Thousands of students are waiting overseas for their student permits as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) copes with large-scale backlogs.
“Mentally, it can be very frustrating and demoralizing,” says Okwurumeya Lcheku, a first-year SAIT international student from Nigeria.
Currently, students applying for their student permit outside of Canada have to wait up to 13 weeks for the department to process their applications. In August, there were more than 163,000 study permits still in process.
Usually, the majority of international students apply for student permits before the start of the fall semester. Due to the backlog, the number of student permit applications skyrocketed in the first seven months of 2022.
According to the latest federal government data, more than 359,000 prospective international students applied for a permit between January and July this year.
In 2019, that number was at approximately 226,000 — meaning more would-be Canadian international students are still waiting at home for permission to start their studies.
“A lot of student permits are still being impacted by the fact that many processing offices were closed overseas or they were only working in limited capacity,” said Zuzana Ritzer, a manager at the SAIT International Centre. “We’re definitely not at the processing times that we were able to see pre-COVID in 2019.”
Another factor is the influx of more than 100,000 Ukrainians to Canada in 2022 as they flee the Russian invasion.
“Due to the conflict in Ukraine, IRCC is processing these permits as a priority, which can also impact the processing capacities and abilities in some countries,” Ritzer said.
After months of waiting for permits, international students are coping with the anxiety of an uncertain future and financial insecurity.
“What should have taken a three-month maximum processing time actually took 12 months,” Lcheku said. “You plan your life, and almost one year later, your plan has been destructed because your study permit hasn’t come yet.”
While Lcheku waited for his study permit, the cost of living increased in Nigeria, making it even more difficult to raise his family.
“You need to save more because you’re in a country where currency has really fallen as compared to the Canadian dollar,” said Lcheku. “So, whatever you have saved, you need to save almost double that amount.”
Mentally, it can be very frustrating and demoralizing. – Okwurumeya Lcheku
Due to the delays in processing, the government has extended online learning measures to allow international students to pursue their studies online from abroad while remaining eligible for a post-graduation work permit. The extension expires on Aug. 31, 2023.
To manage the backlogs, the federal department is introducing a new online system to reduce wait times and hiring 1,250 new employees to increase processing capacity, according to a news release from IRCC.
Peter Yu, marketing manager of Hello Study, an international student agency in Taiwan, offers this advice for prospective international students: “Apply for your visa early.”