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Canada: “unacceptable” waiting times over Covid-19 readiness plans

Many DLIs in Canada are still unable to bring international students onto campus, because they have not had Covid-19 readiness plans approved.
November 18 2020
5 Min Read

Many post-secondary institutions in Canada are still unable to bring international students onto campus, because they have not had Covid-19 readiness plans approved, recent data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has shown. 

IRCC posted a new list of designated learning institutions on November 17, which have had plans approved by their province or territory and are able to reopen to international students who are currently outside Canada.

“The lengthy time waiting for plan approval and the updating of IRCC’s list is unacceptable”

The data shows that provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia still have large numbers of providers without approved plans – with stakeholders saying that “lengthy” waiting times are “unacceptable”. 

In Ontario there has also been confusion for primary and secondary schools, with discrepancies between information posted on IRCC’s website and on the Ontario Ministry of Education website. This comes at a time where K-12 institutions in Canada have lost as much as $220,000,000 in tuition fee revenue according to CAPS-I. 

Languages Canada sent a letter to its members in response to the IRCC update – saying that more pressure needs to come from DLIs that cannot bring international students back onto campus.

“We recognise the immense investment that your programs have made over the last few months to comply with federal and provincial Covid-19 health and safety requirements and to prepare comprehensive institutional readiness plans and that the lengthy time waiting for plan approval and the updating of IRCC’s list is unacceptable,” the letter said.

The organisation said that just over half of its members (53%) appear on the updated list.

“While we are pleased that half of our members are now authorised to receive international students, the overall situation remains far from satisfactory, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia, provinces which lag behind in approving DLI readiness plans,” the letter said.

As of October 20, some DLI’s have been allowed to reopen to international students so long as they have Covid-19 readiness plan approved by their province or territory. 

IRCC data shows that Quebec has 436 DLIs. The most recent update says that out of these 436 providers, 427 have had their Covid-19 readiness plans approved. 

By contrast Ontario, which has the most DLIs out of any province or territory, has approved the plans of 56 out of 482 institutions. 

British Columbia has 266 DLIs and has approved the plans of 81 institutions. 

IRCC has not provided data that shows how many plans have actually been submitted by institutions, and so lower numbers of approvals in provinces could feasibly be the result of DLIs not submitting plans. 

Tina Bax, founder of CultureWorks in Canada also explained to The PIE that Quebec’s CEGEPs make it difficult to compare with other provinces. 

Processing times

Different types of post-secondary institutions appear to have been processed at different rates.

Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, told The PIE that her organisation is “very pleased that the vast majority of Canadian universities have now been approved to welcome international students”.

This differs to Languages Canada, which said that the plans of 53% of its members had been approved.

In its letter to members, Languages Canada said that it’s priority was to ensure that all eligible LC members appear on IRCC’s list of approved DLIs as quickly as possible.

“Over the past few weeks, LC has met with immigration, education, public health officials and policy makers, both at the federal and provincial levels, to emphasise the detrimental impact of a slow approval process on language programs and to discuss possible operational solutions to expedite the process.

“While our feedback has been well received, more pressure needs to be applied by those directly impacted by the inability to welcome back students, particularly in Ontario and BC, where there is the greatest concentration of LC members and the largest backlog of plans awaiting approval,” the letter said.

The K-12 sector

The K-12 sector has also been affected – with a small number of provinces and territories still unable to welcome international students.

The importance of getting international students into Canada and onto school campuses was highlighted by executive director of CAPS-I, Bonnie McKie. 

“We’ve gone from about 45 to 50,000 international students to 15,000 this fall, which is a reported loss of $220,000,000 in tuition fee revenue, extrapolated  to estimate about $450,000,000 if we include home stay accommodation fees, health insurance and discretionary spending,” she said. 

McKie told The PIE that despite this need for students to return, there is some confusion around whether schools are able to bring international students to their campuses. 

“The province of Ontario appears on the IRCC list as approved, however the Ministry of Education has itself released a list on its website, which indicates which schools’ plans have specifically been approved,” said McKie. 

This second list only names five private schools to date that have approved Covid-19 plans and may provide in-person teaching or instruction for international students in the 2020-21 school year.

“Please check this webpage regularly to determine if your school board or private school has been added,” the website says. 

“Undoubtedly it will create some confusion. We are seeking some clarification as to when the member schools that have submitted plans, some as long as two months ago, will receive feedback and approval on those plans,” McKie told The PIE.

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