Can International Students Work in Canada?

Working as International Student in CanadaLiam is a 19-year-old international student from Sweden. While in Canada, he is studying an undergrad program at Brandon University in Manitoba. Liam’s parents called him a couple of days ago and told him they are financially in distress. Consequently, they can’t fully support him anymore. Liam has to work in Canada to cover part of his expenses. However, he wonders if Canadian laws allow him to work while studying as an international student.

Canada is a famous country for international students. According to Statistics Canada, more than 350,000 international students study at Canadian colleges and universities. Of course, you have to add thousands of students who come to Canada for English or French language training, elementary or secondary schools, and short-term programs to this number. While tuition fees and living expenses are relatively moderate in Canada, many students need to work to cover some or all their costs. Nevertheless, do Canadian immigration laws allow them to work in Canada?

Working Without a Study Permit

Sometimes you may study in Canada without a study permit. For example, programs that are less than six months are exempt from a study permit. If you study without a study permit, you may not work in Canada. Of course, if you hold a valid work permit, then you may work. In exceptional cases, you may work in Canada because the work is exempt from the requirements of a work permit.

Working While Studying at Elementary or Secondary Schools

I hate to deliver bad news, but with one exception, there is no provision under the immigration law that allows working for this group of international students. Whether you are a minor or not, studying at an elementary or secondary program does not qualify you to work in Canada.

As I mentioned earlier, there is one exception to this rule. To benefit from this exceptional situation, you need to meet all of the following:

  • You are studying in Quebec,
  • the program is a secondary vocational program leading to a diploma,
  •  the study permit is valid, and
  • you work less than 20 hours per week during regular academic sessions but up to full-time during usual breaks between academic sessions [Practitioners see R186(v)(ii)].

If you meet the conditions above, you may work on-campus or off-campus without a work permit. I have another article with more details on whether minor children could work in Canada.

Working on Campus

Finally, here is some good news! You may work on the campus of your school if you meet all the following requirements:

  • Your school is a university or college,
  • you hold a valid study permit,
  • you are a full-time student, and
  • the work occurs when you have a valid study permit [Practitioners see R186(f)].

Some examples of working on campus include, but are not limited to,

  • Teaching assistant (TA),
  • Barista – working at the school café,
  • Administrative assistant – office duties,
  • Library attendant,
  • Mailroom attendant,
  • Research assistant,
  • Fitness or personal trainer at the school gym,
  • Social media assistant,
  • Lifeguard, or
  • The campus tour guide.

Healthcare Students

Many healthcare students need to work at hospitals or clinics for their studies. Luckily, they may work in those facilities, but their work needs to be limited to their training. The regulator of the field also must approve the work. Since regulators usually have broad agreements with the colleges and universities, approval is not an issue in most cases [practitioners see – R186(p)].

Working Off-Campus

As an international student, you may work off-campus only if you meet all the following requirements:

You may work full-time during regular school breaks (e.g. the winter break). However, you may only work up to 20 hours per week during regular academic sessions [Practitioners see R186(v)].

Working After Completing Studies

Imagine you have completed your studies. Can you continue working in Canada? The answer is yes, under one of the following circumstances:

  1. Transitional situation: 
    • You have completed your studies,
    • your study permit is still valid,
    • you have applied for a work permit, and
    • the officer has not decided on your work permit application [Practitioners see R186(w)].
  2. Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP): You hold a valid PGWP [Practioners see R205(c)(ii)].

Family Members of International Students

Spouses or common-law partners of international students may apply for an open work permit. However, they may only apply if the international student holds a valid study permit and engages in full-time studies at one of the following designated learning institutions:

  • Colleges,
  • universities,
  • a public post-secondary institution,
  • a secondary institution in Quebec offering a vocational program,
  • publicly funded trade or technical schools, or
  • private institutions authorized by provincial statute to confer degrees, such as Private Career Colleges in Ontario [Practitioners see LMIA exemption code C42].

Remember, working without a work permit is not an option for spouses or common-law partners. The duration of the work permit for the spouses typically matches the validity of the study permit for the international student.

Destitute Students

Sometimes a significant unforeseen incident affects the financial status of an international student. For example, they may lose their parents or whoever pays for their expenses. Another example is an earthquake or floods back home that makes it impossible for their family members to support them. Luckily, the international student may apply for a temporary open work permit [Practitioners see R208(a)].

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If you need help securing a study permit or working as a student, fill out the following form. However, you may book an appointment with me or fill out our free assessment form.

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    Al Parsai, MA, DTM, RCIC
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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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.