Designated Learning Institutions

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What To Do About 20,000 High Risk International Students? – Government Policy Making and it’s Important Implications

Based on the most recent publicly-available figures, as of 31 December 2014, there were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 336,502 international students with valid permit in Canada (see: November 2015, IRCC Presentation).

From an internal policy document obtained through Access to Information (“ATIP”), we know that prior to the national launch of the Designated Learning Institution (“DLI”)  Compliance Reporting Portal on (“DLI Portal”) on 15 April 2015, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now “IRCC”) estimated that there were 20,000 students identified as high risk. These were classified as students that were labelled as unknown/no record, no longer enrolled, and academic suspension.

What this mean mathematically, is that around 6% of all study permit holders in Canada were considered high risk as of April 2015.


Glossary of Definitions – International Students

Please see below pdf extract from the same ATIP laying out a glossary of definitions for international students:


As a side note: Interestingly, enough the definition for “full-time” student only requires a student to be registered in 60% or more of the program’s full course load during an academic session with 60% of the course load requiring the student’s physical attendance at the Learning Institution in Canada. It is surprising the specific nature of these definitions is not provided by IRCC on their program delivery guide (see: here)

What to do with High Risk Students?

In this heavily redacted portion of the ATIP (including 56 pages altogether excluded on the basis that it is information the Government intends to publish shortly), we get a picture of the challenges Government faces when coming up with policy to monitor high-risk students.

The first option proposed (Option 1), appears to be compliance reporting specifically for those high risk students – reviewing GCMS for non-compliant cases and contacting those students to update their enrollment status through MyCIC to provide information that they are enrolled in a Designated Learning Institution (“DLI”).

The proposed ideas was that this would be done before the procedural fairness letter is issued and the case referred, simultaneously reducing the workload for the International Student Program team. Several potential “Cons” were indicated – that direct contact info for the students may not available, that this effort would duplicate the issuance of a procedural fairness letter, and that mass emails may be filtered out by spam blockers.

Option 2 was likely redacted by the ATIP.

Option 3 is also redacted, but can be deduced as sending out a mass procedural fairness letter to all students not registered at. What is interesting to deduce from this, is IRCC’s acknowledgment that the current process may not provide a fair opportunity to respond and that this would be one of the “Pros” of the process. One of the “Cons” identified is that mass-procedural fairness letters could not be sent out and that each Regional Office or Case Management Branch (“CMB”)would have to assess and send out individual procedural fairness letters. Another interesting aspect mentioned was that this process may go through the services of an immigration representative, which appears to circumvent the intention to go directly to the student to verify.

Option 4 is also redacted by the ATIP. However, we can somewhat deduce that this option  involves contacting the DLIs with a list of students who would then self-report to Regional offices or CMB.  The “Pros” of this option would that it would limit the procedural fairness letters and emails, with one of the corresponding Con that the Regional offices and CMB would receive large volume of records.

It is a little unclear from the pages that follow, but it appears that either Option 1 (again without knowledge of Option 2 is) was selected. However, as we have yet to see a clear policy manual or program delivery update on this, one can assume it is still pending release by the Government.

Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) – Coordination Needed

The discussion of procedural fairness and the need to contact the student or the representative prior to looking into non-compliance raises an interesting issue.

Currently, several of the one-year exclusion orders issued by Canada Border Services Agency Minister’s Delegates – pursuant to s.29(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. 

Exclusion order for non-compliance

As the legislation currently stands, R. 228(v) sets out that for this type of non-compliance, the Minister’s Delegate, upon determining the report was properly referred, must issue a specified removal order – by way of a one-year exclusion order.

Where this becomes challenging is in the context of a detained international student – who in a 10-15 minute Minister’s Delegate Review and usually without the ability to access their own educational records, must try and convince the Minister’s Delegate not to issue an exclusion order. The “procedural fairness” as contemplated by the IRCC’s policy options – giving the student a chance to provide proof of compliance is nearly impossible in this circumstance.

Furthermore, the basis of the evidence, presumably attendance records provided by the DLIs are themselves difficult to classify as “neutral.” I have seen more than one case where DLIs were eager to cooperate with CBSA to have problem-students removed, themselves eager to keep a clean record for their business.

Cracking down on Educational Consultants/Non-Compliant DLIs

Another thing that the DLI compliance regime is mum on, and in my opinion, needs to take a more than serious look at is the number of DLIs and “ghost consultants” that are themselves not compliant with the International Student Program.

