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IRCC Makes Positive Changes to the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program – February 2019, But First A Little Personal History About Pushing Change

Part 1: First – A Little Personal History about Pushing Change

In advance, I want to make clear that I am not writing this first section to make it appear as if I had anything to do with the changes announced today. This was done by concerned students, stakeholders, schools, other lawyers, and great IRCC policy people engaged in this issue. I am writing this because I’ve been asked by a number of young mentee law students/pre-law students recently (and other fellow junior lawyers) how I got so engaged with international student issues. Rather than just simply copy and paste the website changes, I thought the process of my interest, advocacy, and how it all plays in – may be of interest to some readers.

Since IRCC implemented their clarified directive Study Permits: Assessing study permit conditions I had a feeling that new instructions on the PGWP would be coming. A month ago, Immigration Representatives confirmed to me by email that this was the case:

Actively pursuing studies

A month later, on Valentine’s Day no less, IRCC placed some little cards into the brown paper bags tied into the back of plastic chairs of international students (sorry – as you can tell I’m getting off topic and nostalgic, as I write) .

As frequent readers of this blog will know, I have been advocating for PGWP changes for several years now, having assisted many clients in various stages of challenges with this program – ranging from eligibility concerns, to initial applications at Inland Offices, VOs, and POEs, to the Federal Court, and reconsideration requests. I gave talks, wrote a lot of articles, had student clients who speoke to media, and advised schools – all because of the uncertainty. At one of my talks I think I described being an international student in Canada as being caught in a rough ocean with a life jacket on and a PR island that often appears too far to swim to.

The past few years began to see a lot of challenges in the area. Refusal rates began to climb and international students, especially from those with non-traditional study programs or for reasons outside of their control had to take leaves in order to complete their studies. While I was successful in restoring several international students who had been refused, either for having their study permits lapse or having paid less than the required fees, the case law during the time (notable FC cases from Raj Sharma and later Ravi Jain), started to close the door on that process.

There was also a huge health toll, one that was lost in the rhetoric of blame placed on international students in mainstream media. I talked a bit about it with journalist, Melanie Green here.

International students, many already dealing with separation anxiety, isolationism, and culture shock, not only pay often times 3 to 4 times the tuition than domestic students, but also face other barriers limiting their ability to work and seek access to crucial settlement services.

From a personal perspective, my own spouse was at the time going through the international student experience as were her colleagues (and I was footing the bill of course!) I saw these issues affect a lot of her friends, especially the financial challenges. Personal experience goes a long way into building a passion for practice.

Looking back, given  I was having a conversation about this with IRCC program managers such under three years ago about the need for change – it has indeed been a long time coming.  It has been incremental – but now there is a clear list of DLIs on the website, as discussed earlier, the aforementioned actively pursuing studies requirement was clarified, and now this.

I am very proud of IRCC for stepping up for international students. Without further ado, here are the changes.

Part 2: The Changes

IRCC’s changes can be found here and are titled “Program delivery update: Processing Instructions for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.”

There are two major changes from IRCC and one change that I would also add to the list, around the leave provision.

Change 1: Deadline to Apply Extended from 90 Days to Six Months

There is now a six month period, instead of a 90 day period in which to apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit. This gives a lot of flexibility for students to further explore after graduation whether they want to continue studying or apply for a post-graduate work permit. It also removes a lot of the uncertainty which arose when a student was told they had completed their studies but did not formally graduate until several months later, creating confusion on the 90 day period starting point. Six months will make that much better.

One of the things I do see arising out of this is change is a lot of schools that were previously thwarted (or had negative fallout) from four-month add on programs now integrating it into their programs. The raison-d’etre is that these programs could assist into entry-to practice and help students secure employment without killing valuable time off their PGWPs. It may also encourage some students to continue studies rather than graduate and apply for PGWPs.

