As welcome signs were hung and orientation activities echoed across Canadian post-secondary campuses last week, thousands of international students were still back in their home countries, waiting to hear about 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 who are affected by backlogs at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
“These delays really impact how students experience campus,” Metcalfe said. “It means students won’t be able to attend campus until the middle of September, maybe even October, so they miss welcome week, getting to know campus, introductions to friends and those things that are really core to any student’s university experience.”
With international students already paying substantially higher tuition fees, advocates are pushing for the government to prioritize and process study permits faster. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it is boosting staff and modernizing its systems to increase processing capacity and tackle the backlogs in the short term.
According to IRCC, as of Aug. 18, the number of study permit applications to be processed is 163,600. It says 64 per cent of those applications are currently within its service standard of 60 days. This leaves potentially thousands of students whose applications may not be ready in time for them to start the school year.
Anxiety high for international students
Metcalfe says this period of time in post-secondary education is especially meaningful for students coming from a different country, and any kind of delay can also result in additional financial strain.
“Even pushing back their start date by a couple of weeks can have thousands of dollars in implications in terms of rent and food and rearranging flights and accommodations to come study in Canada,” she said.
Some of these students worry they may lose a semester of school and say their anxiety over the situation is high.
Even pushing back their start date by a couple of weeks can have thousands of dollars in implications in terms of rent and food and rearranging flights and accommodations to come study in Canada. – Mackenzy Metcalfe, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
Victoria, who is from Russia, said she applied for her study permit in January 2022 after being accepted to Ottawa’s Algonquin College for a design program.
“I postponed the start of classes twice — in May and September 2022,” she said. CBC News agreed to only use her first name as she worries speaking out will affect her application.
According to the IRCC, the average processing time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks, not including the time it takes to send an application between a visa application centre and its office. Victoria says she’s now going on eight months.
“I’m afraid I won’t have received an answer by the end of the year,” she said.
More communication from IRCC needed: lawyer
Lev Abramovich, an immigration and refugee lawyer at Abramovich & Tchern Immigration Lawyers, says international students he’s worked with have been angry and confused.
“Imagine you’ve completed all of the requirements, paid $50,000 for first year, you’re excited you’re going to University of Toronto … you’ve rented an apartment and the best years of your adult life are about to begin and instead you’re missing a year,” Abramovich said, referring to a situation one of his clients is facing.
Abramovich told CBC News 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, looked at how many resources they had, and said ‘Unfortunately, many of you won’t be processed,’ you could govern yourself accordingly. That has not happened,” he said.
IRCC says it’s working through backlog
In an emailed statement to CBC Toronto, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Julie Lafortune said that for the month of August, the department was able to process 84,000 study permits and 21,000 extension applications, which allow international students currently in Canada to continue their studies.
“To keep Canadians up to date on our progress toward reducing the backlogs, IRCC is publishing monthly data on our website,” Lafortune said.
According to the statement, IRCC also recently announced that the department will hire up to 1,250 new employees by the end of fall to increase processing capacity and tackle the backlogs in the short term.
“IRCC is moving toward a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally,” she wrote.
Victoria says if she could apply for post secondary all over again, she would choose to study in a different country. So far, she says, she’s out $8,200 — the amount of her tuition deposit.
“If I knew about this, I never would have applied to Canada,” she said.