Some students – mainly from India – have waited since early 2020 for their visas to be processed, with one telling The PIE they first applied over 49 weeks ago. The usual time study permits for Indian students to be processed according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is nine weeks.
The province suspended international applications at 10 institutions, where it identified “dubious” international student recruitment practices.
While processing has resumed, the government is continuing investigations and verifications that students say are slowing down the process.
Despite orchestrated efforts via social media to raise awareness of the waiting times they face, the students do not have a clear indication as to when their visas will be processed. Many feel ignored by the government, they say.
“Our mental health is at stake”
It is not clear how many students have been affected by the delays, but students claim the true number is in the thousands. At the time of publication, IRCC had not responded to requests for comment from The PIE.
“We are attending online classes and paying huge amount of tuition fees, and going through very stressful conditions. Our mental health is at stake,” one student said.
“We are comprised with our health, wealth and studies in the very golden years of our age, and our fault is we decided to study in Québec,” another explained. Several applicants said they were feeling suicidal as a result of depression.
With at least CAN$10,000 spent on a Guaranteed Investment Certificate, along with tuition fees of more than $15,000, many have said they have taken high interest loans in India to fund their studies.
A petition was started by a student who said that he has spent $30,000 to study at a college in Québec and is claiming that IRCC is giving priority to new files, rather than those applications that were first made in 2020. Another petition appealing to the IRCC has over 25,000 signatures.
Some also voiced concerns that the IELTS results used for evidence in applications may expire before permits are approved, which will result in additional time and financial costs.
In late 2020, the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration in Québec issued a decree suspending the processing of international applications at 10 institutions as a result of “dubious” international student recruitment practices.
Affected institutions included:
- M College of Canada;
- Matrix College of Management, Technology and Healthcare;
- Canada College inc.;
- Herzing College (Institute);
- CDE College;
- Montréal College of Information Technology;
- Institut supérieur d’informatique (ISI);
- Universel College – Gatineau Campus;
- Collège CDI;
- Montréal Campus of Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles.
A Superior Court of Québec decision on January 12 – requested by the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles – found that the suspension constituted a “significant inconvenience” for students.
The ministry said it had resumed the reception and processing of applications on a temporary basis for students who had already submitted documents, but investigations and verifications carried out by the ministry of Higher Education are continuing.
One affected institution – CDI College in Montreal – said, following the ruling on January 12, that “all temporary selection applications will be processed within a normal timeframe”, including those for foreign students registered at CDI College and whose Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) expires between December 2020 and March 2021.
In a statement to The PIE, associate regional director of operations at CDI College Mohamed Slimani urged the ministry to “make the necessary adjustments on its website so that the information reflects the current situation, and to communicate these changes to Immigration Canada so it can properly direct foreign students’ applications”.
While IRCC has begun to process documents, students have highlighted that students who have waited the longest are not being prioritised.
“They are saying some internal inspection is going on over colleges and that’s why they are not issuing our results, but parallel they accept new applications and promote students to get admission in Québec colleges,” one student noted. “It’s two-faced IRCC. They don’t think about us and our conditions.”
“Why this kind of inequality with Québec students?”
“Why this kind of inequality with Québec students?” another asked.
Trying to get an answer from those responsible has also proved laborious, if not impossible.
“I applied for my visa application on November 20, 2020 for a January 2021 course in Montreal,” a student highlighted.
“But due to delay in decision I’ve deferred to March 2021 but now IRCC is not picking up applications of Québec province because of the CAQ suspension of 10 DLIs. Although, MIFI has lifted the suspension, the Canadian embassy is not responding to files and it suggests to communicate to Québec immigration.
“When we contact Québec immigration they say talk to IRCC. It’s been four months… it’s very stressful for us students. College is also not supporting us. We have nowhere to go now. We don’t have any option but to wait. And it’s been many months since we are waiting… but enough is enough. Please help us.”
Responding to questions from The PIE, provincial immigration authority MIFI declined to comment further on the “dubious” recruitment techniques it cited in order to “not prejudice the audits and investigations in progress”.
However, a spokesperson said that students should receive a decision on the CAQ [Québec Acceptance Certificate] – which many students say they are still waiting for – within a maximum of 20 days upon receipt of a complete application.
“Since the processing of study permit applications is the responsibility of the federal government, the Department cannot comment on processing times,” the MIFI spokesperson said.
Earlier in 2021, The PIE reported on international students facing mental health problems as a result of visa delays across Canada. Affected students that have applied to institutions in Québec have suggested that students are receiving their visa documents quicker if they have applied to study in other provinces.
“To simplify… we want our results as quickly as the other provinces’ students are getting [theirs],” one student told The PIE.
IRCC is “aware of the issues, particularly those that slip through the margins and we are working with their office to ensure those gaps are closed”, a spokesperson for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations said.
Universities Canada said it is “continuing to press the importance of ramping up visa processing capacity with IRCC, while calling for flexibility around biometric and language testing requirements, to ensure that students can get their visas in time for academic deadlines”.
“Canada’s university sector is continuing to respond to the ongoing pandemic by prioritising student health and safety,” it added.
And CBIE told The PIE, “IRCC is committed to working through a backlog of applications across the board resulting from the series of lockdowns and other public health measures that impacted their administrative processes.”
Its spokesperson added that “mental health and wellbeing for our students in Canada, both domestic and international, is a priority for our institutions”.
“Many health insurance providers also have wellness programs and apps available for students”
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has been working with the education sector to develop a National Standard for Mental Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students, which CBIE was consulted on to ensure mental health challenges and barriers faced by international students were identified and addressed.
Affected students are encouraged to seek immediate support.
Any students affected by mental health issues in this article are urged to contact these organisations for help:
Canada-wide mental health resources, Helplines across Canada: Lifeline App, Mindshift App, Ementalhealth.ca, Morneau Shepell International Student Support Program, Guard.meCares and Good2Talk
Update GMT 13:30 Feb 11, this story has been updated to include comment from CDI College.
Update GMT 14:30 Feb 11, IRCC response:
“Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, based on the facts presented in the study permit application. An officer can seek additional information to help them make a final decision on an application.
“Study permit processing is continuing for applicants accepted to study at one of the designated learning institutions identified as being under investigation by Quebec. However, while Quebec’s investigation is ongoing, additional checks and verifications may be necessary for officers to reach final decisions in these cases, resulting in slower processing.
“We understand that the situation can be stressful for international students waiting for their visa to come to Canada. People experiencing mental health issues should seek medical attention in their community.
“The Government of Canada recognizes that international students bring tremendous economic, cultural and social benefits to Canada and annually contribute more than $21 billion to the economy. Working in cooperation with our partners in post-secondary education, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has introduced measures to support international students affected by COVID-19.
“Prior to [DLI Covid readiness plan] changes, very few international students were allowed to travel to Canada under the travel restrictions that had been in place since March. With the changes to travel restrictions in October, there has been an increase in study permit applications being finalized.
“Throughout the pandemic, amid health and travel restrictions, IRCC has adopted a number of student-specific facilitative measures.”