International students caught by the Ontario college strike won’t risk their immigration status by withdrawing from the fall term and resuming studies in January.
That important news was issued Wednesday night by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. It contradicts the position offered earlier in the week by a senior analyst in the department who warned that students would violate the conditions of their Study Permit if they did not return to classes right away.
More than 40,000 international students lost five weeks of their term when 12,000 Ontario college staff went on strike this fall. The strike ended on Sunday, and the Ontario government has offered students two options: make up five weeks of work with two weeks of condensed and accelerated classes, or receive a full tuition refund for the fall term and resume classes in January.
Angie Laroque, senior policy analyst for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, told a Canadian Bureau of International Education conference in Halifax on Monday that students must return to class right away to be in compliance with the conditions of their Study Permit. Waiting to return to class until January would jeopardize their status in Canada and their ability to receive a Post-Graduation Work Permit after they finish their studies, she said.
“If students do choose to withdraw and don’t enrol in another program, then they are technically in violation of their Study Permit because they need to be enrolled and actively pursue studies,” she said. “It does jeopardize their status.”
But Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada communications advisor Faith St. John put out a detailed statement Wednesday night assuring international students that they will not be penalized for accepting the solution offered by the Ontario government.
“There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester,” St. John wrote in an email to Polestar News. “Students will be eligible for on- or off-campus work after they resume full-time classes in January 2018. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.”
St. John’s email offers detailed explanations for three other scenarios: international students who return to class right away; students who accept the refund but don’t enroll in January and students who accept the refund and want to return to their institution in the summer or fall of 2018.
- “Students who continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies following the strike: There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who, following the strike, continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies at their designated learning institution. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.
- Students who accept the refund and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester: Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada or they may leave Canada altogether. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for either on- or off-campus work or a co-op work permit, and will not be eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.
- Students who accept the refund and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester: Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for on- or off-campus work or the post-graduation work permit program. Students who change their status to visitor will need to apply for a new study permit from abroad if they wish to return to full-time studies.”
Aimee Calma, director of the College Student Alliance, said her group is trying to make sure all students, domestic and international, are not hurt if they decide to withdraw.
“It wasn’t their choice to miss classes, or to be put through what they have been put through in the last five weeks,” said Calma. “If a student wants to withdraw, then that’s something we absolutely advocate heavily for them to have that right. We’re very happy that there is a two-week window so that our students can feel things out and get a sense of what the rest of the semester is going to look like, and decide from there.”
Calma is encouraging students to continue to go to classes, and to contact their student associations and the Alliance with questions.
College and provincial government officials were still working out many details of the back-to-class plan this week. Tanya Blazina, media relations officer at the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, confirmed that full-time international students are eligible for a $500 “hardship fund” that will reimburse students for a unexpected costs created by the strike. It is unclear if the differential fee international students are required to pay will be refunded if they decide to withdraw.
This story was updated Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 to reflect the new policy announcement.