Some international students looking to attend post-secondary schools in Canada, and who had already started online learning with them, say they’ve been waiting months for Ottawa to approve their study permits, putting their education and lives on hold.
“I have no words to express my feeling. I can’t even tell,” said Ravneet Kaur, who lives in Punjab in India. “You see we are suffering financially and there is emotional damage also because we have invested our emotions as well as our money.”
Kaur was accepted to St. Clair College’s events management program and applied for a study permit in July 2021. She paid for and was able to take one semester of online courses last fall at the Windsor, Ont., school, which had adapted to online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, Kaur had hoped her study permit would be approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) so she could attend the winter semester in person. Online classes are no longer available now that schools have returned to in-person learning after many pandemic restrictions were lifted.
Now, her studies are on hold and she said she faces losing the time and effort she’s already put into her course if she isn’t permitted to attend school in Canada.
“We are in a dilemma. What we can do in this situation, we can’t register ourselves for other courses here also, and we cannot focus our personal life and as well as the career life,” said Kaur.
“We are not in the situation that we can do something for ourselves. We are just being stuck.”
CBC News spoke to several other students from India who have been waiting since last summer and the fall to receive their Canadian study permits.
WATCH | International students share why they want to study in Canada:
“I never thought I’d waste so much time just to reach Canada. It’s been so long, it’s been six months, and I feel sometimes like it’s a complete waste,” said Sidh Sharma, 20.
Sharma, who lives in New Dehli, applied to St. Clair’s business marketing program in November 2021 and is still awaiting a study permit.
“It is a depressing situation as well. My family is also advising me that if they are not, you know, they are not working upon your application, you should change the country,” he said. “I was like, no, I like Canadian people, I love the culture, a lot of religions and it is just an inspiration by being diverse. So I like the country. I don’t want to just drop my application.”
Like Kaur, Sharma was able to complete one semester of online learning, but said his second semester is in jeopardy because it is not offered in September, when he hopes his permit will be approved.
“The college, the staff, the teachers, they are very sweet, very helpful,” said Sharma. “It’s just that the applications are not getting processed. My file is in review I don’t know what kind of review is going on with IRCC.”
St. Clair College is among many schools affected by the immigration backlog. The college does offer refunds to students who do not get a study visa approved.
In an emailed statement, a school spokesperson said that in January 2022, about 800 St. Clair international students began studying online without a study permit. Now, about 90 of those 800 students are still waiting.
Immigration backlog surges to 2 million
Students aren’t the only ones awaiting acceptance into Canada, as the immigration backlog has surged to roughly two million applications.
The IRCC declined an interview with CBC News, but in an emailed statement said the pandemic, travel and border restrictions, and limited operational capacity overseas have all contributed to processing delays outside the agency’s control.
“We do understand the frustration for anyone hoping to begin their studies in Canada when their application takes longer than expected,” a spokesperson said in an email.
- Refugees feel forgotten as Canada’s immigration backlog sits at nearly 2 million applications
- Ongoing immigration-processing delays leave many in limbo in Canada and overseas
IRCC said the federal government has made some progress, increasing study permits by 32 per cent in 2021 by issuing about 446,300. In 2020, IRCC issued about 25,000 permits and about 401,000 in 2019.
From January to March this year, the agency processed about 136,000 applications with more than half from Indian nationals.
“Current study permit processing times are 11 weeks, which means that we are getting back on track for processing and ensuring students are able to get their study permits in time to begin their studies,” said the spokesperson.