Thousands of applicants have been assigned to inactive immigration officers and IDs. Are you one of them?

Another unfortunate example of processing failures. Departmental response weak to be charitable:

Canada’s Immigration Ministry has assigned tens of thousands of applicants to immigration officers or placeholder codes that are inactive and no longer working within their system — some who’ve last logged in and processed files up to 16 years ago, and from airports and visa offices around the world.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data on “inactive users” on their Global Case Management System (GCMS) — its worldwide internal system used to process citizenship and immigration applications — show 59,456 open, pending or re-opened applications that were assigned to 779 former employees or dormant computer placeholder codes used to hold applicants in queue as of this February.

The department told CBC once a user is set as inactive, “it means they are no longer using the system and their access is no longer available.”

Source: Thousands of applicants have been assigned to inactive immigration officers and IDs. Are you one of them?

USA: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Balance between speed/efficiency and fairness, there are trade-offs:

Fast-tracked immigration cases appear to be hurting migrants’ chances of being granted asylum, researchers are finding.

“The big takeaway message is that the Biden administration really is trying to speed up cases but data shows when you speed up cases they lose,” Syracuse University professor and researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report as he toured the South Texas border on Wednesday.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, orTRAC, one of the nation’s leading researchers on immigration court cases, on Tuesday released a study that found that since July, asylum grant rates have fallen and it “coincides with the extremely rapid increase in expedited cases.”

Although Fiscal Year 2022 had the largest number of individuals granted asylum of any year in immigration court history, in digging into the data, researchers found that the quicker the cases went through the courts, the lower the asylum seekers’ chances.

TRAC found that when asylum cases were completed within three to 18 months, only 31% of cases were granted asylum.

“More asylum cases were granted last year than any other year but the grant rate is actually going down in recent months,” Kocher said.

(TRAC Graphic)

Border Report met up with Kocher on Wednesday as he was on day 5 of his visit to South Texas as part of a seven-week research tour of the entire Southwest border.

He said immigration cases require collecting massive amounts of evidence and documents, and TRAC data has found that migrants who retain lawyers have a higher chance of being granted asylum. He said the rushed cases could be limiting and preventing asylum-seekers from gathering all the data they need to present full cases to the judges, and it could be preventing them from getting legal counsel altogether.

“We definitely know that the Biden administration has tried to accelerate these cases to try to clear out the backlog,” Kocher said. “They really are taking the backlog seriously and they really do want asylum cases to get decided more quickly but the problem is, as the data shows, that if you really speed cases up individuals don’t always have time to get attorneys and they don’t always have time to gather the full application materials that are necessary.”

Kocher crossed into Reynosa, Mexico, early Wednesday, and said he spoke with several migrants there who expressed their lack of resources and lack of legal aid as they wait across the border due to Title 42 restrictions.

Source: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Why Desperate People Are Suing Immigration Canada

Good article and discussion, with good comments by Kareem El-Assal and Richard Kurland, particularly liked Aurland’s contrasting IRCC lack of status updates and application tracking with CRA’s client service:

From January to the end of February, Alejandro Ginares woke up daily at 6 a.m. in order to grab a spot in the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada phone queue.

He went about the business of his day — preparing breakfast, doing dishes and feeding his cat — until eventually, sometimes after eight hours of being on hold, he’d reach the front of the queue and receive a pre-recorded message: “all our agents are busy, try again later.” He’d hang up. If it was early he’d try again. If it was after 3 p.m., when the offices out east close, he’d make dinner, go to bed and start all over again the next day.

While news articles have been filled with stories of long lineups of Canadians stymied while renewing passports, less has been reported on how the pandemic and its knock-on effects have impacted would-be Canadians, whose immigration applications have been left in a backlog that has only increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

In Ginares’s case, he was desperately trying to track down the status of a permanent residency application he’d submitted 15 months before.

Occasionally he’d reach a human being, only to be told that his application was “not in the system.” He was baffled. He had paid the processing fee and had a Canada Post delivery confirmation in hand, certifying that the application had arrived at IRCC. He knew they’d received it. So why wasn’t he in the system?

Ginares eventually reached an agent who promised to help him. A few days later he got a response confirming for certain that his application had not entered the system.

It was then that he realized that IRCC had most likely lost his application.

“It’s awful to be waiting,” he says. “We don’t know if we’re waiting for a purpose or if we’re waiting for nothing.”

Resubmitting his application was risky. It would mean starting all over again. And it would cost another $1,000. He didn’t know what to do.

