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Five Things I Wish International Students Knew Before Applying for Canadian Study Permits

Setting the Scene: Where We Are At and Where We Are Going

I have been struggling with this post – to capture the experiences of the many prospective clients/international student applicants who have entered our door of late asking about their study permits, more specifically why they have been refused, delayed, or found inadmissible for misrepresentation.

Remedies are both a huge time commitment and often times a big corresponding financial commitment. In thinking about how I could input myself into the process (in a helpful way) I thought about writing a post where I take those experiences of all the international students who come see me to try and remedy their refusals and summarize it into five (likely oversimplified, but deeply important) points. These points are important both for international students to protect themselves (be it emotionally, financially (from those all-too-eager to exploit), or even just to help plan their futures during tumultuous times.

We all know the starting point: Canada has become an increasingly attractive study destination especially compared to other countries. While international tuition is still what I personally believe to be dangerously high, it is comparatively cheaper to study in Canada than many other Five Eyes countries. Our immigration options for international students also provide much more flexibility around work while studies, post-graduate work permits, and work permits for accompanying dependents.

We also know that COVID, as my colleague Lou Janssen Dangzalan uncovered through a recent ATIP request, has had a major detrimental effect on study permit applicants.

This has impacted overall refusal rates:

If we look at the two largest international student generating countries – India and China, we see the impact in terms of the change in approval rates:

The stark numbers of how many less study permits were issued in 2020 (granted the data is not entirely complete) cannot be ignored:

For the time being, new restrictive and frankly, confusing, policies such as IRCC’s rule on accompanying dependents of international students (for example discrepancy between: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/coronavirus-covid19/students.html#family or https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/coronavirus-covid19/students.html#family) along with the new quarantine rules are a signal the Government wants to get through the vaccine phase before admitting too many more international travellers (including international students).

This is my theory about where post-COVID recovery will ultimately go:

With this in mind, we have a timeframe of a few months for most international students to consider carefully their next move. Perhaps, for some, it may even be re-evaluating. I would not throw caution into the wind. Whether you are the paying parent of an international student who insists they ‘got this’ or if you are the international student, wondering what your agent (who is very likely being paid more by your school than by you) doing.

Without further ado, here are the five things I wish international student knew before applying for a study permit in Canada.

 

Thing 1: Be Very Intentional and Careful About the School/Programs/Immigration Advisors You Choose 

Not all schools are treated by Canadian immigration (“IRCC”) the same. There are schools with excellent reputations, many of them being public/higher-level institutions. There are others that have not-so-good reputations – perhaps being smaller private colleges that often take students with lower academic accomplishments. These lists are also not static. Many schools on both sides of the aisle have taken steps and/or hits. Do some research on the reputation of the school.

Be also intentional about where you study. A Visa Officer may have questions already about where you are coming from (see Thing 3 below) and wonder why you are going to a particular Province and that particular school.

As an Applicant you need to be able to make a business case for this: that likely should go beyond the access to permanent residence pathways. As I discussed in this post, dual intention has been utilized as a buzzword but it packs a complex case for meeting the R.216 IRPR requirements to demonstrate you can leave Canada at the end of your authorized stay.

If you are a student from a refusal-producing country (i.e. the statistics, which are accessible if you look hard enough, demonstrate most applicants are being refused), I would suggest it becomes more important  to demonstrate that your studies are bona fide. If you receive scholarships or are entering a level of education that is considered a major upgrade to your education, these are factors that can assist towards maximizing your chances of success. I use the word chance very specifically.

There are no guarantees anymore in the area of international student immigration law/policy.

Be also very aware an intentional about the systems operating around you.

These systems include your family members (what your parents want for you, siblings, other family in Canada).

They include the Designated Learning Institutions (“DLIs”) which have a mandate to protect their own interests. If they refer you to someone (as institutions do to me) it is very fair to ask them why this individual. Be due diligent. This definitely includes agents who say they can do your immigration work for 100 or 200 dollars without disclosing that they are neither authorized immigration representatives (and therefore ask you to sign your own forms) or that they are making a 1/3rd of your tuition back as their finders/placement fee.

This extends to banks/creditors who might be financing your studies for their various reasons but perhaps willing to bend rules and documentation to assist you. Don’t underestimate immigration’s own access to finding out whether a document provided is genuine or not. Same goes with language tests, that are increasingly under scrutiny for fraud prevention.

If you are applying, as most are, from outside Canada know too that immigration fraud unfortunately does exist and if there are red flags (agents who claim they have connections or apparently bizarre correspondence between them and the visa office) take action. Many applicants can save their own situation by seeking a withdrawal (either with or without new counsel) and/or an opportunity to correct the record before it is discovered. Check and ask to see every document that leaves your hands, including making sure that they are submitted in the form you want them to be submitted.

Be very intentional, careful, alert, and aware to the profit industry that is international education and your own role in the system. The more control and guidance you have over your own situation, the better you will be able to rationalize the outcome and prepare for your experiences in Canada.

 

Thing 2: Get to Know Your School Registrar and International Student Advisors Really Well

Get to know the school registrar.

Why?

You may need to defer studies depending on processing times and your own ability to obtain documentation. You may need to ask for refunds or for further letters. Make sure you have direct contact with the registrar and do not over rely on an agent or third-party who may not have your best interests in mind.

Get to know the RISIAs and RCICs who often work for the schools.

RISIAs stand for Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors and RCICs are Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants. These individuals are often employed by Universities and Colleges to assist with international students. A flag for you may be how few resources the school may have for international students. Schools that have more international student support, more resources, tend to be better positioned both in terms of achieving student approvals but also to help once you are here. This is of underestimated importance. When you become an international student, you must navigate leaves, full-time student status, and post-graduate work permit eligibility, events and occurrences that are very crucial to your success and eventual pathway to permanent residence.

Each DLI (and often each departments) has their own policies surrounding how much they can help out, particularly for applicants who are overseas. I tend to find that students who receive scholarships or are attending specialized programs do get specialized treatment. Some DLIs even assign certain staff to focus just on these programs. This may be crucial, especially in light of a first stage refusal that requires reconsideration or a re-application, with school support. Good DLI RISIAs and RCICs have single-handedly been able to make an impact for students, by providing additional letters of support, explanation, or even a referral to a Member of Parliament that can change one’s prospects.

The better the relationship you can build with them and start fostering early on, the better it is. Again, do not rely on your agent or educational consultant, who has a very different end goal and outcome from being that liaison (getting paid off your end enrollment, with payouts depending on the school you attend and their agreement with them).

 

Thing 3: There Are Constraints on Approving Your Application That Are Outside Your Control and Highly Irrational

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Will Tao is an Award-Winning Canadian Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, Writer, and Policy Advisor based in Vancouver. Vancouver Immigration Blog is a public legal resource and social commentary.

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