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Canada to strengthen visa system; rolls out biometrics

The Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) has announced plans to curtail foreign nationals from applying for a study visa if they are not genuinely planning to study, as well as clamping down on bogus schools attempting to attract international students. It will discuss policy detail with the sector and provinces before new regulations take hold.

"Canada continues to improve its standing as a destination of choice for international students seeking a quality education"

In a parallel policy change, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney welcomed the passage of new legislation obliging students from certain visa-required countries to provide biometric data as part of the visa application process.

CIC Minister Jason Kenney

Regarding the quality-assured immigration changes, which have been on the cards for some time, a government spokesperson told The PIE News, “On June 15, 2010, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for immigration committed to work together to ensure that Canada continues to improve its standing as a destination of choice for international students seeking a quality education.”

“Both CIC and its provincial and territorial counterparts recognise that in order to reach that goal, some reforms to the ISP [International Student Programme] are necessary.”

The government has given the Canadian public the opportunity to provide comments and input to the proposed plans within the next 30 days. “The Notice of Intent is to signal an intention to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations for the purpose of ensuring that study permit holders are genuine students who will study in Canada and that they are attending educational institutions that are eligible for this purpose,” it said in the Canada Gazette.

Industry association, Languages Canada, lauds the government’s efforts to discuss with the provinces before making a decision.”In Canada, education falls within provincial jurisdiction and therefore consulting with the provinces is a must,” explained a spokesperson from Languages Canada.

“Some reforms to the ISP [International Student Programme] are necessary”

“This fall, CIC will begin formal consultation with Languages Canada and other education sector stakeholders. In addition, CIC has launched a written consultation process in which Language Canada, partners, and members will participate.”

Once the regulatory amendments are finalised, CIC is aiming to have them published in the Canada Gazette by the end of 2012.

And just one day before these proposed policy changes were published, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act was passed which the government said aims to bring further reforms to the asylum system by including biometric requirements.

“This legislation will help stop foreign criminals, human smugglers and those with unfounded refugee claims from abusing Canada’s generous immigration system and receiving taxpayer funded health and social benefits,” said Minister Kenney. “Canada’s immigration and refugee system is one of the most fair and generous in the world and will continue to be so under the new and improved system.”

Foreign students from certain visa-required countries will be affected by the new legislation starting in 2013 by having to provide their photo and fingerprints before they arrive in Canada.

The countries needing to submit biometric evidence could include China, India and Saudi Arabia

The countries needing to submit biometric evidence could include China, India and Saudi Arabia but the government said regulations will set out the countries and territories whose nationals will be required to give biometrics in an announcement made in conjunction with the regulatory approval process.  Not all visa-required countries and territories will be affected.

The government has not denied that this could eventually expand into a system-wide biometrics requirement for all foreigners seeking visas, similar to the UK or US. “Future steps for broader implementation will be considered,” the spokesperson said.

Most applicants will provide their biometric data at Visa Application Centres (VACs). CIC currently has 60 VACs in 41 countries and envisions expanding this network to up to 150 VACs in all regions by 2014.

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