A geological engineer in Uruguay, Ginares had left his home and family to join his husband, Wendall Seldura, in Canada. The two had met in a cocktail and music bar in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2017. They’d fallen in love immediately and quickly decided that Canada was the country where they’d spend their future.

Ginares knew that permanent residency processing times can often reach 15 months. But he didn’t think it would take 15 months for the system to even receive his application, or approve a work permit.

Back home, Ginares worked, studied and volunteered. Now he feels like he’s stuck in limbo. “I fight every morning when I wake up to find motivation,” he says.

According to data released by IRCC Oct. 31, 2.2 million people are waiting for approval for temporary residence, permanent residence and Canadian citizenship applications. Like Ginares, 1.2 million have waited beyond the standard time expected for their application.

In permanent residency specifically, there are 603,700 applicants. Only 279,700 of these are being processed within standard times; 54 per cent, or 324,000 applications, are not being processed within the times projected by the agency.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix recently hit headlines when he called on Ottawa to halt the deportation of Claudia Zamorano, a hospital worker whose family is facing deportation because their applications have not yet been processed.

Nathaniel Preston, Ginares’s immigration consultant, says that he is seeing long wait times for all his clients. His colleagues report the same. “You exist but you don’t. You’re technically not supposed to be here. But maybe you could be here, if they approve the visa, or they restore your status,” he says.

New data shows big boost in hiring at Canada’s immigration department. ‘What were they doing?’

My sense, given under attention to processing efficiencies, automation and AI, is that IRCC had little alternative but to hire more staff. Whether or not there IT modernization initiative, a longer term project, and other initiatives such as more online applications and tracking, will allow IRCC to wean itself from the “just throw bodies” remains to be seen.

And of course, the government is unwilling to revise its targets downwards to align with its capacity:

Only eight months into 2022, Canada already received almost as many permanent and temporary resident applications it did in 2019 before the pandemic.

After a two-year slump, the engine of the country’s immigration system is running above its capacity in 2019 by 45 per cent and the number of permanent and temporary residence applicants processed through the system is bound to exceed the 3.2 million recorded in the pre-COVID year.

According to never-before-published data, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada currently has 8,104 front-line operations staff, up from 5,583 in March 2019 — with the bulk of the extra work force added since the beginning of 2022. That is despite the number of staff on leave having crept up from 559 in March 2019 to 733 in October.

Those employees who continued to telework have also come down from almost 100 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic to 71.8 per cent last month.

“More people can do more files,” immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland told the Star. “Combined with the artificial intelligence decision making system, it should result in greater volumes of decisions.

“You’re having the A.I. do the heavy lifting. You have more humans to take care of files that need that human touch now on track, and they’re on the right path.”

But there are also numbers that immigration officials would rather see in check:

  • Web forms, a main mechanism for applicants to communicate with the department, rose from 1.61 million in 2020 to 2.26 million in 2021 and 2.42 million as of September this year;
  • Access-to-information requests, another key tool for inquiries, spiked from 98,042 pre-pandemic to 204,549 in 2021, before declining to 122,016 to date this year;
  • The number of lawsuits against the immigration department for a court order to compel officials to process a file rocketed from 112 cases in 2019 to 963 in 2022.

Not all critics are convinced the immigration system is back on track.

“Why do we have 45 per cent more people processing applications yet still have these backlogs?” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens. “I’m curious as to why it feels like processing times just keep getting worse in numerous programs and certain visa offices. I don’t understand.

“Is it glitches with new tech? Are there IT issues at certain visa posts? Are there tech issues with working from home? It’s hard just to know what’s going on from the data because the ‘why’ is missing and the department won’t say.”

Ravi Jain of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association says the ramped-up staffing levels at the department did not jive with the “massive slowdown” in people’s experience with the immigration system. He would like to see a royal commission report into the immigration delays and backlogs.

“What were they doing? I don’t think they were doing much,” said Jain. “They can’t get away with this. It just feels criminal to me because it’s affecting people in so many different ways.”

As of Aug. 31, Canada received more than 2.9 million new permanent and temporary resident applications through the major immigration programs. With four months remaining in 2022, those numbers are certain to push the total above the 3.2 million files in 2019.

Over the time period, immigration officials processed 2.25 million immigration applications — 207,590 permanent and 2.04 million temporary residents, compared to the total of 3,225,130 (235,257 permanent and 2.99 million temporary residents) recorded in 2019.

Source: New data shows big boost in hiring at Canada’s immigration department. ‘What were they doing?’

