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In a case that may have wider ramifications for certain foreign students in Canada, the Federal Court has ordered Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to reconsider the post-graduation work permit (PGWP) application of a foreign student whose initial application was rejected because he took some of his courses online.

Rajendra Prasad Appidy, a citizen of India, studied information security management for a year at Fanshawe College before completing his education at Niagara College. Both institutions are located in the province of Ontario and are recognized by the government of Canada as Designated Learning Institutions.

The court ruling has given renewed hope to other foreign graduates from Niagara College who have also taken a selection of courses by distance learning. Though these individuals were under the impression that their studies in Canada would make them eligible for a PGWP, they face the prospect of having to leave Canada earlier than planned.

The PGWP allows graduates who complete their education in Canada to gain valuable Canadian work experience for up to three years. This open work permit, which allows its bearer to work for a Canadian employer in any sector and in any location in Canada, is often seen as a bridge towards permanent resident status in Canada and, eventually, Canadian citizenship.

The case

Appidy was denied the PGWP on the basis that five of the six courses he completed at Niagara College were online courses, and “distance learning” does not count for the purposes of eligibility for the PGWP.

However, Appidy, who represented himself throughout the case, argued that he paid the full-time student tuition fee and obtained 42 in-class credits from Fanshawe College and three in-class credits from Niagara College, which, together, made up 75 per cent of all his course work in Canada.

Niagara College’s full-time general arts and science diploma program typically takes two years to complete, but international students with a bachelor’s degree from abroad who finished a year of studies at a Canadian post-secondary institution may transfer to Niagara College and earn the diploma in just one semester. Applicants to the PGWP, however, must apply for a work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their academic institution that they have met the requirements of their program. In Appidy’s case, the immigration officer did not take into account his course work at Fanshawe College because that was completed in December 2012, more than 90 days before he applied for the work permit.

“The [immigration] officer acted unreasonably in relying on the [immigration department] manual to assess the application based only on the courses actually taken from Niagara College, rather than based on all credits that contributed to the applicant meeting the requirement for the course of study completed at Niagara College,” wrote Justice Richard F. Southcott.

Hope for other foreign students

A number of foreign graduates from Niagara College have already retained an attorney for what they hope will become a class-action lawsuit against the school, alleging they were misguided into believing they would be eligible for the PGWP upon completion of their studies. The motion of certification is expected to be heard later in 2016.

Other stakeholders, including students and immigration lawyers, have said that the PGWP regulations in their current form are not up to date and do not take into account the realities of modern higher education, where many courses are either partially or fully online.