In order to fill certain positions, the use of international students can often be an attractive solution for employers. However, they must conduct due diligence before concluding the process of hiring an international student.

It is important to keep in mind that the main purpose of international students' stay in Canada must be to study. Permission to work while they are studying is incidental and subject to strict criteria.

Before evaluating an international student's application to fill a position, employers should ask themselves a series of questions, including: is the position to be filled part-time or full-time? Is this an internship or a permanent position? Does the work schedule allow you to work outside of school hours?

Properly defining the type of position to be filled will make it possible to assess whether hiring an international student is appropriate.

Which international students are allowed to work in Canada?

It is the duty of employers to ensure that an international student is indeed authorized to work for them since they have a duty of care with respect to the status of these international students.

In order to determine if an international student is authorized to work, it is required to verify the following:

  • The international student is allowed to work outside the school campus where he or she is enrolled in a program of study. This condition must be clearly stated on the study permit. Employers can therefore easily verify this by requesting a copy of the study permit.
  • The international student is enrolled in a designated learning institution (DLI), that is, a school approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students. Employers can check the list of DLIs online at
  • The international student is enrolled in a post-secondary program of academic, theoretical or vocational training leading to a diploma or certificate that lasts more than six (6) months. Note that in Quebec, a vocational training program at the secondary level may meet this criterion.
    • An international student enrolled at the general secondary level is therefore not allowed to work solely on the basis of his or her study permit.
  • The international student is considered a full-time student and will remain so during the period of employment. This concept may vary depending on the school and usually depends on the number of credits per session.
    • A student enrolled part-time may be allowed to work only if the student falls into one of the specific exception categories, for example, if this is their last semester of study.

When can an international student start working?

Subject to being allowed to work off school campus, the international student must have started their studies before their first day of work.

They must also have a Social Insurance Number (SIN).

Obtaining a SIN is conditional on the inclusion on the permit of a clause authorizing the international student to work.

How many hours can an international student work?

Since the main purpose of the international student's stay in Canada is to study, the international student is not allowed to work full-time throughout the year.

Subject to being allowed to work outside the school campus, the foreign student may work:

  • During study sessions: up to 20 hours per week;
  • During regular holiday periods: full-time;
  • that is, scheduled school holidays and spring breaks.

Note that the international student must record all hours of paid work. He must also be able to prove compliance with all the conditions on his study permit as well as his active participation in studies and the limited working time of 20 hours per week.

In addition, employers will need to ensure that the international student is a full-time student before and after the leave period to be able to work full-time.

Careful! On November 15, 2022, the Immigration Service issued a temporary policy allowing an international student to work more than 20 hours per week during study terms. This policy ends on December 31, 2023. To benefit from this policy, the international student must meet very strict additional criteria. A case-by-case analysis by a professional in the field of immigration is highly recommended.

Special case: hiring an international student for an internship as part of their study program

Co-op programs are training programs that follow a specific schedule of faculty learning periods alternating with periods of professional practice within an organization.

Thus, the international student alternates between study sessions and paid internship sessions (CO-OP internships) that are essential to complete the study program and obtain the diploma.

The sequencing of such pathways varies from program to program, but some employers partner with schools to facilitate networking and dissemination of internship opportunities. This option is interesting for employers who want to build a lasting relationship with students by participating in their training to result in a permanent hire after graduation.

International students participating in a co-op program must have obtained, in addition to their study permit, a work permit allowing them to work in a full-time paid internship during their studies.

Employers must therefore ensure that they request copies of the international student's study permit and work permit. It is also recommended to ask the international student to provide a certificate confirming his participation in a program involving the completion of a professional internship during this period of the program very precisely.

Since the international student will then hold a CO-OP work permit (i.e., which identifies the school as an "employer"), they will be allowed to work full-time during internship sessions under the program.

What happens at the end of an international student's academic career?

At the end of their academic career, international students have the opportunity to apply for a post-graduation work permit, subject to certain conditions. They will then obtain a non-employer-specific work permit, otherwise known as an open work permit.

This work permit is advantageous for employers because it is possible to offer any position to an open work permit holder, without having to undergo a new immigration process. In addition, this type of work permit allows the international graduate student, under certain conditions, to start working for an employer while the application for this type of work permit is being processed.

Once again, there are very strict criteria for obtaining a post-graduation work permit, and it is the responsibility of the international graduate student to ensure that they meet all of them.

Employers must, however, ensure that the international graduate student is allowed to work while their post-graduation work permit application is being processed, as this is not allowed in all circumstances.

Indeed, to be authorized to work pending the issuance of the post-graduation work permit, the international graduate student must have submitted his application before the expiry of his study permit. Employers can then request copies of the study permit and proof of submission of the international graduate student's work permit application.

To go further: suggested reading

**This article was originally published on May 17, 2023 on the Carrefour RH website **

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.