This could create problems though if a student applies at month 4 of 6, makes a mistakes, and becomes ineligible for restoration. Furthermore, I think IRCC and related stakeholders do have a role to play with respect to sussing out that interplay between R.222(1) (a) IRPR which could invalidate the student status of individuals who intend to apply for a PGWP at month 4 or 5 but not continue their studies. These students could lose status unknowingly.

The possible solution? Visitor Record Extensions may need to be employed to bridge between end of student status and prior to a PGWP application.

Change 2: No need to hold a valid study permit while applying for a PGWP

This is a big one – which unfortunately came off the backs of several deserving applicants who were refused. Previously, students whose study permits were going to expire before they were able to apply for PGWP had to extend their status, creating a weird scenario where they had graduated but still had to apply to maintain student status at the institution. This also affected a lot of students who decided to leave Canada right after they graduated and apply abroad, forgetting to extend their study permits.

This was also the main issue in my colleague Ravi Jain’s case of Nookala v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2016 FC 1019 which unfortunately for awhile closed the door.

Now the language is hold or held a study permit.

This also opens the door for restoration at least within the six month period. This goes again to the importance of applying earlier (rather than later) for a PGWP in most circumstances.

I would like a little more clarity around Restoration and think it should be a separate section on the program guidelines.

Change 3: Leave Exception – Discretion to Issue PGWP Where Not Continuous Full-Time Studies

IRCC has added to their instructions information about leave which specifically carve out an exception for those students who took a leave.

The Instruction state:

Leave from studies

If the applicant remained in Canada while a student and took leave from their studies during their program, the officer must determine if the applicant was compliant with the conditions of their study permit, as outlined in Assessing study permit conditions. Officers may request additional documents to complete their assessment. Per paragraph R220.1(1)(b), students must

  • be enrolled at a DLI
  • remain enrolled
  • be actively pursuing their course or program of study

If the officer determines that the student actively pursued studies during their leave, the student may still be eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP).

If it is determined that the student has not met the conditions of their study permit, they may be banned from applying for a post-graduation work permit for 6 months from the date they stopped their unauthorized study or work, per subparagraph R200(3)(e)(i).

This suggests that in addition to leeway – there could also be individuals banned from applying, depending on the time elapsed before graduation. However, as we know there is also a final semester rule that does provide some comfort to international students who are part-time in their final semester.

IRCC’s Guidelines on Leave provide more insight on how this may apply in practice:

D. Leave from studies

Students may be required or may wish to take leave from their studies while in Canada. For the purpose of assessing if a student is actively pursuing their studies, any leave taken from a program of studies in Canada should not exceed 150 days from the date the leave commenced and must be authorized by their DLI.

A student on leave who begins or resumes their studies within 150 days from the date the leave commenced (that is, the date the leave was granted by the institution) is considered to be actively pursuing studies during their leave. If a student does not resume their studies within 150 days, they should do either of the following:

If they do not change their status or leave Canada, they are considered non-compliant with their study permit conditions.

In cases where a student has taken multiple periods of leave in Canada during their program of study, the officer should consider the student’s reasons for the various periods of leave. If the multiple periods of leave do not appear to support the expectation that the student is making reasonable progress toward the completion of their course or program of study in the time allotted by the course or program of study, the officer may determine that the study permit holder has not fulfilled the condition to actively pursue their course or program of study.

Examples of reasons for leave include but are not limited to the following:

  • medical illness or injury
  • pregnancy
  • family emergency
  • death or serious illness of a family member
  • change in program of study within the same institution, outside a regularly scheduled break
  • dismissals or suspensions (dependent on degree of severity)
  • postponed program start date (see Deferred enrollment for more information)

E. Deferred enrollment

In exceptional circumstances, a student may be required to defer their program’s start date to the next semester. If the student defers their program start date, it should be formally approved by the DLI. In some cases, the deferral is imposed by the DLI.

If the study permit holder is in Canada at the time of deferral, and they wish to remain in Canada, they must begin their studies the following semester or within 150 days from the date the deferred enrollment is confirmed, whichever comes first. Otherwise, they should do either of the following:

Note: In all deferral cases, students should obtain an updated letter of acceptance from the DLI.