2022 State Of New American Citizenship Report

The USA also has program delivery problems:

Surging BacklogCitizenship Application Filed Naationwide

A look at the past decade indicates a worrying trend.

Although application volume was expected to fall, the volume increased to almost 1.2 million applicants through the end of 2021, and although processing volume had begun to increase in 2019, the cessation of processing applications due to COVID-19 has led to a surge in the backlog of pending applications, with nearly 800,000 applications still pending by the end of 2021.

USCIS, the federal agency responsible for processing citizenship applications, has defended itself by noting that the backlog more than doubled during the Obama administration. This is true: the backlog rose from nearly 292,000 in September 2010 to over 636,000 by the time Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.

But USCIS has also claimed that the surge in applications during 2016 and 2017 created a “record and unprecedented” workload. A look at the past 3 decades shows, however, that this is not true.

BACKLOGS IN CONTEXT

In 2007, citizenship applications surged to nearly 1.4 million, far higher than the recent uptick. This was driven in part by a looming 80% application fee hike that year, and an increase in newly eligible immigrants who had obtained their green cards 5 years earlier under the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2000.

USCIS responded with a surge in processing volume the following year, and the backlog plunged to a 30-year low of about 257,000 in 2009.

In the mid-1990s, there was a truly “record and unprecedented” surge in citizenship applications, driven in part by a corresponding increase in newly eligible immigrants who had received green cards under the Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986 (IRCA, also known as the “Reagan Amnesty”). Between 1995 and 1998, application volume stayed well above 900,000, peaking at over 1.4 million in 1997. Although the backlog initially shot past 2 million in 1997-1998, USCIS responded with a comparable surge in processing volume that appears to have tamed the backlog by 1999-2000.

The data indicate that when USCIS devotes sufficient resources to a citizenship application surge, it is possible to dramatically reduce the backlog within one year. That’s what happened in 2000, 2007, and again in 2012.

On the other hand, when USCIS fails to devote sufficient resources, backlogs can get way out of hand. That’s what happened in the mid-1990s, and it appears to be happening again.

FALLING BEHIND

Pace of citizenship backlog reduction

Another way to evaluate this problem is to measure how efficiently USCIS beats back its backlogs. If USCIS processed every citizenship application it received in a given year, plus the applications that were pending from the previous year, that would yield a “backlog completion” rate of 100%.

In reality, USCIS achieved a backlog completion rate of 77% in 2009 — a 30-year high — and this number has been trending downward ever since. There was a 10-point drop in backlog completion between 2016 and 2017 (from 63% to 53%), but backlog completion crept back up to 67% in 2019 before falling drastically in 2020 to 47%, which was the lowest backlog completion rate since 2007 (39%).

By the end of fiscal year 2021, however, the rate at which USCIS was completing naturalization cases had recovered somewhat, to just under 52%. Unfortunately, comparing the fourth quarter of FY2021 with the first two quarters of FY2022, a trend is not immediately apparent: USCIS finished Q4 of 2021 with a backlog completion rate of 24%, but by the end of December 2021 it had dropped to 22% before recovering to 25% at the end of Q2 in March 2022. USCIS’s year-end data will reveal if the agency was able to maintain its improving overall pace of clearing the citizenship backlog.

SURGING WAIT TIMES

Processing times citizenship

Growing backlogs have direct and negative consequences for immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens: They have to wait longer for their applications to be processed by the government.

Here the trend is unmistakable: Between 2012 and 2016, median application processing times hovered between about 4.5 to 6 months, before shooting past 8 months in 2017 and hovering at about 10 months in 2018 and 9 months in 2020. Compounding the worrisome trend, starting in March 2020 the coronavirus lockdown postponed the final steps for naturalization—interviews and oath ceremonies — until offices reopened in June 2020.

Source: 2022 State Of New American Citizenship Report

IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year

Current stats indicate on track or better – 154,000 April-August 2022, or an average of 31,000:

CIC News has obtained an internal IRCC memo that outlines targets for the number of new citizens Canada will welcome for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The memo, drafted by the Operations, Planning and Performance division of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for a senior official, recommends that IRCC process a total of 285,000 decisions and 300,000 new citizens by March 31, 2023. A decision is a review of an application which is then approved, denied, or marked as incomplete. The citizenship target means that 300,000 approved applicants must take the oath of citizenship, either in person or virtually.

This is a significant increase over the 2021-2022 fiscal year and even exceeds the pre-pandemic targets of 2019-2020, when 253,000 citizenship applications were processed.

