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Canada: New visa pilot aims to reduce processing time for Nigerian students

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Eligible Nigerian students may now apply to a new Canadian pilot project – Nigeria Student Express (NSE) – which is intended to reduce processing times for study permit applications from eight weeks to 20 days or less
  • Only students admitted to undergraduate, graduate, and PhD programmes in Canada are eligible
  • The NSE is not the only programme set up by the Canadian government to improve visa processing times; the Student Direct Stream (SDS) has been expanded over the last two years and is now open to students from Morocco, Senegal, China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Pakistan

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), has announced a new pilot project – Nigeria Student Express (NSE) – that is geared at reducing study permit processing times for Nigerian students who have been accepted to degree programmes in Canada.

Eligible for the NSE are students who have a letter of admission for bachelor, master’s or PhD degree programmes (or other graduate-level studies) from designated learning institutions in Canada.

Processing times for study permit applications for Nigerian students currently average around eight weeks. The NSE pilot aims to reduce that processing window to 20 days or less.

IRCC announced the pilot at EduCanada fairs in Abuja and Lagos in January 2020, and eligible students may now apply for study permits through the NSE. Applicants will be asked to demonstrate they have sufficient funds for their studies in Canada via a secure financial verification system called MyBank, which is available from the principal commercial banks in Nigeria.

IRCC has not yet set an end date for the pilot and will be monitoring the programme over the coming months to see if it is achieving stated goals.

How the NSE is different

The Canadian government offers a similar programme called the Student Direct Stream (SDS) that aims to streamline visa processing for eligible students in selected markets. The SDS is open currently to students from Morocco, Senegal, China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

While the Nigeria Student Express (NSE) is also aimed at speeding up visa processing times, it differs from the SDS in being targeted only to students admitted to degree studies. The financial verification process used within the NSE (MyBank) is also different from guaranteed deposit mechanism used by SDS applicants.

Visa rejection rates in Canada

Last fall, we reported on new IRCC data that showed a marked increase in rejection rates for study permit applications for Canada, the world’s fastest-growing major study destination. From 2014 through 2018, total foreign enrolment in Canada grew by just over 73%.

As of May 2019, IRCC data revealed that nearly four in ten applications for study permits (39%) were rejected in the first five months of that year. This compares to a 28% rejection rate in 2014, and a 34% refusal rate in 2018.

A related analysis by Polestar Student Immigration found that three in four African students who in winter/spring 2019 applied for a permit to study in Canada were rejected by Canadian immigration officials, a far higher rejection rate than found among students from any other region.

Polestar found generally that, “The refusal and approval rates vary dramatically by where the students are from and what kind of education they seek in Canada.” They explain:

“For example, only 4% of study permit applications from Japan and Korea were rejected this year, compared to 81% of applications from Nigeria and 86% of applications from Algeria. However, students from Japan and Korea were also more likely to apply for a study permit to attend an ESL programme. The refusal rates for ESL programmes is lower than for college or university programmes.”

Potential for growth

Those findings contrast sharply with the growing demand for study abroad in a number of African markets, and Nigeria in particular. As we noted in one recent report:

“According to Nigeria’s National Universities Commission, between 2012 and 2017 fewer than 20% of applicants to Nigerian universities gained admission, leaving 6.3 million qualified students without a place. One in five Nigerians is aged 15–24, and this is the fundamental reason that Nigeria will be one of the fastest growing markets for study abroad for the foreseeable future.”

The NSE pilot appears to be squarely aimed at the significant potential of the Nigerian market represents, as does the recent expansion of the SDS programme to Morocco and Senegal. If these initiatives are successful in driving down rejection rates – and otherwise streamlining visa processing – for applicants from these important African sending markets, they could well have a transformative effect on Canadian recruiting efforts in the region.

For additional background, please see:


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