Without drowning out the metaphor, it is clear that the Canadian immigration environment that Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Designated Learning institution (“DLIs”) find themselves in today is more akin to a huge waterfall than a calm ocean.
Over the past two years, DLIs have found themselves subject to increased scrutiny, tasked with greater and increased responsibility, and have been left arguably uncertain as to how to best advise international students (“International Students”) on their various Canadian immigration challenges. DLIs now have to answer to provincial educational authorities as well as the Federal government, all eager to ensure appropriate compliance. All this in the context of most student advisors (those that are not certified consultants or lawyers) being unable to provide advice but are required to provide updates on their International Students’ academic progress.
Heading into the Fall 2015 semester, student advisors for DLIs find themselves in a transitionary phase. The contours of the new International Student Program regime, now more than a year old, have gone through their obligatory hiccup phase. The year-old regulations, for better or for worse, are now clearer and DLIs will be expected to communicate these regulations more clearly to students. While significant and positive ground has been made by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) to put together the training and curriculum for Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors (RISIA), the certification program will not be done in time for the Fall. Many DLIs will still be left without adequate immigration legal representation.
Where I see this year going for International Students and DLIs
Whereas last year there may have been “school-hall passes” provided for individuals who were not actively pursuing studies (there have been quite a few interesting cases of U.S. day trips gone wrong) or enrolled in co-op programs where more than 50% of the curriculum was outside of the classroom, you can expect this to end. Schools may bare the overall brunt for not clarifying attendance policies or building non-compliant programs.
This year, possibly more than past years, International Students may have questions about the transition to Permanent Residency or how their programs may set them up for this transition later on. The Express Entry system has highlighted the challenges of International Students obtaining the requisite work experience to be selected under Canada’s economic immigration program. Seemingly harmless questions such as “should I try and get a work permit now and then apply to graduate school later?” or “should I transfer into another University’s online business program” may hold heavy immigration consequences for both applicant and advising institution.
This year, I predict that we will get some much needed clarification on some of the grey issues in International Student advising. These include concerns about distance learning, sick leaves, non-coop research gigs, and immigration status for students needing to make up courses or take extra credits.
I also predict that increasingly, International Students unhappy with immigration results will increasingly go to public forums (including the media) to voice their displeasure. Although the immigration challenges may be completely unrelated to the advice provided by the DLIs, there will likely be a presumption of institutional wrongdoing grounded in the fact students are paying a lot of money to attend classes. Advisors who did not advised (due to being unable to) or inadvertently providing immigration advice (when trying to provide information) may be on the hook for those mistakes.
What may DLIs do to protect the Fall?
As several schools begin their orientation sessions, it may be useful to seek professional advice (from a qualified consultant or lawyer) prior to distributing material containing immigration information/advice. Websites, for many DLIs now many months (and possibly years) old, should be updated accordingly. Proper disclaimers regarding general information and legal advice should always be prominently displayed. Proper, contemporaneous notes of all one-on-one immigration-related conversations are now a must.
One of the major challenges for DLIs is keeping up with the legislation. I have seen the materials for more than a few schools that is out of date (even if only by a few weeks). Individuals have approached me during consultations and I have had to tell them that the program is not open to Applicants and that they should keep themselves updated on regular basis as law and immigration policies can (and do) change that quickly.
Many DLIs may wish to invite consultants and lawyers to provide talks and assist in reviewing important program requirements and decisions. Many DLIs may fear working with nit-picky outside counsel, but their services may be invaluable. For example, I know of more than one case where an immigration representative in helping a failed applicant was able to inform a DLI as to the reasons why study permit refusal letters were being sent.
Other issues that immigration counsel may be able to advise on:
- Will the distance learning portions affect the eligibility of International Students for Post-Graduate Work Permits?
- Does the program I am offering still qualify for the immigration program the International Student is seeking?
- Are their some programs or options that have not yet been provided to International Students?
Finally, DLIs should consider having an immigration strategy in place, in the case of a student who has been refused by immigration or receives negative information regarding their immigration status comes to the school’s attention. Too many chefs (advisors) in the kitchen, diagnosing immigration refusals may lead to very confused students and unnecessarily bureaucratic (and possibly public relations) nightmare for the school.
A final word
Like much of Canadian immigration legislation, the regulations in the International Student Program are challenging and can be counterintuitive to regular practice. Education remains a huge opportunity for Canadian institutions, both public and private, and building teams and strategies around better communicating with and competently advising International Students around Canadian immigration issues should be a priority.