In 2021-2022, IRCC succeeded in welcoming 217,000 new citizens. So far in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Canada has welcomed 116,000 new citizens and is well on track to hit target. By comparison, over the same period in 2021, Canada had only sworn in 35,000 people.

The memo also outlines the current challenges involved in processing applications as well as ensuring all positive decisions can take the oath of a citizenship within a reasonable timeframe.

IRCC moving away from paper applications

In March 2020, IRCC became unable to process most applications due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because the department was only able to process paper applications that were mailed to a central location. As all in-person events were also cancelled, this meant that IRCC was unable to conduct interviews with candidates and there could not be any oath swearing at citizenship ceremonies.

These constraints led a shift towards making the citizenship application process entirely digital, for some applicants, beginning in November 2020. This has expanded to all those who apply who are over the age of 18. However, while this may streamline the process for new applicants, a large backlog of paper applications remains.

The memo recommends that IRCC continue with its current system of first-in-first-out for all applications, meaning maintaining focus on older, paper applications while also making room to prioritize a small number of digital applications to prevent backlog growth.

In 2021, IRCC had a goal of 5,000 digital applications for the fiscal year out of a targeted 245,000 decisions. As a larger number of applications are now digital, the report says that for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, there will need to be an increase in the number of digital applications processed.

Processing times over 20 months

Processing times in a subsequent report published in May stood at 27 months. The memo says this is to be expected due to increased online applications in addition to the backlog of paper applications. As of last June, there were 413,000 applications in the grant inventory.

IRCC says it has taken steps towards clearing the backlog, and processing 80% of all new applications within service standards. To do this, over 1,000 new staff have been hired and there are plans to expand access to the citizenship application status tracker to representatives. Additionally, minors under the age of 18 will be eligible to apply for citizenship online by the end of the year.

Source: IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year

Passport Processing: Appears to have turned the corner

Latest stats showing the September was the first month that passports issued was greater than applications received. However, no stats on the degree to which service standards on processing time were met:

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/passport/statistics.html

The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

More on international study permit delays, yet another unfortunate example of government and IRCC failure in service delivery:

Leila Ghodrat Jahromi should have been sitting in class at Simon Fraser University this week, studying for her master of education degree.

Instead, the Iranian student is sitting in her temporary home in Turkey as she waits for a Canadian study permit some 14 weeks after applying for one.

“I have gone through a difficult path in my life,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who sold off a marriage gift of land from her parents and her car to cover her tuition in Canada. “Studying abroad is a milestone in my occupation towards prosperity. This situation is shattering all my planning for the future.”

The 30-year-old is among tens of thousands of international students whose fall semester has been put in jeopardy thanks to a processing backlog of permits at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). As of Sept. 1, just days before classes began, 151,000 applications were still working their way through the system, according to IRCC’s latest figures, provided to the Star on Tuesday.

Universities and colleges, which have mostly returned to in-person learning, have been scrambling to offer alternatives.

But where online options don’t exist, schools are warning international students they need to be in seats this week — or else it will be too late to catch up.

Deferrals are being recommended at this point, and in most cases, tuition and residence fees are being refunded. But such deferrals come at a huge cost for both students and institutions.

“Canada is now getting a reputation on the global stage that perhaps it’s better to go to the U.S. or it’s better to go to the U.K.,” said Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, where at least 71 of its approximately 1,336 international students have been impacted by delays.

Canada has become the third-largest destination for international students after the U.S. and Australia. Post-secondary institutions across Canada, including Laurier, have been actively working to attract international students, who, as of 2020, made up 18 per cent of the student body nationwide.

Last year, a record 560,000 study permit applications — which are considered a step towards permanent residency — were processed by IRCC. In the first eight months of this year, the government finalized 452,000 study permits, but has struggled to keep up with demand.

A spokesperson at the University of Toronto, which has more than 20,000 international students, said that, as of last week, more than 600 permits for U of T students were still outstanding, and that the university “sympathizes with the frustration of those experiencing long delays in processing.”

Despite IRCC’s promise to hire 1,250 new employees to tackle the problem, the current wait time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks. Industry agents and consultants say processing in Canada is taking longer than in rival destinations, although IRCC told the Star that 62 per cent of the 150,000 applications in the system are within the service standard of 60 days.

IRCC told the Star it is “moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally,” including the hiring blitz and digitizing applications.

“Honestly, I am starting to regret not having an alternative,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who was accepted to the B.C. university in February and applied for her study permit in early June, together with her husband, who sought an open work permit so he could accompany her. They were asked for additional documentation in early July, which they provided immediately. “With such an academic background, I could simply have been admitted to top universities around the world with much less painful processing time.”

