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  • Annie Beaudoin

Is the new IRCC Minister effectively managing international student movement?

The answer is probably yes, most likely.

A recent article published by Marie Woolf, caught my attention last week. It touches on the subject of a study permit triage system that our new Immigration Minister Marc Miller is looking into finally implementing. It is a system to fast-track study permits for foreign students applying to attend “trusted” universities and colleges that carry out conscientious checks on applicants.

Here is the article : https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-ottawa-mulls-fast-tracking-international-study-permits-for-trusted/

I have already written articles and given conferences on this important topic to touch on the fact that not all schools are ‘created equal’ in the eyes of Canadian Immigration Officers. Minister Miller seems to already want to capitalize on this very important variable.

First, it is important to reiterate that the International student movement is on track to welcome a record 900,000 international students this year in Canada. This is roughly triple the number a decade ago, making it even more crucial that we correct the current issues affecting the integrity of this immigration program.

As we all know, schools in Canada make most of their revenue from international students’ tuition but some educational institutions have become majorly focused on making high profit while losing sight of the goal, which remains to have a rigorous admission process to select well-suited potential international students that can successfully complete the program and pay the tuition fees.

This selection process should be thorough and based on merit to act as an additional layer of protection against applicants who simply want to use the admission as a pretext to enter Canada without having the intention to pay for the program and graduate but instead perhaps work illegally or file for refugee protection.

Instead, in the last few years, an important number of Colleges and Universities in Canada have resorted to downgrading the selection process and are issuing admission letters to just about anyone applying while fully knowing that over 60% of these applicants will not secure a study permit because of the reputation of the college and also because no attention is even given on issuing a proper admission letter meeting the requirements of the IRCC as per R219(1).

It is important to note that these institutions also maintain their Designated Learning Institution (DLI) status because the status does not examine these requirements.

The Globe and Mail article confirms again that ‘Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been in talks with universities about creating a two-tier system that allows foreign students with places at established institutions to have their study permits expedited.’

As a retired immigration officer, I can testify that Canadian Officers see a substantial amount of study permit applications every day. They can therefore spot when the same school/program is seen on an unusually large number of study permit applications from applicants that appear to have no connection to the program. When this starts to occur, the officers become increasingly aware that the school may not have a thorough process to select their international students. This of course puts a shadow on the school and the study program in question. Needless to say, it can rapidly start to unfairly affect these applicants who truly believe that their admission letter from a Designated Learning Institution will help them receive approval of the study permit. When in fact, the letter of admission and the College picked will be in large, the cause of refusal. Unfortunately, the applicant never really knows or understands why as this is a system that is taking place mainly ‘behind the curtain’.

DLI accreditation has been questioned for years now. The new Housing Minister Sean Fraser (Former IRCC minister) recently even said that some colleges “exist purely to profit off the backs of vulnerable international students rather than provide quality education to the future permanent residents and citizens of Canada.” He added “you have to ask some pretty tough questions” when schools that already have “five to six times as many students enrolled as they have spaces for” in student housing continue to recruit and enroll more applicants.

Actually, taking steps to address this issue may also contribute significantly to bringing back down the refusal rates in certain countries which have skyrocketed without proper explanation in the last few years. Because these colleges offer a fast, easy, and lower-cost tuition and admission process they often attract many applicants from certain specific regions of the world. This can in part explain the unprecedented refusal rates in African countries.

The new system will also stop placing the burden on Immigration Officers and on IRCC to continue to look at an increasing number of applications that may not have any merit since these applicants may not have even gone through a proper and rigorous process of selection and admission from a Canadian school.

This also acts as an additional deterrent to ensure that a study permit is not used as a pretext to enter Canada without ever having the intention to study.

IRCC is and should continue to look at the refusal rates of certain schools to help align the program. Unfortunately, and because of logical reasons, the public may not be privy to this valuable information which would make the program even more accountable in a sense. The bottom line is that this indicates a strong continued trend that the choice of school/program of study is closely linked to the probability of approval of the study permit because it is naturally reflected in the quality of the candidate selected and the well-supported study permit application examined by the Immigration Officer.

The Canadian government continues to be aware that ‘International students contribute more than $20 billion annually to our economy and support the vitality of our communities.’ Furthermore, and for years now, the government has made significant efforts to encourage international students to settle permanently in Canada. ‘They bring strong employment and language skills, bolstered by their Canadian education and work experience, so they are typically well positioned to apply for permanent resident status and help to address our stark demographic challenges.’ In contrast, if this migration movement continues to overburden IRCC’s resources illogically and creates continued frustration among the international student communities it is not accomplishing its mandate properly.

Without making this known to thousands of international study permit applicants, it can also be perceived as unfair, biased and detrimental to the reputation of the Canadian Immigration program at large which is not the desired outcome for a country that continues to need to attract international students for sustainable economic growth with an aging population and low birth rates.

Needless to say, the potential student-visa processing framework may also, by the same token, act as a warning to these types of unethical admission processes and practices by many colleges in Canada.

Most Colleges and Universities in Canada also seem to support the change to stop duplicating as stated in the article: ‘Joseph Wong, the vice-president, international, at the University of Toronto, said that along with other universities, his school has been advocating for a year for a student-visa processing framework that incentivizes best practices around recruitment, retention and support of international students and eliminates duplication of processes.’

It will almost surely also help address the backlog and long processing times and attract more students who opt for other countries with faster processing times.

Moreover, let's not forget that Schools gain culturally and academically when they have a student body of diverse demographic backgrounds as it enriches the learning experience and collaborations for everyone including domestic students. With this in mind, we can only hope that the trusted institutions framework is close to being functional and will be launched in the near future.

Annie Beaudoin

Sept 17, 2023


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