One of the more common schemes, involves a third-party educational consultant/ghost consultant who does not charge for the “immigration services” but assists the student in obtaining a student permit for a DLI that they receive a back-end payment from. Educational consulting is an important industry, but arguably needs to be regulated by the Province in much the same way that other professionals such as Immigration Consultants and Lawyers are.

These services are having detrimental effects on international students in that, because they are not licensed nor trained to provide immigration services, their applications usually contain a litany of mistakes and often misrepresentations.

Currently a misrepresentation and non-compliance added together, under R. 229(3)(b), can be the grounds for deportation order if so pursued by CBSA.

Furthermore, many of the DLIs themselves do not have clear policies on non-attendance. Attendance records are not accurately kept or taken, often provided to CBSA retrospectively.

Solution – Provide International Students an Opportunity to Respond/and or a Warning Letter

Ideally IRCC’s new policy will be a collaborative effort enforcement arms like CBSA to ensure that procedural fairness is provided in the context of student’s non-compliant with their study permit conditions.

The requirement that students must actively pursue studies and remain enrolled in a DLI is a laudable one – abuse of the International Student Program is too frequent, taking resources and spots from future Canadian permanent residents and citizens who need Canadian studies as a launching pad.

At the same time, however, with a policy that is very paternalistic and unforgiving in design – procedural fairness elements must be implemented.

In my perspective, releasing detained clients (on conditions, if necessary) and providing them 30 days to respond is a baseline requirement. I also think, that in several cases, a warning letter may be more appropriate. Students may have communication issues with their DLIs, personal events may have impacted an international student’s studies. These are all valid considerations currently not being considered by the current compliance regime.

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VIB STUDENT WEEK (Post 2): BRAVING THE FALLS – Canadian Immigration Challenges and Designated Learning Institutions



Without drowning out the metaphor, it is clear that the Canadian immigration environment that Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Designated Learning institution (“DLIs”) find themselves in today is more akin to a huge waterfall than a calm ocean.

Over the past two years, DLIs have found themselves subject to increased scrutiny, tasked with greater and increased responsibility, and have been left arguably uncertain as to how to best advise international students (“International Students”) on their various Canadian immigration challenges. DLIs now have to answer to provincial educational authorities as well as the Federal government, all eager to ensure appropriate compliance. All this in the context of most student advisors (those that are not certified consultants or lawyers) being unable to provide advice but are required to provide updates on their International Students’ academic progress.

Heading into the Fall 2015 semester, student advisors for DLIs find themselves in a transitionary phase. The contours of the new International Student Program regime, now more than a year old, have gone through their obligatory hiccup phase.  The year-old regulations, for better or for worse, are now clearer and DLIs will be expected to communicate these regulations more clearly to students. While significant and positive ground has been made by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) to put together the training and curriculum for Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors (RISIA), the certification program will not be done in time for the Fall. Many DLIs will still be left without adequate immigration legal representation.


Where I see this year going for International Students and DLIs

Whereas last year there may have been “school-hall passes” provided for individuals who were not actively pursuing studies (there have been quite a few interesting cases of U.S. day trips gone wrong) or enrolled in co-op programs where more than 50% of the curriculum was outside of the classroom, you can expect this to end. Schools may bare the overall brunt for not clarifying attendance policies or building non-compliant programs.

This year, possibly more than past years, International Students may have questions about the transition to Permanent Residency or how their programs may set them up for this transition later on. The Express Entry system has highlighted the challenges of International Students obtaining the requisite work experience to be selected under Canada’s economic immigration program. Seemingly harmless questions such as “should I try and get a work permit now and then apply to graduate school later?” or “should I transfer into another University’s online business program” may hold heavy immigration consequences for both applicant and advising institution.

This year, I predict that we will get some much needed clarification on some of the grey issues in International Student advising. These include concerns about distance learning, sick leaves, non-coop research gigs, and immigration status for students needing to make up courses or take extra credits.

I also predict that increasingly, International Students unhappy with immigration results will increasingly go to public forums (including the media) to voice their displeasure. Although the immigration challenges may be completely unrelated to the advice provided by the DLIs, there will likely be a presumption of institutional wrongdoing grounded in the fact students are paying a lot of money to attend classes. Advisors who did not advised (due to being unable to) or inadvertently providing immigration advice (when trying to provide information) may be on the hook for those mistakes.