Having co-founded an online English academy, Ghodrat Jahromi is hoping to enhance her credentials by getting a M.Ed. in teaching English as an additional language. She said Simon Fraser, which has about 6,860 international students, has been helpful, but ultimately her program had to be completed in person, and time just ran out.

She has, regretfully, decided to defer to spring 2023.

Because she had already resigned from her job and broken her lease in Antalya, Turkey — where she had moved to escape Tehran’s pollution that was exacerbating her asthma, and to better access COVID-19 vaccines — she is now faced with a huge rent increase and finding work to tide her over to the next semester, assuming her permit comes through.

“Right now, I am applying to other countries, just in case,” she said, adding that through an online forum, she has been tracking similar frustrations from many other Iranian students facing delays.

University of Waterloo economics professor Mikal Skuterud has for weeks been receiving emails from students worried about what they’re missing. Of the 600 students in his Economics 101 course, about a fifth are international students.

For those still waiting on a permit, the window is nearly closed, said Skuterud: “Once you are missing two of 12 weeks, a sixth of the course, to me that’s a problem.”

Waterloo’s faculty of arts is recommending students not in class by Sept. 20 defer admission. Laurier, meanwhile, has suggested Wednesday as the last date to start in-person classes, given group work and assessment expectations.

“This is really quite unnecessary stress that we’re putting these students under. Why? Because the IRCC is a bit of a mess right now,” said Skuterud.

“This is a big, big move for many of them,” leaving behind families and homelands. And, he added, “students are paying a lot of money.”

Tuition for international students is, on average, three times higher than for domestic students, making it a vital revenue source in schools across the country. Undergraduate tuition for engineering at Waterloo, for example, is $66,000 per year compared to $18,000 for Canadian citizens.

At Laurier, permit delays this year alone could have a financial impact of $2 million, climbing to $10 million over the course of four years if those students choose to go elsewhere, according to MacLatchy.

“My worry is that if they’re not going to be able to come this year, by next year, will they have made other decisions about other opportunities?”

Although delays are not isolated to this year, MacLatchy said they are having a cumulative effect, and Laurier and other institutions like Waterloo have been advocating for solutions.

Having university-educated international students, said MacLatchy, is one of the “smartest ways for the country to get great talent” that will bring entrepreneurship and global experience to the workforce.

“We want (international students) to think of Canada as their destination for their education and also for their future careers and lives. To have visa delays be what stops them is really unfortunate.”

Source: The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

Of note, another country with wait time and backlog issues:

Fadi Hamdan, his wife and twin five-year-old daughters will become citizens at a ceremony next month after waiting for a year.

The Auckland IT engineer, who comes from Jordan, said it was galling to see other people go through the same citizenship by grant process in four months – and some quicker still.

“There are people who get their citizenship in 10 days, exactly 10 days. It’s not only a small amount of people, there are 600 people. So there is a special treatment going on, nobody knows about it.”

He was disappointed at the time it took and the lack of information when he asked for updates, querying why his application had failed automatic checks.

While there were not many practical differences between permanent residence and citizenship, a New Zealand passport could make travel simpler for people from countries where visas were usually needed.

For Hamdan, it became critical when his mother fell ill.

“I’m worried about going to see my dying mum. She had a stroke three times. I lost my father in October 2020 during Covid, because of Covid, and I don’t want to lose my Mum.

“We are not asking for an exception, all we are asking for is to be treated fairly and kindly. It will mean a lot, to be honest. It’s the last milestone that we were looking for since we arrived in the country.”

As of 18 August, there were 29,200 applications awaiting an outcome. Of those 9161 were from last year.

A random snapshot showed that on 17 August this year, 179 applications were approved for 2021 and 238 for 2022.

The National Party’s internal affairs spokesman Todd Muller said the backlog was similar to where it was last year when assurances were given about bringing waiting times down.

People would approach their MPs concerned about why their applications had failed to progress.

“It just gives them a huge amount of anxiety because they’ve understood that now they can move from residency to citizenship, they’re told they’ve got everything in order and then it just gets dropped into a big black hole and they don’t hear anything.”

Internal Affairs seemed to be processing recent applications first, which left those already in the queue waiting longer, he said.

Internal Affairs said it was analysing those who failed automated checks and categorising them to speed up the process.

Sixteen staff had been moved over to deal with the surge in passport applications and would move back there.

