EDMONTON - International students in Alberta are seeing wait times for processing their study permits soar to nearly three months, leaving many “stranded” in Canada, unable to visit their home countries or travel elsewhere in the world. Students can’t leave the country without renewing their permits and visas without risking lengthy delays upon re-entry, jeopardizing their standing in university programs where many have studied for several years.
But Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the longer wait is because of the complexity and volume of applications.
Marcella Cassiano, a third-year PhD student in sociology at the University of Alberta, applied in April to renew her study permit. At the time, the C.I.C. website stated the processing time was 44 days, so she purchased a ticket for a trip home to Brazil for July 22.
Nearly three months later, she still hasn’t received her permit.
“I can’t leave the country until I get that study permit in my mailbox,” said Cassiano, 35. “The processing time in Canada is ridiculous.”
Since submitting her application, the expected processing time posted on the C.I.C. website has shot up to between 77 and 88 days.
Cassiano said she is also scheduled to study on a visiting scholarship at a Chinese university in September, but the Chinese embassy won’t issue her visa, despite the “implied status” she now holds.
The federal government generally recommends that students apply to renew their permits 30 days before they expire. But Cassiano say the longer wait times put the students and the international programs at a competitive disadvantage.
“For Canada to be competitive in the global business of international education, it needs to provide quicker services for document renewal,” she said. “International graduate students are highly mobile people. We cannot afford to be grounded in Canada for five months waiting for document renewal and miss the opportunity to present our research in international conferences.”
“Processing times vary depending on the Canadian visa office processing the visa, as well as the complexity and volume of applications,” said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for C.I.C., in an email. “Delays are often caused by incomplete or incorrectly filled applications.”
In 2014, 80 per cent of student permits were processed within 39 days or less, she said.
The delays are also happening at the same time that institutions such as the University of Alberta are actively trying to boost their international students to 15 per cent of total undergraduate enrolment. There are currently 7,000 international students in degree programs at the university.
Patrick Sullivan, international services and program co-ordinator at NAIT, said every post-secondary institution wants to “internationalize.”
“These are really high processing times. I’ve seen them go up to 50 days in the past but not for a long or sustained period of time,” he said. “You don’t want an immigration process to damage (these students’) experience ... They’ll be stressing out about their ability to stay in the country versus looking at the next big assignment. These things do cause anxiety.”
Another group affected by the wait times are international high school students in Edmonton who hope to start their university programs in the fall, said Doug Weir, executive director of student programs for international students at the U of A. Those students have no “implied status,” and are urged to apply for their permits as soon as they are accepted, Weir said.
Aryan Karimi, another international graduate student in the U of A’s department of sociology, said he has delayed applying for a scholarship in China until September 2016 because he is unsure whether his Canadian papers will be in order for this September.