Approximately 12,000 college professors, librarians and counsellors from 24 colleges across Ontario have been on strike since October 16, 2017 and roughly 500,000 college students across the province have been missing classes for the last month. This is a very stressful time for students who are left wondering whether they will lose this semester and if they can complete their studies in time and find jobs upon graduation. International students face greater challenges as they will need to consider the consequence of the delay on their study permits and their plans after they graduate.
Canadian universities and colleges have ramped up international recruiting of students over the past decade. The number of international students in Canada has increased dramatically and almost half of all international students currently study in Toronto’s universities and colleges. In fact the number of international students in Toronto has increased from 10% of college students in 2009 to over 20% of college students in 2015.
International students pay tuition fees that are often double or even triple the fees that domestic students pay. These international tuition revenues make up for lower domestic enrolment and decreasing funding faced by many colleges across Canada. And with the opportunity to apply for post-graduate work permits and potentially apply for permanent residency, more international students have been choosing Canada in recent years.
So what does this strike mean for the thousands of international students across Ontario? Of the regulations governing study permits, the following are the most important aspects that international students must consider if they are missing classes because of the college strike:
- All study permits include a condition that the student must be making continual progress towards the completion of their program. Students cannot abandon their studies and pursue other activities when they are in Canada with a study permit.
- International students are permitted to perform up to a maximum of 20 hours of work per week during regular school sessions. While students may be facing financial difficulties because they will have to incur additional living expenses from their prolonged semester, they are limited to working no more than 20 hours a week, even if they are not attending classes. They will need to ensure that they have the necessary funds to be able to pay their living expenses once classes resume. Some colleges may provide financial assistance to students if they are facing financial hardship as a result of the strike and international students should check with their college to find out about these programs.
- Students must demonstrate that they studied continuously to qualify for a post-graduate work permit and have a limited period of time after they complete their studies and obtain their diploma to apply for this work permit.
The good news is that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has already stated that students whose studies are affected by the labour dispute in Ontario’s colleges will not face enforcement action for not being able to fulfil the condition to be studying. Those international students who need to apply for extensions of their study permits must include a letter from their college’s registrar to confirm the impact of the strike. Further, the gap in studies resulting from the strike will not prevent students from applying for a post-graduate work permit.
The next round of votes in the strike action were held from November 14 to 16. Irrespective of the outcome of the vote, students have already missed more than a month of classes. International students need to carefully consider their situation, as well as their budgets, and act in time to ensure that they retain their legal status in Canada. Most importantly with the prolonged study periods, students should ensure that they apply to renew their study permits before they expire and where necessary make new work plans after the current semester is finally over.
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Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.