International students must navigate complex rules regarding work in Canada: The Rules, Simplified

April 2018

Can I work in Canada while I am studying? This seems like the type of question that should be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. However, what most international students don’t realize is that the answer is not as straightforward as they think.

International students can work if they are full-time students enrolled in a Designated Learning Institution and their study permit authorizes them to work on-campus full time under Section 186 (f) of the Immigration and Refugee Regulations or off-campus under Section 186 (v) of the Immigration and Refugee Regulations.

Over the past several years, the rules surrounding working off-campus have been unclear, and in some cases, contradictory. On March 12 2018, IRCC updated their guidelines on study permits: off-campus work in response to grumbling lawyers and international students.

Section 186 (v) (iii) of the Immigration and Refugee Regulations, states that students may work off-campus for 20 hours per week during a school semester, and full-time during a regularly scheduled break that is part of the school’s academic calendar. International students cannot work off-campus if they are enrolled in a course or program of study that is a pre-requisite for their program, such as English or French classes.

That seems straightforward enough. But consider these scenarios:

  1. Excited about starting a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Laura arrived in Ottawa several weeks prior to the start of her program. While exploring the area around her university, she met the owner of a local café. Impressed by Laura’s enthusiasm, the owner offered her a full-time job as a barista until she can start school. Laura accepted the offer and began working immediately.


  2. Ahmed is in his final semester of his Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. He only needs two courses to finish his degree. Ahmed increased his hours as a server from part-time to full-time during his final semester.


  3. Hye-Won finished her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in April. She decided to stay in Canada for the summer as she is starting her Master’s degree in September. She worked full-time at a bookstore during the summer.


  4. After a tough first month, Jesus decided to take two weeks off from school. At the end of the two weeks, Jesus decided to leave the business program he was enrolled in. Instead, he enrolled in the Graphic Design program. Jesus continued working part-time until his new program started in January.


    Did these students have authorization to work?  


  1. The new guidelines make it clear that Laura should not have started working before her school program started. Laura only became eligible to work off-campus as a full-time student when her program of study began.


  2. Ahmed was not authorized to work full-time during his final semester. According to the new guidelines, students who have maintained their full-time status for the duration of their program, and who only require a part-time course load in their final semester, may work off-campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week during their final semester.


  3. Hye-Won can work full-time between her two programs if:

    1. She received written confirmation that she completed her Bachelor’s program

    2. She received a letter of acceptance for her Master’s program

    3. The Master’s program is beginning within 150 days from the day she received the letter of completion of her first program

    4. She applied to extend her stay as a student or her study permit is still valid


  4. Jesus should have stopped working immediately when he discontinued his studies. The two weeks break from school was considered a leave from studies, as opposed to a regularly scheduled break. Further, he was not authorized to work while waiting for his new program to begin.

As can be seen from the above examples, the answer to the question of “can I work while I am studying” is complicated. Students who work without the proper authorization will be in violation of Section 30 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Act and are ‘inadmissible’ to Canada. A finding of inadmissibility can lead to refused future applications and removal from Canada.

On future applications, students must disclose if they worked without the proper authorization. Failure to disclose periods of unauthorized work is considered misrepresentation. If a finding of misrepresentation is made, then the student will be barred from entering Canada for a five-year period.

The new guidelines cleared up several questions which had been lingering. However, the wording of the new guideline is difficult to follow and, in some cases, requires multiple readings.

An example of this is IRCC’s explanation of whether students can work during a regularly scheduled break, such as summer break while taking some courses. The guidelines explain this by stating “Students who are enrolled full time during the academic sessions before and after a regularly scheduled break and who decide to undertake a full-time or part-time course load during that regularly scheduled break are eligible to work off campus on a full-time basis”.

Can I just yell out RUN-ON SENTENCE? IRCC should have considered that its audience, immigration lawyers and students, continuously suffer from caffeine jitters!

If you are unsure of whether you can work while studying, then please contact us and we would be happy to assist. Stay tuned for our newsletter next month where we will talk about the process of applying for a post-graduate work permit.