenses, representing a significant increase from the previous threshold of $10,000. This requirement, now indexed to inflation and subject to future adjustments, emphasizes the importance of careful financial planning for prospective students. Moving forward, applicants must now ensure that they have adequate funding for living expenses on top of tuition costs.

2) Introduction of Provincial Attestation Letters

The government announced a temporary two-year cap on new post-secondary international study permit applications. The way this is operationalized is that every study permit application must now be accompanied by a PAL from the relevant province or territory. This was rolled out on January 22, 2024. These letters whose implementation will vary according to the relevant provincial or territorial government, are allocated based on the jurisdiction’s population size. These are now required as part of a study permit application package. Undergraduate college and university students will require a PAL to apply for their study permit, with exceptions for those pursuing a master’s or doctorate degree. As noted above, this only applies to post-secondary applicants so children studying from K to 12 or those who are pursuing a program of study that is less than 6 months are not required to secure a PAL.

Additionally, the government announced that it will cap new study permit applications at 552,000 in 2024, resulting in about 292,000 new study permits. The goal is to keep international student numbers steady from the previous year. Some provinces might have more spots available for international students, while others, like Ontario and British Columbia, will offer fewer study permits.

3) Changes to PGWP Eligibility for Graduates of Programs Delivered through Sub-licensing Agreements between Public and Private DLIs

Effective May 15, 2024 (initially slated for September 2024), students in private colleges delivering public college curriculum will no longer qualify for PGWPs upon program completion to address oversight concerns and maintain the program’s integrity, aligning with Canada’s commitment to high academic standards.

Additionally, graduates of master’s degree programs will be eligible to apply for a 3-year work permit, allowing them more time to gain valuable work experience and potentially seek permanent residence.

4) Updates to Open Work Permit Eligibility for Spouses of International Students

Effective March 19, 2024, rules surrounding work permits for spouses of international students have changed. With the changes, only spouses or common-law partners of international students pursuing graduate degrees (i.e., master’s and doctorate degrees) will be eligible for open work permits. In addition, spouses and common-law partners of international students pursuing some undergraduate or professional programs are also eligible. Below is the list of eligible programs at the time of writing:

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS, DMD)
  • Bachelor of Law or Juris Doctor (LLB, JD, BCL)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)
  • Pharmacy (PharmD, BS, BSc, BPharm)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN, BSN, BNSc)
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng, BE, BASc) only

This change aims to find a middle ground between attracting highly skilled immigrants and managing the associated benefits.

5) Revised Off-Campus Work Hours

At present, international students enrolled in eligible programs may work up to 20 hours per week off-campus while class is in session and unlimited hours during scheduled academic breaks. While it is yet to be official policy, IRCC has announced it intends to change the number of hours eligible international students may work off-campus during the academic year to 24 hours per week beginning this fall.

2024 Canadian Immigration Landscape for International Students

Recent changes in Canadian immigration rules have profound implications on Canada’s international student program. While studying in Canada remains a desirable option for international students, a thorough understanding of these new rules is crucial. Consulting with immigration lawyers allows a better understanding of the updated policies; planning ahead can significantly improve an applicant’s chances of success. Here are key steps to keep in mind:

  1. Regularly review rules: take a close look at the latest immigration rules to ensure compliance and anticipate any potential challenges.
  2. Document preparation: carefully gather all required documents to meet current standards accurately.
  3. Financial planning: show that you have enough funds to cover your education and living expenses in Canada.

At a time of policy uncertainty, consulting with an immigration lawyer becomes even more important. Consult our member directory here to find a lawyer that matches your needs. Watch this space for future updates on key changes to policies and rules surrounding study permits.

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