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/temporary-residents/study-permits/assessing-conditions.html#leave

I still think there are some gaps such as deferred registration (see below) but ultimately it does give Officer’s a level of discretion. My hope is they will continue to rely on the support/guidance of DLIs when making their decisions on whether to grant an exception and issue the PGWP to students who rely on this exception.

Ongoing Challenge – Full-Time Studies Definition

There are a few issues that still remain that I think can be better addressed in new program delivery instructions.

IRCC has now clarified that full-time student status is now for ‘each academic session of the program or programs’ – replacing full-time for the program.

Full-time studies 

  • They have maintained full-time student status in Canada during each academic session of the program or programs of study they have completed and submitted as part of their post-graduation work permit application

I still find this definition problematic – for one because many schools operate on non-traditional calendars and in many cases there is both financial and career incentive to study part-time in the summer rather than full-time during the semester. I think it is not equal practice to have different sets of rules apply to international students and domestic students.

These rules may further tighten that definition. I think it is an area where more advocacy and putting the ball back into the Court of institutions (but holding institutions to higher standards) may be the best solution.

I’m seeing one of the fall outs of these instructions putting more discretion in the hands of Officers as opposed to institutions. This is one point to monitor as we move forward.

Guideline Applicability Start Date – Remedy for Recent PGWP Refusals 

The rules kick in for applications starting today, with applications received before today considered under the old rules.

Eligiblity of Rules

Client who were refused PGWPs and are still within the initial six month period of being eligible to apply under the new guidelines may want to try and submit, if they meet the other requirements.

What Should Schools and DLI’s Do

I have three initial steps for DLIs and institutions to consider how to take into account these new changes.

  1. Do an Audit of Existing Materials – Website, Print, Agents, Advertising

These changes will undoubtedly require a massive overhaul of materials. It is important, as we have seen from litigation in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Alberta recently for schools to either take best efforts in disseminating correct information or not disseminating any at all. A half-hearted approach is probably the most harmful.

2. Consider Program Changes

Again, with the new 6 month period to apply for PGWPs schools can start getting quite creative and benefit their students with tack-on programs that could help students secure jobs shortly after obtaining PGWPs in a way they couldn’t before. I can see adding on business and experience-based learning type programs to the end of completed programs. Schools may want to look into these

3. Consider Prospective Policy Changes and Advocacy

Change usually begats change. I have heard that some schools were presumptive in trying to tell agents that they were close to getting PGWPs. That hasn’t occurred with these instructions. Yet, there may be a lot of room for schools to advocate both to the Federal and Provincial Governments for programs whose graduates are bringing major benefit to the Canadian economy and social fabric. More programs to facilitate these individuals, in areas such as theological studies, film and television, and the arts should be pursued – ideally through PNP pathways.

I also see a change not too far in the horizon regarding schools (perhaps first secondary and elementary) being limited by a quota system in the number of Letters of Acceptance they are able to submit.  This is apparently the Australian model, something worth studying as the numbers for study permits increase and refusal decisions no longer are able to withstand judicial scrutiny.

Finally, what to do about international student fraud and the lack of any regulation of education consulting. The capital outflows occurring as a result of the current fee-for-seat system and the presence of global recruiters/agents is not tenable. The system will change as soon as the political will, which in B.C. is clearly there, goes along side.

Interesting times for our international student regime!

 

Tracking What it Updates – One Simple Step IRCC Can Take to Enhance Procedural Fairness

When new changes occur to IRCC’s Guidelines and programs it can take several forms and be communicated to applicants in several ways.

Of those communication methods, we see most often Program Delivery Updates, Notices, and new Operational Bulletins. Legislative changes are often announced through Ministerial Instruction and the GOC’s Canada Gazette.

Most of these changes are relatively well-documented and updated quite quickly after the change is announced. On a side note, I would suggest the Program Delivery Updates could be a little more clearer, as even for myself, who read them religiously. Some of the changes IRCC introduced are hard to track in the text.

