Over the past few weeks I have written about international students that choose to study in Canada. Typically when we think about international students we think of college and university students pursuing post-secondary education. This week I want to turn to another group of international students: minor international students studying in Canada at the primary and secondary school level.
Why do families choose Canada?
There are different reasons why a family may choose to have their minor child study in Canada as an international student: the child may be accompanying his or her parents as they work or study in Canada, or the family may have an immigration application in process and want their child to have a head start and study in Canada before the family receives their immigration status. However, in an increasing number of cases families are choosing for their minor children to study in Canadian primary and secondary schools and obtain a Canadian high school diploma.
The numbers are interesting and while there are no official numbers released for 2018 yet, the number of international students applying to the school boards in Ontario and British Columbia has increased significantly in the past five years.
Which school should we Choose?
Minor children can choose between a number of different school options: public schools, Catholic schools and private schools. Depending on the type of experience that the child or child’s family is looking for, it is possible to find a school that is suitable. Some schools offer homestay opportunities that allow their students to live with a local family. There are also boarding schools that allow students to live in the school’s dormitories. While there are many different school options, if you are looking to enrol in a private school it must be certified by the provincial Ministry of Education as a registered private school.
If you would like your child to study in Canada you should start the application process as soon as possible because spaces in schools fill up and you have to act fast to get into the most popular schools.
At what age should minor students come to Canada?
It is possible to study from grade 1 to 12 as a minor student. However, the most popular grades are in high school, and particularly grade 11 and 12, that allow students to become familiar with the Canadian education system, improve their English, and have a better chance of entering Canadian post-secondary education.
Who is a custodian?
Across Canada the age at which a child is considered a minor is different. For example in Ontario it is children under 18 but in British Columbia it is children under 19. If a minor child is studying in Canada, they must either be living with their parent or legal guardian, or they must have a custodian. A custodian is a responsible adult, who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who will take care of and support the minor child.
In the case of younger children it is often advisable that they be accompanied by at least one parent and we routinely obtain visitor visas for parents to accompany younger children studying in Canada. However, where a parent cannot accompany the child, a suitable custodian can be selected and the custodian must undertake to take care of the child in Canada. A custodian can be a close family member such as an aunt or uncle, or a trusted family friend. If it is not possible to find such a person there are companies that provide custodianship services.
Unfortunately, there is no clear federal or provincial program to oversee the custodians for international students; therefore it is extremely important for parents to ensure that they find qualified custodians for their children. The government will likely have to create a framework for supervision of custodians in the future as the number of minor international students increases across Canada.
Do minor students need a study permit?
Students that want to enroll fulltime in a school in Canada, for studies that are longer than 6 months, must have a valid study permit. Depending on the circumstances of each case an immigration lawyer can advise you of the required documents for the study permit application. It is important to note that one of the most important requirements in order to obtain a study permit is for the child’s family to demonstrate that they will be able to cover all the expenses related to the child’s studies and stay in Canada.
If you are interested in having your child study in Canada you must apply as early as possible as processing of study permits can take several weeks, and can become more complicated if coupled with a visitor visa application for an accompanying parent.
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.