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3 Strategies for International Students who plan to Study in Canada during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on 02/04/2020

If you are an international student who was planning to travel to Canada on a study permit and study at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), you may be worrying about Canada’s travel ban to all but citizens and permanent residents. Consider this important news:

The Canadian government has granted international students an exemption from the travel ban, but under very strict conditions. This means that:

  • You can travel to Canada if you have a study permit and the necessary documentation (letter of acceptance from a DLI etc.).
  • You will have to self-quarantine and study online from inside Canada until the lockdown is lifted.
  • By studying online from within Canada, you should be able to qualify for a Post-graduate Work Permit (PGWP) as soon as you complete your program of studies.

This means that international students have several strategies they can follow over the next few months as the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic run their course. Let’s get into more of the details of the restrictions involved and how your response can be guided by which strategy you choose. To keep things focused, we’ve limited ourselves to 3 main strategies you can follow in these difficult times.

Strategy I: Stay in your home country and study online at your DLI

Canadian post-secondary schools have ramped up their online educational platforms and many if not most programs can be taken online from a remote location. The problem is that if you study online by what is called distance learning especially from outside Canada, you may be ineligible for a PGWP. Here’s the relevant clause:

Students are ineligible if they

  • have previously been issued a post-graduation work permit
  • received funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

Note: This does not apply to Study in Canada Scholarship recipients who are eligible for a post-graduation work permit.

  • participated in the Government of Canada Awards Program funded by GAC
  • obtained the Equal Opportunity Scholarship, Canada–Chile
  • participated in the Canada–China Scholars’ Exchange Program
  • participated in the Organization of American States Fellowships Program
  • completed the majority of the credits toward the completion of their program of study by distance learning
  • completed a program of study delivered by a non-Canadian institution located in Canada, regardless of their length of stay in Canada

As you can see from the last two bullet points, you have to complete more than half your credits at a DLI in Canada in an offline environment (in a real classroom etc.). So, assuming you meet all the other eligibility requirements, this strategy ensures that you won’t qualify for a PGWP, unless you change strategies and travel to Canada at some point during your program of study, and assuming that you complete over half your credits offline at your DLI in Canada or even online in Canada. (see below)

If you aren’t planning to live and work in Canada after you graduate, then this strategy might work for you, as it avoids the complications and restrictions currently associated with travelling to Canada.

However, it will limit your options in the future and if at some point you wish to live and work in Canada, you will have to apply through Express Entry and compete with candidates from around the world. It’s feasible, but it’s a much tougher path to permanent residence in Canada than a PGWP.

Strategy II: Come to Canada and quarantine yourself while studying online

This strategy depends in large part on how and especially when immigration authorities in Canada decide to start opening up travel to the country again. Right now, it’s a tough guess to make but at least if you feel based on news reports and whatever progress is made in Canada against COVID-19, you can travel to Canada with the hope that your DLI will open up again for a shortened summer term, you can try this strategy. This means you study in Canada and begin the process of completing your program of study, starting in May or June, and begin qualifying for a PGWP.

If you decide on this route, you must adhere to the new guidelines for international students who come to Canada.  They are as follows:

  • Before you fly to Canada, you must put together a plan for how you will self-isolate for 14 days (see below) and for how you will seek medical help if you become sick. You should familiarize yourself with your province/territory’s healthcare plan but most likely you will need private insurance as well. You will need a secure place (an apartment for example, or an isolated basement apartment in a house) where you can self-isolate. Email or phone any contacts you have in Canada, and then put together your plan before
  • Before you board your flight to Canada you will have to pass a health check. It is unclear at this point if that will be at your point of departure (the airport in your country of residence) or whether it should be done with a doctor before you leave for the airport. It is most likely that the health check will happen at the airport where your flight leaves for Canada.
  • If you develop symptoms during the flight to Canada, inform the Border Services officials or you may be charged with a crime under the Quarantine Act (a Canadian law passed recently to implement the travel and other restrictions in Canada in response to COVID-19).
  • Arrive in Canada with your study permit and other documentation and have your health assessed by a Border Services official at your port of entry (the airport where you arrive normally). If you do not pass the health test you will have to follow the instructions given you at the airport.
  • You should also inform the border officials if you were in contact with someone displaying COVID-19 symptoms and then follow the instructions of the border official.
  • Go into your mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. You may begin to study online at your DLI at this point. If your DLI is under lockdown and only giving online courses, then your online courses will count towards your PGWP as if you were studying in a classroom.
  • This strategy is for optimists, but remember, your online courses will count towards your PGWP if your school is in lockdown and only offering online programs of study. So as long as you can adhere to the health guidelines and isolation requirements, you can get your degree/diploma/certificate AND your PGWP.
  • Having a plan before you get on the plane for how to self-isolate is key here in both strategy II and III (see below).

Strategy III: Wait a month or two and hope for a September opening of Schools

One could call this the more cautious or realistic strategy and betting that Canadian DLIs will open up again by September is not that far-fetched. It gives you time to lay out a self-isolation plan that you will need just as you do in the case of Strategy II, outlined above. This is because you will face the same restrictions and requirements to report on your health before and after flying to Canada, as well as self-isolating for 14 days after arriving in Canada.

Again, remember that if you have no choice but to take an online course because your school is still physically shuttered when you arrive sometime around or just before September, your online courses will still count towards your PGWP.

So, there are your 3 strategies.

Strategy I gets you your academic qualifications without the cost and hassle of traveling to Canada under the current restrictive regime, but you’ll have to forego your PGWP.

Strategies 2 and 3 keep you in the race for that PGWP but involve more planning as well as the costs of travelling and complying with the conditions of your exemption from the travel ban as an international student.

Take some time to think through these 3 strategies before deciding which one is best for you. This is one of the more important decisions you will make. Good luck and check back with us as more details emerge and we will share them with you.

Posted in News Tips and tagged PGWP, Study Permit

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