The one major gap that IRCC has is in updating it’s new instruction guides, new visa-office specific guides, and new forms. Recently, we’ve seen several of these changes occur without corresponding changes to the website indicating that the document has been updated. In the case of some of the forms, they have even been backdated to reflect when the document was originally created rather than when it was made public. All of this creates confusion, and for IRCC likely more litigation.

Below are just a few examples.

1) The Document Checklist (IMM 5488) for Work Permit Outside Canada is dated February 2015 as per CIC’s website.

february 2015 actual dat3e

The Actual Document is dated November 2015.

work permit example

In reality, the document was uploaded sometime late December 2015/early January 2016.

2) Below is the most recent Study Permit Visa Specific Instruction Guide for Applicants from India

 

manual date

The CIC Website displays the most recent document as being September 2015.

update dates indiaJPG

 

Implications

For Applicants, the risk with submitting outdated forms is that the Applicants may be refused and or returned for incompleteness.  This is particularly true when the document checklist or forms contain new fields that are not in the old versions. CIC may offer some sort of “grace period” but this is solely discretionary and as far as I am aware there is no CIC policy on the reasonable transition period for which they will accept old versions in lieu of the updated versions.

 

Possible IRCC Solution – Updates Database

I understand that IRCC is working on several strategies in support of digitizing their program integrity and integrating their various networks.

With all these changes sure to occur there needs to be some adequate (publicly available) tracking of all these changes. In fact, anytime a webpage or form changes, it should trigger an update.

This page can also serve as an amalgamation of all the changes occurring across all of IRCC’s platforms.

This is important for several reasons. In the post-Dunsmuir reasonableness era, applicants are more hardpressed to try and show an Officer’s decision was made unreasonably on the merits, particularly when they are owed deference and their judgment falls within the reasonable realm of possibilities. Courts are still eager to point out situations where they may have made different decisions had they assessed the case, but maintain their role is not to readjudicate the decision but rather review the Officer’s decision-making process.

Procedural fairness issues, which (in most contexts) do not require that the Court provide any deference to the decision-maker are stronger in the context of litigation.  I believe you will see increasingly applicants attempting to show that the IRCC guidelines created legitimate expectations (i.e. that IRCC;s website showed the latest updated version that the applicant had legitimate reason to rely on). For a good case about the doctrine of legitimate expectations read Lebel J’s unanimous judgment in Agraia v. Canada (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness) 2013 FC.

Also, several of recent CIC/IRCC Guidlines, the IP 8 – Spouse or Common Law in Canada Class at 17.4 (pg 62) and OB-265A – January 8, 2016 Email Communication with Clients, seem to contemplate an increase of Reconsideration Requests from Applicants with refused applications. This may be a broader trend that IRCC is taking towards reducing the high-cost of Federal Court litigation.

Furthermore, there is  case law on the procedural duty of fairness owed to applicants to consider new documents where  the change in requirements does not arise directly from legislation or regulations and instead a product of IRCC policy.

In Noor v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2011 FC 308, an Indian Permanent Resident applicant was refused for failing to include an item in the Visa-Office specific instructions for permanent residence applications from India. The instruction guide had changed in the middle of application processing and asides from the new document having changed dates, there was no indication provided by IRCC to the Applicant of the change.

In assessing whether a breach of procedural fairness had arisen in the Officer failing to consider additional documentation the Applicant submitted in his Reconsideration Request to try and rectify the error. Scott J writes (emphasis added):

B. Was there a breach of procedural fairness?

30     The Applicant notes that his own failure to submit the correct documents on his original application resulted from the very recent changes to the Visa Office-Specific Instructions posted online. He notes that this was a dramatic and important change, not widely publicized but rather buried in an otherwise unmodified instruction kit. He further points out that the Visa Officer was clearly aware that he was using the old kit, as he attached a copy of its checklist with his application, but that rather than give him the opportunity to correct his application, his application was rejected. The Applicant acknowledges that the Visa Officer may not always be under an obligation to inform an applicant of the deficiencies of his application, but argues that in the unique circumstances of this case, procedural fairness required that he be given some kind of opportunity to provide the missing documents, in view of the recent modification, which was only ascertainable by reading the extra bullet point. The Applicant notes the Officer’s explanation that the refusal to rectify his file came about because of the “reasonable expectation” that he check the new instructions, but argues that this was in fact unreasonable in the circumstances of this case.

