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International student says she spent months in mental anguish after Canadian immigration error

Warning: This story mentions thoughts of suicide.

An international student says she ran out of money and spent months in distress after coming to Canada because an immigration official didn’t give her the right document allowing her to work part time while studying in northern Ontario.

Shreya Rajput arrived from India on Dec. 17 to study information technology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie.

It was only last Friday that Shreya Rajput learned she’s finally able to get a social insurance number, something she couldn’t apply for until she had the right study document. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CBC News, “The department deeply regrets this error.”

But that’s little compensation for Rajput, who said the error has deeply affected her mental health.

Student relies on savings to get by

Rajput’s problems started after she arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. An immigration officer printed out a study permit without the condition that she be allowed to work 20 hours a week, a document that’s standard for international students.

She only discovered the error when she went to Service Canada this January to apply for a social insurance number, and was told she wasn’t eligible because her study permit didn’t include the condition.

Relying on some savings, she began her studies and started researching how to get the error fixed.

I broke down emotionally because I completely ran out of money.– Shreya Rajput, international student

Rajput followed instructions she found on the IRCC website to correct the issue, and sent them a photocopy of her study permit.

More than two months later, she was notified a duplicate copy wouldn’t do and she needed to send the original copy of her study permit. Rajput sent the original document, and said she got a response in June that IRCC’s operations support centre doesn’t process requests like hers.

“That is the exact time when I got my mental breakdown. I broke down emotionally because I completely ran out of money,” said Rajput. She also said the stress got so bad that she even had suicidal thoughts.

She connected with a childhood friend living in North Bay, 435 kilometres east of Sault Ste. Marie, and asked to move in with him. Thereafter, she did much of her school studies remotely, unless it was required that she be in Sault Ste. Marie on campus.

“Now he is carrying my expenses. And sometimes my parents do send some things, and some money,” said Rajput, who’s still living in North Bay and plans to resume classes in January 2023. In the meantime, she’s not working and is relying on help from family and friends.

international student says she spent months in mental anguish after canadian immigration error
While she was studying at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Rajput says she had to stay with a childhood friend in North Bay, 435 kilometres away, because she couldn’t afford to pay rent. (Algoma University)

In an email to CBC News, IRCC spokesperson Isabelle Dubois said Rajput’s study permit problem was the result of human error. The paperwork she was initially given was missing a line allowing her to work on or off campus.

Dubois also confirmed Rajput’s application to apply for a social insurance number was approved on Aug. 26, 2022. 

“The study permit will be mailed to her,” Dubois wrote in the email.

“Individuals who are eligible to work on or off campus will have these remarks printed on their study permit, which then enables them to apply for a social insurance number.”

Dubois added that immigration officials did receive an application from Rajput to amend her study permit, but it “was deemed incomplete and was returned.”

Consultant urges schools to help students

Don Curry, president of Curry Immigration Consulting in North Bay, said IRCC “is not really into helping people out.”

“Even for somebody like me, trying to get help from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is painful to say the least. You know, you send in a request, you get a template form back which doesn’t answer the question that you asked.”

Curry said it’s incumbent on colleges and universities, which rely on international students and their higher tuition fees, to have staff on hand who can help them with study permits and other immigration issues. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.

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