When welcome signs were put up last week and orientation activities echoed across Canadian post-secondary campuses, thousands of international students were still back in their home countries, awaiting the status of their study permits.
Mackenzy Metcalfe, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, says the organization is hearing from several frustrated international students affected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) backlogs.
“These delays really impact how students experience campus,” Metcalfe said. “It means students can’t get to campus until mid-September, maybe even October, so they miss the welcome week, getting to know the campus, meeting friends, and those things that are really essential to any student’s college experience.”
With international students already paying significantly higher tuition fees, advocates are urging the government to prioritize and process study permits faster. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it is ramping up staffing and modernizing its systems to increase throughput and reduce backlogs in the short term.
According to IRCC, the number of study permit applications to be processed as of August 18 is 163,600. It says 64 percent of those applications are currently within the 60-day service standard. This potentially leaves thousands of students whose applications may not be ready in time to begin the school year.
Fear high for international students
Metcalfe says this period in post-secondary education is especially meaningful for students who come from another country, and any kind of delay can also lead to additional financial pressures.
“Even if their start date is pushed back a few weeks, it could have thousands of dollars in implications in rent and food and rearranging flights and accommodations to come and study in Canada,” she said.
Some of these students are concerned that they will lose a semester from school and say they are very concerned about the situation.
Even moving their start dates back a few weeks could have thousands of dollars in implications in rent and food and rearranging flights and accommodations to study in Canada.– Mackenzy Metcalfe, Canadian Alliance of Student Unions
Victoria, who is from Russia, said she applied for her study permit in January 2022 after being admitted to Algonquin College in Ottawa for a design program.
“I have postponed the start of classes twice – in May and September 2022,” she said. TBEN News has agreed to use only her first name, fearing that pronouncing it will affect her application.
According to the IRCC, the average processing time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks, excluding the time it takes to send an application between a visa application center and its office. Victoria says she’s been going for eight months now.
“I’m afraid I won’t have an answer by the end of the year,” she said.
Need more communication from IRCC: lawyer
Lev Abramovich, an immigration and refugee attorney with Abramovich & Tchern Immigration Lawyers, says international students he worked with were angry and confused.
“Imagine you’ve met all the requirements, paid $50,000 for the first year, you’re excited to go to the University of Toronto…you’ve rented an apartment, and the best years of your adult life are ahead of you. about to start and instead you’re missing a year,” Abramovich said, referring to a situation facing one of his clients.
Abramovich told TBEN News that the IRCC should have taken more responsibility in communicating with students so they could have made more informed decisions.
“If IRCC looked at the numbers, how much resources they had and said, ‘Unfortunately, many of you are not going to be processed,’ you could control yourself accordingly. That didn’t happen,” he said.
IRCC says it is closing the backlog
In an emailed statement to TBEN Toronto, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Julie Lafortune said the department was able to process 84,000 study permits and 21,000 renewal applications in the month of August, allowing international students currently in Canada to continue their studies.
“To keep Canadians informed of our progress in clearing the backlog, IRCC publishes monthly data on our website,” said Lafortune.
According to the statement, IRCC also recently announced that the department will hire up to 1,250 new employees by the end of the fall to increase throughput and address short-term backlogs.
“IRCC is moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized work environment to accelerate the processing of requests worldwide,” she wrote.
Victoria says that if she could apply all over again, she would choose to study in another country. So far, she says, she’s lost $8,200 — the amount of her college tuition.
“Had I known this, I would never have applied to Canada,” she said.