31     The Applicant notes that there is no duty of fairness case that is directly on point. However, he cites from Athar v. Canada (MCI), 2007 FC 177, which canvassed jurisprudence on cases involving permanent residence applicants facing credibility concerns at hearings, and whether they should be informed of the deficiencies of their applications. At para. 17 of Athar:

    • [There] may still be a duty on the part of a Visa Officer, in certain situations, to provide an applicant with the opportunity to respond to his or her concerns, in accordance with the rules of procedural fairness.

32     Athar also cites Hassani v. Canada (MCI), 2006 FC 1283, where Justice Mosley wrote:

    • [It] is clear that where a concern arises directly from the requirements of the legislation or related regulations, a Visa Office will not be under a duty to provide an opportunity for the applicant to address his or her concerns. Where however the issue is not one that arises in this context, such a duty may arise.

33     The Applicant argues that the requirements in this case did not arise from the Act or the regulations, which do not lay out any documentation requirements, but rather from a change in a specific policy. It would have been easy to give the Applicant the opportunity to rectify his application, especially as the Visa Officer was aware that he used the incorrect kit, and this would have satisfied the duty of fairness in the unique circumstances of this case.

34     The Respondent counters that in the Visa Officer decisions, the content of the duty of fairness when determining visa applications has been held to be towards the lower end of the range, as per Patel v. Canada (MCI), 2002 FCA 55, para 10, and Malik, para 29. Given that the Applicant must establish certain criteria to succeed in his application, the Respondent argues that the Applicant should assume that the Visa Officer’s concerns will arise directly from the Act and the regulations, and the onus remains on him to provide the correct documentation. Here, the Applicant was asked to submit a full application, including the documents listed in the Visa Office-Specific Instructions. The Respondent argues that the Applicant was specifically directed to use the 04-2009 Kit, and that this was available five (5) months prior to the submission of his full application.

35     The Applicant is correct in pointing out that the documentation requirements are not set out in the Act or the regulations, but only in the online instruction kit. While this Court did not find that Malik and Nouranidoust could support the Applicant’s first issue, the comments made by the judges in those cases (advising that new documentation ought to be allowed in certain cases) is persuasive in the context of the duty of fairness owed to someone in the Applicant’s distinct situation. It was clear to the Visa Officer that the Applicant was using the older kit, which had recently been changed, yet he was afforded no opportunity to rectify this simple error. Furthermore, the Respondent is incorrect in stating that the Applicant was specifically advised to use the 04-2009 Kit. The letter sent to the Applicant on July 28 (found as Exhibit B to the Applicant’s affidavit, Applicant’s Record p 31) simply directs him to the CIC website for “Visa office-specific forms and a list of supporting documents require by the Visa office”. There is no specific indication at all that these requirements would have changed.

36     The Applicant clearly stated in his request for reconsideration that he had used the old instruction kit. The Court finds that this should have been clear to the Officer making the initial decision, as a copy of the kit’s checklist was attached. Even with a low duty of fairness, in the specific circumstances of this case, that duty required the Visa Officer to consider the new documents.

This case is by no-means precedential and has been distinguished in a few cases since. However, in my mind it creates enough of a model for a litigant to pursue recourse where guidelines are outdated and the applicant’s efforts to request reconsideration are refused without analysis.

If IRCC were to create a central, publicly available database of changes and direct Applicants on all refusal letters to the database this could seek to remedy procedural fairness issue concerns.

At the very least, it would certainly drive down the cost of litigation, encourage more collaborative dispute resolutions and overall is good to encourage more access to justice for self-representing applicants.