What may DLIs do to protect the Fall?

As several schools begin their orientation sessions, it may be useful to seek professional advice (from a qualified consultant or lawyer) prior to distributing material containing immigration information/advice. Websites, for many DLIs now many months (and possibly years) old, should be updated accordingly. Proper disclaimers regarding general information and legal advice should always be prominently displayed. Proper, contemporaneous notes of all one-on-one immigration-related conversations are now a must.

One of the major challenges for DLIs is keeping up with the legislation. I have seen the materials for more than a few schools that is out of date (even if only by a few weeks). Individuals have approached me during consultations and I have had to tell them that the program is not open to Applicants and that they should keep themselves updated on regular basis as law and immigration policies can (and do) change that quickly.

Many DLIs may wish to invite consultants and lawyers to provide talks and assist in reviewing important program requirements and decisions. Many DLIs may fear working with nit-picky outside counsel, but their services may be invaluable. For example, I know of more than one case where an immigration representative in helping a failed applicant was able to inform a DLI as to the reasons why study permit refusal letters were being sent.

Other issues that immigration counsel may be able to advise on:

  • Will the distance learning portions affect the eligibility of International Students for Post-Graduate Work Permits?
  • Does the program I am offering still qualify for the immigration program the International Student is seeking?
  • Are their some programs or options that have not yet been provided to International Students?

Finally, DLIs should consider having an immigration strategy in place, in the case of a student who has been refused by immigration or receives negative information regarding their immigration status comes to the school’s attention. Too many chefs (advisors) in the kitchen, diagnosing immigration refusals may lead to very confused students and unnecessarily bureaucratic (and possibly public relations) nightmare for the school.

A final word

Like much of Canadian immigration legislation, the regulations in the International Student Program are challenging and can be counterintuitive to regular practice. Education remains a huge opportunity for Canadian institutions, both public and private, and building teams and strategies around better communicating with and competently advising International Students around Canadian immigration issues should be a priority.




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VIB Student Week (Post 1) – Distance Learning, Our Distant Understanding


As we welcome the end of the summer, and Canada’s begins welcoming international students to its many world-class learning institutions, Vancouver Immigration Blog (VIB) will take an in-depth look at student-related Canadian immigration issues. This is student week! We hope students and institutions alike find this series particularly useful. 

What is Distance Learning?

With the recent news of several Niagara College student suing the Designated Learning Institution (“DLI”) for allegedly promising the ability to obtain Post-Graduate Work Permits (“PGWPs”) through their four-month transfer program, it is an appropriate time to study why Distance Learning is causing so much trouble.

Citizenship and Immigration has provided the following description of Distance Learning on their website:

Distance learning can be through e-learning, correspondence, or internet courses. Distance learning is a process by which technology is used in ways where the student does not have to physically be in the place where the teaching is taking place.

Since by definition distance learning does not require one to be in Canada, a study permit cannot be issued for this type of course. For example, if a foreign national authorized to work in Canada is prohibited from engaging in studies as per a condition of their work permit, they are allowed to engage in distance learning courses.

However, some distance learning courses include an in-Canada portion to the program (e.g., special tutorials or the writing of final exams). If the overall course of study is greater than six months, then the student requires a study permit for the in-Canada portion of the program, even if the in-Canada portion is less than six months. The duration of the study permit should be for the duration of the in-Canada portion only.

(emphasis in original)

The issue with this definition of distance learning is that in its attempt to be “catch-all,” it oversimplifies the much more complex world of curriculum design. Many schools, for reasons completely unrelated to immigration, have courses where Professors teach via virtual lecture, where students do not meet physically in class on a regular basis, or even where experiential-based learning is taught through field research. It is also not clear whether a program itself can be non-distance learning if it has only a few distance learning courses as constituent elements.

On the contrary, you can see that trying to carve out a too-narrow definition of distance learning can certainly open up the Canadian immigration system to abuse. Individuals who study in “distance learning” programs (without Canadian in-class components) can take these courses while working in Canada or even as visitors. Without rules and regulations around distance learning, arguably schools could design purely-economic motivated programs and avoid the study permit process altogether – leaving international students duped.

