The delays, which have stretched up to seven months in cases, have been put down to public spending cuts, the quality of applications from some markets and the growing demand for Canadian education.
However, some worry they are undermining bold national goals to increase foreign student enrolment and reforms to strengthen the student visa system.
“I was unable to get any kind of valid or timely feedback from CIC along the way”
Bonnie McKie, executive director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools-International (CAPS-I), which represents 89 public school boards, said: “We were probably most affected in China, which is probably the number-one source of our students now. Delays were usually a few weeks, and of course the later the students applied the problem got worse…
“A few late applicants were delayed to the point where they chose to not to come in September and come instead in second semester, in February.”
McKie added that CIC visa office closures in Japan and Germany had also affected enrolment levels.
Mike Henniger of Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia, said that 60 students from around the world had to be deferred this academic year and that delays had “made class planning and budget forecasting very difficult”.
Geoff Wilmshurst at Camosun College, in the same province, said that while processing times had improved in China and India, problems remained in Russia – “an important emerging market”.
“We also continue to push for improved visa success rates in countries like Colombia and Vietnam where there is interest in Canada as a destination,” he said.
“We also continue to push for improved visa success rates in countries like Colombia and Vietnam”
Languages Canada is on the case after issues in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Zsuzsana Dawson, director of the Advance English Academy, told The PIE News in October that she was even forced to close her business temporarily after numerous delays and rejections from Pakistan and Malaysia.
“I do feel duped by the system as there really was no way for me to predict any of this going into the business, and I was unable to get any kind of valid or timely feedback from CIC along the way either,” she said.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) acknowledges the problem and says it is committed to processing 80% of student visas in less than 60 days. Spokesperson, Nancy Caron, told The PIE: “Last summer, we beat our commitment and are processing 80% of the visas within 43 days.”
CIC blames lingering delays on a 7% surge in demand for processing this year. In 2011, more than 98,000 international students came to Canada (up by nearly 50% on 2004).
Caron also cited logistical impediments such as the promptness in which applicants respond to requests, poor postal services and low internet use, as well as incomplete applications and high rates of fraud.
“In some visa offices there were staffing cuts late last spring”
McKie, however, puts the problem down to spending cuts. “In some visa offices there were staffing cuts late last spring… Where there weren’t cuts they had to put some restraints on the amount of overtime at CIC, and that of course was going into the peak period with most students entering in September and applying between July and August.”
She said the damage was difficult to assess, but that she hoped more money would be allocated to tackling the problems in the next federal budget in April. “We are having to work a little bit harder to remind students and parents around the globe of the quality of Canadian education and that it is well worth the wait.”
Helen Murphy, communications manager at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), said: “A coordinated approach to federal policy development is critical to ensure that immigration policies are closely aligned with international education priorities. This includes the allocation of visa processing resources in response to increasing demand for study permits.”