International students in Canada, extending student permit

September 29, 2008, [MD]

Image by Taekwonweirdo via Flickr

I am an international student in Canada, and although Canada is very welcoming to many permanent and temporary immigrants from around the world, there are many details to be navigated, much bureaucracy to be dealt with, and often hard to find good advice or guidance. The last few summers I have had one recurring problem that nobody could really give me good information about, and which was very stressful. Now that I have found some more information about this (the hard way), I decided to put it up here to share it with others in the same situation.

**Leaving Canada while trying to extend your student permit\ **The problem I have had is that for various reasons I never got a student permit that covered the entire time I was studying in Canada, and so I had to keep renewing my student permit almost every year. This is annoying, since it costs about \$150. The problem was that the registrar’s office at University of Toronto at Scarborough refused to issue a letter saying I was registered as a student in a given year, before I had actually chosen some courses - however course selection doesn’t open up until June. At that time, I was usually in some other country working or travelling.

As an aside, you definitively want to extend your student permit, as opposed to applying for a new one. Applying for a new one is done in your home country, needs more paperwork and documentation, more money, more waiting time, and potentially having to re-do the medical test, etc. On the other hand, as long as you apply before your permit runs out, you can apply to extend your permit, by sending it to Vegreville, Alberta (I actually looked it up on Google maps one time).

How long does this take? It varies - last year it took about a month, this year it took 40 days. However, the very neat secret is that as long as you apply for an extension before your student permit expires, you can keep studying until you get the answer - legally. This is clearly stated on the CIC webpage. What is not mentioned anywhere is what happens if you happen to leave the country in the middle of this, and have to re-enter.

*What I used to do\ *

My normal strategy to get around this was to prepare all the papers, fill out the forms and sign them etc, and then have my room mate or another friend send in the complete application once the final documents arrived. I would then hope that the permit arrived in time, have my room mate FedEx it to Norway, or wherever I was (sometimes I would have it sent to Buffalo, land there, pick it up, and take the bus across the border). This worked, although it was very often in the nip of time that I received the document.

Not this summer

This summer it took longer than usual because I was starting my masters. After my initial application, they issues me a conditional letter of acceptance, conditional upon my completion of my BA (reasonable demand). This meant that first UTSC had to process my graduation, which they did by mid June, then these documents had to be sent to OISE so that they could process them, and issue the final acceptance letter. This took for ever, and I actually ended up sending in the application the conditional acceptance letter + the graduation diploma (and this worked - although on my student permit it said: send in the full acceptance letter next time you are applying for an extension). The “no objections” final acceptance letter arrived in mid-July.

So my friend had submitted my application, and we were waiting. After a while, it became clear that I would not get an answer in time (there is a page on CIC when you can see the average wait times for different categories of applications). Clearly, skipping the crucial first weeks of class, where you choose your courses, meet your supervisor, attend orientation events etc, was not an option, so I was wondering what to do. I knew that in theory I should be allowed to study in Canada, since my friend had submitted the application in time (and I had the registered mail receipt to prove it), but I wasn’t very keen on arriving at the border without the actual document. I tried googling, reading everything I could on the CIC page, and even contacting the International Center as UofT (which gave me patently wrong information), but found nothing. Finally I just had to try.

At the border

After a gruelling 26 hours on the plane (and after embarassingly having missed a flight for the first time in my life the previous day), I arrived at Lester B. Pearson international airport in Toronto. I waited in line, and finally got to the booth. I showed my expired student permit, and explained that I had applied in time, I also showed my registered mail receipt and my acceptance letter. He wrote some letters on my form which means “you need to go to see the real immigration guys”.

I went into the other office and waited in line. When I got to the front, they were not surprised at all, but handled it very routinely. They tried to look-up my application in their system, but it hadn’t registered yet (since Vegreville hadn’t even gotten as far as opening the envelope - a month after they had received it). However, as a Norwegian I qualify for a tourist visa for six months, and they gave me this, saying that as long as I kept those documents with me I would have “implied status”, and it would be legal to study in Canada. When I got the student permit, I could just staple it to my passport, and I would be good - I didn’t have to leave and re-enter the country.

My second time at the border

I was of course extremely happy to be allowed in to Canada, since I was quite worried - I certainly didn’t want to be deported. However, not having the student permit was still a nuisance, since I couldn’t register to get a SIN card and get paid for my work as a graduate assistant, etc. As it happened, I had to leave Canada again before receiving the permit - I went to a conference in Utah. This time, upon coming back, the same thing happened (this time I was a bit more routined, and less stressed out). When they looked up my name, they said: Yes, you have gotten it, until July 30th. They then wrote July 30th in my passport, and sent me on my way. And when I got back to the apartment, the student permit was waiting for me.


First of all, I am not a lawyer or an immigration advisor - this is just my own experience. Yours might be different, and these rules and regulations might also change without warning.

If you apply for a student permit before your current one runs out, you can stay in Canada and study until you receive a reply. If you leave the country in the meantime, and you are eligible for a tourist visa, you can re-enter the country without any problems. It would be useful if you had an original copy of the registered mail receipt (I only had a copy), a copy of the application you sent in (I didn’t have it, but they asked for one), as well as your admittance letter (I did have this). Note that if you are from a country that requires a visa even for tourists, such as China, this would probably work differently!

Another tentative conclusion is that since they can at any time access my immigration records on their computer, I might not have to have the student permit fedex’ed to me in the future - as long as it has been issues, they will be able to admit me as a student (this should apply to people who need student permits as well).

Note as I wrote above that you will still need your student permit for applying for a SIN card, and often your school’s registrar will pester you for a copy etc. If at all possible, send in the application as early as possible.

I hope this is useful to the small group of people it touches, because this information would have made my life a lot easier if I had known it a few months or years ago. Feel free to repost or link to it from places where people concerned may come across it.


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Stian Håklev September 29, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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