Complicating matters is the importance of a strong study permit scheme to our overall immigration regime. It that our strong educational institutions are one of our most attractive features to new immigrants. It is well-known that international student industry brings in to Canada at least $8 billion dollars a year (and this is just from old 2010 estimates). The common ratio is that 1 international student can cover tuition for 4 domestic students. Education attracts students and immigrants to Canada and with it, the next generation of young Canadian permanent residents and citizens.

It is important to note that this stage that for students who want to be in Canada, beyond merely the term of their study, rely on the PGWP, a program that allows graduates of Canadian institutions to obtain work permits equal (but no longer) than the length of their studies. This period of time provides the university graduate the period to gain the requisite skilled work experience to qualify for Canada’s economic immigration programs or obtain a provincial nomination. The PGWP can only be obtained once per international student, regardless of whether further academic degrees are obtained.

Taking a program of study by Distance Learning however, does not qualify one for Post-Graduate Work Permits. As stated by CIC on their website.

Distance learning

Students who complete a program of study by distance learning (from outside or inside Canada) are not eligible for the PGWPP.

As discussed earlier, this short policy position raises many questions. What if the program is a mixture of in-class courses and distance learning courses? Why does the PGWP definition use ‘program of study’ while the earlier definition of distance learning rely on ‘course.’

Complicating matters further, CIC says the following about educational programs with an overseas component (such as an exchange).

Educational programs with an overseas component

If a student completes a program of study that has, as part of the program, an overseas component, they will be eligible for this program as long as they earn a Canadian educational credential from an eligible institution.

According to this definition, arguably an individual could qualify for the PGWP through an overseas exchange course (if credits are earned in Canada), but taking a program of study domestically in Canada (where credits are similarly earned in Canada) would disqualify them.

This sort of defies logic.

How have Canadian Courts handled Distance Learning?

The simple answer is the Courts have not yet had to dealt with this issue directly.

In Dehar v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and
Immigration) 2007 FC 558, the applicant argued that the Officer’s position, that distance-learning was not considered to be attending a full-time, regular courses for the purposes of including the daughter as a dependent child, was unreasonable. Justice de Montigny ultimately did not address this issue, finding that the Officer’s use of an affidavit to change his initial written decision was unreasonable. However, the judicial review was dismissed on other grounds.

In Muhandiramge v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and
Immigration) 2009 FC 752, Justice Russell cited CIC’s old policy on Federal Skilled Worker credential assessment (which has now changed under Express Entry), which gave credit to distance learning courses.

These were the only two relevant case law references I could find.

Following the United States Model?

It appears Canada is not alone in its unclear laws and regulations surrounding distance learning. A Google search turned up several inquiries by individual with working holiday visas in Australia wondering if distance learning was permitted.

Arguably in Canada, where it is clear distance learning without a Canadian component greater than six months, is permitted, shows that we may be a step ahead of our Aussie compatriots.

However, south of the border in the United States, Distance Learning has been better defined by lawmakers.

Under the new U.S. Code of Federal Regulation: [8 CFR § 214.2 (f)(6)(i)(G)]), the following rules apply to nonimmigrant international students (Disclaimer: I am not a U.S. immigration lawyer, this is only my understanding based on independent research) (my emphasis added):

(G) For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An on-line or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing. If the F-1 student’s course of study is in a language study program, no on-line or distance education classes may be considered to count toward a student’s full course of study requirement.

I think this above definition is a mass improvement on the Canadian definition. It clarifies that a course that has some physical attendance requirements including examinations that are integral to the courses may be considered regular courses and not distance learning courses. It also provides a more specific definition of distance learning and by that definition, appears to exclude field studies or experiential-based learning from falling under ‘distance learning’.

A second arguable benefit of a definition like this is the immigration regulations can clarify when study permits are CLEARLY required. For example, it seems unreasonable to me that a school in Canada could skirt around the study permit rules by offering only distance courses. As mentioned earlier, such a program could also be very deceiving to international students who think they have a path to permanent residency.

Where to go from here?

Under the new Study Permit rules in effect since May 2014, CIC and the DLIs have established a line of communication. We know they are talking about key issues such as sick leaves and suspensions.

Distance Learning should be on top of the next CIC stakeholder meeting agenda list.

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Will Tao is an Award-Winning Canadian Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, Writer, and Policy Advisor based in Vancouver. Vancouver Immigration Blog is a public legal resource and social commentary.

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