Thousands of international students dreaming of having been in Canada for the start of the fall semester are still in their home countries, waiting to hear about the status of their Canadian study permits.
But current delays and uncertainty have caused international students to start looking elsewhere.
Delays at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have affected international students who came to study at Canadian Colleges.
Vice President of International Education Department at Conestoga College, Gary Hallam, said that due to the delay, 1,000 international students were forced to defer their studies until the upcoming January 2023 semester, mainly impacting lab-based programs which require students to be on-site, like engineering, nursing, and IT.
“It’s a big setback for them,” he told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, adding the college was anticipating some delay, “but not to such a high level.”
Conestoga College has the second-largest population of international students among colleges in Ontario. Most of them arrived from countries like India and China.
IRCC announced a few weeks ago that it would extend the period for online studying, which will allow students to study from their home country and put that time to get a PGWP Post-Graduate Work Permit.
Hallam said that more than 1,500 students used this benefit from that extension.
“That just helped a few students, but it helped anyway. That announcement came in two weeks before semester started,” he said.
Based on IRCC, as of Aug. 18, the number of study permit applications to be processed for students coming to Canada reaches 163,600, adding 64 percent of those applications are currently within its service standard of 60 days.
Hallam said IRCC had processed 500 to 800 more applications for a Study Permit than ever before, but demand seems to be high.
“We were expecting that a few thousand more would get going for these students, but there’s been a lot of changes for majority of the students, but also for the operations here at the college,” he said.
The delays are hurting Canada’s image as a destination for international students to study. Hallam said that students and agents are now considering other countries like Australia or the UK because their processing time is much faster.
Anxiety is high for international students.
Metcalfe says this period in post-secondary education is significant for students coming from a different country, and any delay can also result in additional financial strain. "Even moving back their start date by a few weeks can have thousands of dollars in implications regarding rent and food and rearranging flights and to come study in Canada," she said. Some of these students are concerned they may lose a semester of school and say their anxiety over the situation is high.
Supporting the students.
Canadian colleges and local universities say they're doing what they can in order to support their international students due to these delays by allowing late arrivals within the first weeks how the semester starts and accommodating options for remote study. "We are still trying to gauge numbers, but it looks like several dozen of our international students are still waiting for their study permits to be approved," Stuart McCook, Vice-President of international at the University of Guelph, said in a statement to CBC News. "The university is working on students` cases who are awaiting their study permits to help solve the issue." Wilfrid Laurier University says the school is working to ensure students who were impacted by delays access courses. "For the majority of the programs, we have been able to suggest students online, remote or hyflex courses for the fall term, so they can keep studying despite not being on campus," a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, a spokesperson said that the school was actively communicating with international students impacted by the delays and had an administrative team responding to their inquiries to ensure students have the information they need. The university also said Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada "to express their desire to work with government and other institutions on collaborative solutions." Hallam said the school had accommodated some virtual class schedules at the college to start early morning so that students overseas could attend their classes at night and participate in group work. "We try to record the sessions as well, so students have lots of flexibility," he said. Hallam adds that they are anticipating more permit delays for the January semester start. Still, IRCC's extension for distance learning stretched until August 2023 and allowed students to complete up to 50 percent of their program remotely. "We know that now we can plan and tell the students, 'Don't panic if you don't get your Visa approved for January or May in 2023, you can start your study out of the country,'" he said. "That's positive, and they've given us that certainty."
IRCC says it’s working to make this process faster.
Based on a statement to CBC Toronto, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Julie Lafortune announced that in August, the department was ready to process 84,000 study permits and 21,000 extension applications, which allow international students currently in Canada to keep studying.
“In order to keep Canadians up to date on our progress toward reducing the backlogs, IRCC is publishing monthly reports,” Lafortune said.
Based on the statement, IRCC also recently announced that the department would hire up to 1,250 new employees by the end of the fall in order to increase processing speed in the short term.
“IRCC is moving toward a more integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment to help speed up application processing globally,” she wrote.
The pandemic has implemented measures to allow international students to pursue their studies online from abroad while remaining eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP). As the new school year approaches, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada are creating a transition period for these measures.
After that, IRCC announced extending its transition period for distance learning measures until August 31st, 2023, for students waiting for their study permit approval to come to Canada.
As Canada transitions back to pre-pandemic requirements, the Canadian Government encourages international students to return to Canada. A transition period is available for those who might need some time.
International students who are studying online or who submit a study permit application before August 31, 2022, will keep being able to complete their program online without affecting their PGWP eligibility. However, study duration completed from abroad starting on September 1, 2023, will be deducted from the length of their post-graduation work permit, no matter when a student began their studies.
The temporary distance`s extension measures will affect students who started to study from September 1st, 2022, to August 31st, 2023.
The following measures will apply:
All the international students studying online from abroad or those who have submitted their study permit application number before August 31, 2022, will be able to complete 100% of their program online with no deduction in PGWP eligibility. Before the pandemic, students had to meet no more than 50% of their studies online, and time spent studying outside Canada was deducted from the length of their PGWP.
However, study duration completed from abroad starting on September 1, 2023, will be deducted from the length of their post-graduation work permit, no matter when a student began their studies.
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