Can I pursue co-op or internship programs as a Canadian international student?

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: February 28, 2024

Most international students across Canada are eligible for co-op and internship programs if they are enrolled in an eligible program at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI).

Many Canadian post-secondary students take advantage of co-op and internship programs at their university or college to acquire industry work experience prior to graduation. For these students, this work experience can be beneficial to building their resume even before they attempt to enter the workforce once they complete their educational program.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), to be eligible for such co-op and internship programs, international students must be enrolled “in an academic, professional or vocational training program at a DLI that [mandates such] work experience” as a requirement for program completion.

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IRCC indicates that “the work experience cannot be more than 50% of [a student’s] total program of study.”

In this case, eligible international students will also need to obtain a work permit on top of their study permit.

How to pursue a co-op or internship program as an international student

To pursue a work permit as a co-op student or intern, international students must verify their eligibility and then apply for a co-op work permit online.

Determining your eligibility

To be eligible for a co-op/intern work permit, international students must meet all the following criteria:

  1. They must possess a valid study permit
  2. They must be able to prove* that the work experience for which they are obtaining the work permit is “essential to completing” their program of study
  3. They must have a letter from their DLI confirming that all students in the program must complete work placements to get their degree

*To prove that this work experience is a requirement for program completion, students can use such things as a letter from their DLI or a copy of the school curriculum.

Note: IRCC indicates that certain international students may not need to apply for a co-op work permit to complete their educational programs. The need to apply for this type of permit depends on when IRCC received the student’s study permit application and if they meet certain other criteria.

On the other hand, international students are ineligible for a co-op or internship work permit if they are:

  • Taking English or French as a second language (ESL/FSL)
  • Taking “general interest” courses
  • Taking courses to prepare for another study program

Note: Ineligible students can still work in Canada by applying for a work permit.

How to apply for a co-op/intern work permit

IRCC notes that the application process for this type of work permit changes depending on whether an international student has already applied for their study permit.

Specifically, students who have already applied for their study permit and are already in Canada can apply for their co-op/intern work permit online with IRCC. Meanwhile, those who have already submitted their study permit application but are not in Canada can proceed as follows depending on their situation:

1. If the study permit application is still being processed

Use the IRCC webform to show the department (using a letter of acceptance from a DLI) that they are in a program that includes a mandatory co-op/internship.

2. If the study permit is already approved

It is still possible to complete a co-op/internship placement outside of Canada but you cannot complete such a placement inside Canada without this permit.

To do this, the applicant must have an acceptance letter from their DLI that confirms “that a co-op or internship placement is part of [the] program’s curriculum.” At this time, the student can apply for their study permit and IRCC will process their co-op/intern work permit alongside the study permit application.

The Government of Canada also has a  webpage that includes a tool to allow permit-eligible students to answer a few questions and receive the application instructions that are right for them.

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