Last update: 10:17am EST, July 28, 2020.
In a normal year, hundreds of thousands of international students come to Canada to pursue their studies. But, as you know, 2020 is not a normal year.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to everything international students need to know about study permits and studying in Canada during COVID-19. From travel restrictions, to study permit applications, to post-graduation work permit eligibility. We’ve got you covered.
Moving2Canada is committed to providing up-to-date accurate information amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Please refer to the end of this article for our list of sources.
Can international students travel to Canada during COVID-19?
If you have a valid study permit or you received your study permit approval letter prior to 12pm EDT on March 18, 2020, you may be able to travel to Canada as long as you are travelling for a non-optional / non-discretionary reason (see below).
If you do choose to travel to Canada, you must respect the public health requirements that have been put in place. This includes the wearing of masks while in transit and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival.
Unfortunately, if you were approved for your study permit after 12pm EDT on March 18, 2020, you are not eligible to travel to Canada at this time (unless you meet one of the other exemptions to Canada’s travel restrictions).
Take note: Canada’s travel restrictions will be updated in response to the progression of COVID-19, both in Canada and around the world. Stay tuned to our COVID Newsfeed for the latest updates.
What is considered “non-optional / non-discretionary travel” for international students?
International students who hold a valid study permit, those who were approved for a study permit prior to 12pm EDT on March 18, 2020, as well as those coming from the United States may be eligible to travel to Canada if they are travelling for a non-optional / non-discretionary reason.
The final decision as to whether or not an international student’s travel is non-discretionary will rest with the border officer with whom they speak. However, border officers will consider the following:
- Is the student established, residing, and studying in Canada? If the student is established in Canada, their return is non-discretionary.
- Is the student expected to begin studying upon arrival after completing their quarantine?
- Is the student’s presence in Canada necessary for their continued participation in the program (for labs, workshops, etc.)?
- Is pursuing online studies not an option for their school or program or not possible from their home country (for example, due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitation)?
- Has the student’s semester been cancelled or will the person begin studying later in the year?
A border officer will make the final decision about a student’s admission to Canada at the Canadian port of entry.
Is Canada still processing study permit applications?
Yes. Canada is still processing study permit applications. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has indicated that many immigration applications are experiencing processing delays due to the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration department.
Canada has adopted a new two-step process for study permit applicants which will enable some international students to begin their Canadian studies without a final approval on their study permit (refer below).
How does Canada’s new two-step approval process for study permits work?
Normally, an international student living outside Canada has to submit a complete study permit application and receive an approval letter before they can travel to Canada and begin their studies. After receiving their approval letter, the student may travel to Canada where they activate their study permit at the Canadian port of entry (POE).
The new two-step process enables students to begin their studies remotely, via distance learning, while receiving a sort of halfway-approval on their study permit. This is because, as many of Canada’s immigration offices around the world are closed or offering reduced services, many study permit applicants are unable to obtain and submit some of the documents required for their study permit applications, including biometrics, medical examination results, and their original travel documents.
The new two-step process is as follows:
Step One: Approval-in-principle & distance learning
Study permit applicants must begin by submitting their application for a study permit, even if they are unable to obtain some of the normally-required documents. Under the new two-step system, study permit applicants may submit their study permit applications without their:
However, study permit applicants will still need to submit:
- Letter of acceptance from a designated learning institution (DLI) in Canada,
- Proof of funds,
- Proof of eligibility for a study permit aside from documents unavailable due to COVID, and
- Only for Quebec schools: Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ).
If a study permit applicant submits an application that would be deemed eligible aside from missing any of the above-mentioned documents, immigration officers will issue the applicant an “approval-in-principle.” With the approval-in-principle, the study permit applicant is authorized to begin their Canadian studies from abroad.
Notably, international students who begin their studies from abroad can count their time spent studying abroad towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, as long as 50 percent of their studies are eventually completed inside Canada. However, an international student cannot begin their Canadian studies until they receive an approval-in-principle on their study permit application.
Step Two: Submit missing documentation & full approval
Once a student is able to obtain and submit the missing documents for their study permit application, they must do so. At this point, immigration officers will assess the final study permit application and decide whether to approve or refuse the application. Receiving an ‘approval-in-principle’ in Step One does not guarantee that a study permit will be issued.
In normal circumstances, once a study permit applicant receives the approval letter for their study permit, they can travel to Canada and activate the permit at a port of entry. However, due to Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, only study permit applicants approved prior to March 18, 2020, are eligible to travel to Canada. Applicants approved after this date must monitor Canada’s travel restrictions for updates to see when they’ll be eligible for travel.
What if I can’t get all the documents required for my study permit application?
As described in the above question, study permit applicants may submit an incomplete application is they are unable to obtain or submit one of the following documents due to COVID-19:
- Medical exam,
- Police certificates, and/or
- Original travel documents.
No study permit application will be refused if those documents are missing as a result of COVID-19. Instead, study permit applicants may be able use the new two-step application process to begin their studies from abroad via distance learning until they can obtain the necessary documents and safely travel to Canada.