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Canadian immigration officials report surging demand in 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The number of active study permits in Canada has now exceeded pre-pandemic levels and the volume of study permit applications has grown even faster
  • That surge in application volumes has resulted in a processing backlog this year and long processing times for study permit files
  • A recent parliamentary report sets out wide-ranging recommendations for immigration policy in Canada, including calls for greater regulation of education agents and greater transparency in study permit processing on the part of Canada’s immigration ministry

Speaking at The CBIE Pan-Canadian Virtual Symposium, an online event organised last month by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), Canadian immigration officials reported that foreign enrolment in Canada has bounced back quickly from the disruption of the pandemic.

“While COVID had quite an impact on our immigration programmes, we’ve seen a strong recovery,” said Cynthia Ralickas, a director for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). “Recent study permit figures have surpassed the pre-pandemic levels with over 500,000 study permits being issued in 2021 and over 600,000 study permits being active in Canada [as of the end of 2021].”

IRCC Senior Policy and Program Advisor Kristy Greenslade added that the department had received nearly 557,000 study permit applications in 2021 alone, representing a 56% increase in application volumes over 2020.

She noted as well that there were nearly 90,000 more study permit confirmations between 1 January and 30 April 2022 – where a study permit confirmation indicates that the student has actually arrived in Canada. A further 65,200 study permits were also granted in the first four months of 2022 for students who had not yet arrived in Canada. IRCC is reporting strong application volumes again this year with 175,000 study permit applications received between January and March 2022 alone. This amounts to a 32% increase over the same period for 2020 – that is, before the pandemic had really taken hold.

“Our numbers are consistently going up year after year”, she added.

The top source countries for study permit applications in 2021 were India, Philippines, Nigeria, and Colombia. Those same four markets accounted for 60% of all study permit applications in first four months of 2022 and with India in particular an important driver of overall growth again this year.

As we reported recently, IRCC data indicates that a total of 621,565 study permits were held by international students attending programmes of at least six months’ duration in 2021 – almost as many as before the pandemic in 2019, when 638,380 students had been issued study permits.

Processing has slowed

Those rising volumes of study permit applications have played a part this year in a backlog of visa applications. It is taking longer for applications to be processed as a result, and this has been a significant issue for students planning to begin or resume their studies in Canada this year.

Ms Greenslade explained that the current processing time for a study permit application is 80 days, meaning that 80% of applications are processed within that time frame.

Parliamentary report issued

In a related development, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration published a report with dozens of recommendations pertaining to visa policy and processes for international students in Canada. Differential Treatment in Recruitment and Acceptance Rates of Foreign Students in Quebec and in the Rest of Canada offers wide-ranging recommendations to IRCC, including measures governing regulation of education agents:

“That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work with provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as Canadian designated learning institutions, to regulate recruiters in the international educational sector, and ensure that the information packages provided to these recruiters include information on how student applicants can safeguard themselves against fraud.”

Along with several recommendations concerning transparency in policy and study permit processing:

  • “That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide data on study permit processing times and reasons for refusal, broken down by applicants’ country of origin and other available demographic variables, in the department’s Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.”
  • “That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review international student selection criteria and processes, make the study permit application process more transparent, reduce application processing times, and allow more flexibility for the evidence used to establish that an applicant meets the financial criteria.”
  • “That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review and clarify the dual intent provision, sections 20(1)(b) and 22(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, so that the intention of settling in Canada does not jeopardize an individual’s chances of getting a study permit.”

Commenting on the report during the CBIE panel, Ms Ralickas said, “When reports like that are tabled in Parliament the government does have a responsibility to respond, to really consider each of the recommendations and think about how each one applies to the work being done and the directions we are taking within the department. There are 35 different recommendations and we are looking at each and every one very, very closely. We do have a responsibility to respond and I believe there will be an official response as to how we will work with those recommendations in September.”

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