“The pipe coming into the organisation is bigger than the number of people that we have who are doing this work, particularly when you think about these are the same people who are also looking at the massive surge in passport demand that we’ve had,” said Internal Affairs deputy chief of service delivery Maria Robertson.

Not requiring migrants from English-speaking countries to prove their language ability had sped up their applications, she added.

Internal Affairs said some applications would take longer if the applicant had changed their name, spent a lot of time outside New Zealand since obtaining residency or had committed offences.

Others could be rushed through in urgent situations.

“Some applicants may not have been required to understand English in order to obtain residency – citizenship legislation requires most applicants to have sufficient knowledge of the English language, so sometimes additional checks may be required.

“It is not always easily possible to tell why an application has not passed an initial automated check. It could be related to data from INZ or another government agency or an answer in an application.

“Frontline staff who answer queries from applicants who have not yet been assigned a case officer do not have access to all the relevant information in an application.”

Source: ‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes

An unfortunate additional example at IRCC. Given this and other examples, perhaps time for the government to scale back to program capacity, rather than failing to meet service standards and expectations:

Delays in processing student visas have put a large number of international students at risk of missing the start of fall classes this year, as the federal Immigration Department struggles to keep up with what it describes as a surge in applications.

The issue has sparked a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, which said in a statement that it has received a number of petitions from Indian students frustrated with lengthy wait times for visa processing.

India is Canada’s largest source country for international postsecondary students. Students from outside Canada pay tuition fees that are often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students, and that money has become a crucial source of funding to universities and colleges across the country.

According to the Immigration Department, the number of student visa applications is growing. Canada received more than 123,000 applications for student visas from India in the first five months of this year, an increase of 55 per cent over 2019, according to Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. So far this year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has processed more than 360,000 student visas, a 17-per-cent increase over the same period in 2021.

Students apply for the study permits only after they have been accepted to Canadian universities. Until their visa applications are processed they aren’t allowed to enter Canada to study – and that is true even if they have already paid tuition, or taken out student loans.

Ms. Strickland added in a statement that IRCC is still struggling with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations around the world. She said the government is prioritizing applications from students aiming to begin their studies in September, but that not all applications will be processed in time for fall 2022.

“IRCC has seen an unprecedented volume of applications received for both initial study permits and extensions in 2022, not just from citizens of India but on a global scale,” Ms. Strickland said.

The number of students affected is not clear, but Canada’s diplomatic mission in India said in a tweet last week that a “large number” had experienced long wait times or not received visa decisions.

Federal data show that, as of the end of July, 34 per cent of pending international student visa applications were taking longer to process than government standards dictate.

Indian students contribute more than $4-billion in tuition fees to Canada’s postsecondary system, according to the statement from the Indian High Commission. More than 230,000 Indian students are enrolled at Canadian schools, the statement said.

At the University of Toronto, the number of students contacting registrars with study permit concerns is higher than usual, the university said in a statement. The university said it has been in constant contact with IRCC, and with the Minister’s office directly, to advocate for timely processing of study permit applications and to explain the impact of the delays on students. The statement added that any students unable to enter the country because of the delays can seek deferrals if they are eligible.

Gautham Kolluri, an international-student recruiter and immigration consultant based in Waterloo, Ont., said the number of students affected is likely in the thousands.

He said these are students who have accepted places offered to them at Canadian universities or colleges and expected to have their student visas approved in a matter of weeks. Instead, the process is taking months.

One client of his waited six months to get a study permit, he said.

Mr. Kolluri said he is advising some clients that they are unlikely to receive approval from IRCC before classes begin. At this point, he said, he’s recommending they defer until the next available intake, which can mean a delay until January, or in some cases until next September.

“They’re devastated. For them it’s their studies, but also their future career and opportunities in Canada that are affected,” Mr. Kolluri said. “We are losing these kind of good students who could make a contribution to Canada.”

Most students in India take out education loans in their home countries before coming to Canada. Mr. Kolluri said the interest on those loans starts accumulating even if the students haven’t been able to begin their studies, adding to the pressure they feel if there are problems with their study permits.

Before the pandemic, he said, visa approvals often came through in two to three weeks, and in some cases as quickly as 48 hours. Now, IRCC’s website says it takes up to 12 weeks on average for a study permit application from India to be approved. The target is eight weeks, according to the department.

Ms. Strickland said Mr. Fraser has announced that he expects to hire an additional 1,250 officers by the end of fall to tackle application backlogs and processing delays, paid in part with $85-million in additional funds directed to the department in the government’s 2021 fiscal update.

Source: International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes