Foreign students denied work permits because they took online courses
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Foreign graduates from Niagara College who have taken many of their courses online are faced with having to leave Canada early because they’ve been deemed ineligible for post-graduate work permits.
With online courses becoming an increasingly mainstream part of higher education, their exclusion from the three-year work permit program for new graduates — meant to retain the talents of the best students coming to Canada — raises questions about how well immigration policy is adapting to evolving technologies.
The students in the school’s general arts and sciences program had high hopes of earning Canadian work experience after their study visas expired, given that the school is listed on Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s “designated learning institutions list” for the work permit program.
But they were told their studies failed to meet the requirements because the bulk of their classes were conducted online and considered “distance learning.”
“Immigration is not keeping pace with the changes of education,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Ravi Jain, who is representing more than 50 of the affected students. “These are highly attractive programs, and (foreign) students have to be careful about these online programs.”
Although the Immigration department states on its website that distance learning is ineligible for post-graduation work permits, it does not define what constitutes distance learning. Complaining students said the Niagara College program delivered three-quarters of its course work online, but they had to attend the program in-class at least once a week.
“We all came with a dream of getting a good education and getting work experience, and we made sure our school was recognized by immigration,” said Jagrit Sahni, 25, whose study visa expired in May.
“We checked with the college when we applied. It said we would qualify for a three-year work permit under the current immigration rules.”
Niagara College, which has three campuses in Niagara Region and a satellite program in Saudi Arabia, offers more than 100 diploma, bachelor and advanced programs and welcomes more than 9,000 students each year, including 1,500 foreign students.
“Regarding work permit eligibility, the program meets the same standards as all of the diploma programs offered at Niagara College,” said spokesperson Michael Wales.
According to Jain, the full-time general arts and science diploma program normally takes two years to complete. But international students with a bachelor’s degree from abroad who have also completed one year of studies at a Canadian post-secondary institution needed only one semester at Niagara to earn the diploma.
“The students exercised their due diligence to figure out the rules. The college, under its own letterhead (in its letter of enrollment), put in writing that it does not offer a distance learning program,” Jain said.
What makes the situation even more outrageous, is said, is that a few of the foreign graduates have received three-year work permits, while others have been denied and ordered to leave Canada.
Anish Goyal, who administers a Facebook group of 350 affected students, said the students and their families have invested a lot in their education.
Students came from India, China, Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, he said, and paid $7,500 for the four-month semester at Niagara College on top of the one-year academic program taken elsewhere in Canada.
“This is a community college that is recognized by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Ontario education ministry,” said Goyal, 27, who came in 2013 to study project management at Centennial College and continued his studies at Niagara College. His student visa expired in March.
Jain said immigration officials have made it clear no work permits will be issued to his clients, who will now try to apply for temporary resident permits on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Like others, Rajendra Appidy said he could have applied for a one-year work permit after he finished his one-year diploma in information security management at Fanshawe College, but couldn’t resist the better opportunities offered by the Niagara program.
The 25-year-old computer science engineer enrolled in another Niagara College program after his work permit application was rejected in March, so he could renew his study permit and remain in Canada. He had been ordered to leave by the end of April.
“My dad is retired and has spent $22,000 of his savings on my education in Canada,” said Appidy. “He had high expectations of me and I need to support him back.”