Do I Need a Study Permit for ESL (English) Courses in Canada?

ESL in Canada

Quan, a 38-year-old from Vietnam, dreams of taking his business global. He knows good English is essential. Of course, English as a Second Language (ESL) courses could help. Therefore, he eyes Canada for its top ESL programs, thinking of chatting fluently in Calgary and other Canadian cities. But, he wonders, does he need a study permit? Can he travel to Canada with a simple visitor visa and study ESL? These questions lead Quan to dig into Canada’s immigration rules. He aims to master English and grow his business.

What is a visitor visa (TRV)?

I know you are here to learn about studying ESL in Canada. However, you must first learn some fundamental concepts. Most foreign nationals who intend to visit Canada must obtain a visa. We call these visas TRV, which stands for a Temporary Resident Visa. Unless exempt, you must get a TRV to travel to Canada. Moreover, this requirement remains critical regardless of the purpose of your visit. For example, the following people need TRVs.

  • Tourists
  • People who are visiting their friends or family members
  • Those who attend a seminar or symposium
  • Foreign workers
  • International students
  • Business visitors

A TRV appears as a counterfoil in your passport and serves two primary purposes:

  • Informs the airline you may board a plane destined for Canada
  • Reduces the possibility of being removed from Canada at the port of entry. However, it won’t eliminate this risk.

Some people are exempt from a TRV because of their nationality, the documents they hold, or their purpose of visit. Nonetheless, most need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). However, an eTA is not a visa but rather a security clearance. US citizens and permanent residents of the United States are exempt from TRV and eTA.

IRCC assigns a category code to each TRV to clarify the purpose of issuing the TRV. However, these codes are mainly used to help border officers assess visitors. For example, V-1 means you are a simple visitor, but S-1 means an international student who has also received a study permit. However, you could still enter Canada and study if you hold a V-1 visa and an actual study permit. Complicated, eh?!

What is a permit?

Before explaining ESL, let’s discuss another fundamental concept. A permit is a standalone document that allows you to remain in Canada. Unlike TRV, authorities won’t attach permits to your passport. These are the primary forms of permits in Canada:

Who needs a study permit?

Almost all international students need a study permit to study in Canada. However, the following people are exempt (practitioners see R188, R189, and A30(2)).

  • Candian citizens
  • Permanent residents
  • Diplomats’ family members or their private staff living in Canada for work.
  • Military members from certain countries who work in Canada.
  • Individuals enrolled in courses or programs of study that are six months or less in duration and will be completed within the period of their initial authorized stay in Canada.
  • Indigenous people are recognized by Canadian law.
  • Kids can attend school here without a special permit, except those whose parents can’t work or study in Canada.
  • People who have asked to renew their study permits can continue studying while waiting for an answer as long as they stay in Canada and follow the rules of their old permit.

I tried to simplify the list. Therefore, do not consider this list comprehensive. The fifth bullet point could address our question since most ESL courses are under six months.

Taking ESL courses that are less than six months

You may take an ESL course without a study permit if it meets the following requirements.

  • The course is less than six months.
  • It is not part of a diploma or college certificate program.
  • You have legal status in Canada.
  • You’ll complete the course within your initial authorized stay in Canada.

Examples of studying ESL in Canada

Here are four different examples:

Study ESL on Initial Six-Month Stay: No Visa Stamps or Records Needed

Upon entry, the officer allows you to remain in Canada for up to six months. This is evident because they did not stamp your passport or issue a visitor record. Consequently, you may study ESL in the first six months of your stay. However, if you extend your stay, you may not continue studying ESL.

Three-Month ESL Limit: Visitor Record’s Impact on Study Duration

The Border Services Officer (BSO) issues you a three-month visitor record. Therefore, you may study ESL within those three months only. Even extending the stay won’t allow you to study beyond three months.

Work Permit Advantage: Two-Year ESL Study Flexibility Without a Study Permit

You enter Canada and receive a work permit upon entry. The work permit allows you to remain in Canada for two years. During those two years, you may study ESL courses without a permit. However, none of the individual courses can be more than six months long and cannot be part of a degree program.

Re-Entry Renewal: Taking Multiple ESL Courses Across Separate Six-Month Visits

At the port of entry, the officer allows you to remain for six months. You take a four-month ESL course. You travel to Cuba and then enter Canada again. The officer allows you to stay for another six months. You may now take another ESL course if the duration is less than six months and you finish it before the expiration of your stay.

What happens if studying ESL without permission?

You may only study ESL if you hold a study permit or are exempt. If none apply, do not study ESL or other educational programs. Also, the officer may have limited your ability to study in Canada if you hold a visitor record, a TRP, or a work permit. Read the restrictions carefully. Because if you do not comply, you may face a removal order from Canada.

Let us help!

Whether you want to study ESL or interact with Canada in other ways, you must know the immigration law is confusing. Although the immigration authorities do not explain these complexities, they expect you to understand them. Therefore, booking a consultation session with me before making plans is best. If you are already facing issues, fill out the following form.

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.