Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia language schools worried about student visa changes

The head of an English language school in Halifax is concerned about recent changes to a federal program requiring international students get a second visa before university.

International students at Canadian language schools need a second permit for university

Nova Scotia English language schools are worried enrolment might drop if students have to get a second visa before moving onto university. (CBC)

The head of an English language school in Halifax is concerned about recent changes to a federal program requiring international students get a second visa before they continue on to university.

"What happened before the changes is students could apply for language training and university training and receive one study permit to cover the whole of the time that they were going to be in Canada," said Sheila Nunn, president and CEO of East Coast School of Languages in Halifax.

"This gave them the confidence that they knew that they would go on to the university, they didn't have to apply for any other paperwork."

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada posted changes to the program on its website in July. 

Only 'genuine students'

In a statement, spokeswoman Sonia Lesage confirmed changes made in July meant international students must now apply for two study permits — one for the prerequisite language training and another for college or university.

"The practice of issuing one study permit for both programs was not in line with regulations to ensure the permit holders are genuine students," Lesage said in the statement.

"For example, a study permit holder who failed to complete their prerequisite program would still have a study permit for up to three years, though they were not continuing as genuine students."

'Why would they take the risk?'

But Nunn said the catch is that students will not be able to apply for the university permit until they have successfully completed their language training.

"So, if a student is sitting in China, why would they take the risk of coming to Canada to purely study language, not knowing if they're going to be accepted into the university or get their permit to get to university?" she said.

East Coast School of Languages has about 170 students, 17 teachers and 16 administrators.

'No answers'

Nunn does not yet know whether the changes will affect students currently studying in Canada or Nova Scotia.

"We don't know if it's for the students who are en route, who are going to be starting here in September, we don't know when this is supposed to take place," she said.

"So, we actually have no answers for our students right now."

Ottawa asked for clarification

Languages Canada is the industry association that represents 225 English and French programs across the country. It wants changes to the program reversed.

The association's executive director Gonzalo Peralta, said he has contacted Nova Scotia's immigration department and Ottawa for clarification on the changes.

Across Canada, about 30 per cent of the 130,000 international language students in Canada are in pathway programs — a program that prepares a student for post-secondary schools, Peralta said.

Nova Scotia to lose out, says association

Peralta said Nova Scotia is going to pay a big price.

"Nova Scotia has invested long and hard in creating pathways programs," he said.

"So, that means in Nova Scotia that 71 per cent of the students enrolled in language programs are intending to go on into a post-secondary college or university program.

"Now, if 71 per cent of those students are not able to get their study permits in time, what do you think is going to happen to the programs at Dalhousie or St. Mary's or the other universities?"

Lisa Jarrett, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, said the Nova Scotia Government is reviewing the changes to determine what impact, if any, they will have on international students here.


Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email