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Did you know that more than half of international students headed to undergraduate programs in Canada were turned away this winter and spring (2019) by immigration officials?

Between January and May, officers rejected 53% of the study permit applications filed by foreign students hoping to begin a bachelor program in Canada, according to data provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and nearly four in ten applicants for any and all Canadian study permits (39%) have been rejected in the first five months of this year

The record refusal rate is part of a trend that has seen immigration officials refuse a higher proportion of applications every year as international demand for Canadian education has soared. The overall refusal rate – including study permit applications to attend primary, secondary, post-secondary and language programs – was 39 per cent in the first five months of the year. (Rates for the first five months of 2019 may not reflect full-year rates.)

Reasons for refusal: fraud, danger, doubtful intentions

72% of all study permit applications were approved by immigration officials in 2014. Four years later, in 2018, the overall approval rate had come down to 66%. Demand for education boomed in that same period, with total applications almost doubling to more than 340,000 in 2018. From 2014 through 2018, total foreign enrolment in Canada grew by just over 73%, making Canada the world’s fastest-growing study destination over those five years.

Robert Summerby-Murray is president of Saint Mary’s University, where 34% current students come from outside Canada. He is also chair of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, which promotes international education on behalf of more than 100 Canadian colleges, universities, schools and institutions said, “study permit approvals have been improving for his students and he hasn’t heard of problems from other institutions”.

“In some markets now, approvals are over 90 per cent,” he said of the experience of his own university this year. “We don’t see a 40 per cent refusal rate. That’s not our experience at all.”

Why the discrepancy in results?

Well, Immigration officials can refuse a study permit for many reasons: if they suspect the student may not return to their home country after graduation; if the student doesn’t have sufficient funds to pay for tuition and living costs while in Canada; if the student poses a health or security threat to Canada; if the officer doesn’t think the student’s academic plan makes sense; if the application is incomplete or inaccurate or if there is evidence of fraud in the application.

Harpreet Kochhar, assistant deputy minister of immigration, warned last fall that fraud had become a significant problem in study permit applications. He told a conference of the Canadian Bureau of International Education that a sample audit found that 10 per cent of the admission letters attached to study permit applications were false. In one case, he said, a supposed admission letter from Dalhousie University did not even spell the name of the university correctly.

Refusals vary by source country

Refusal rates also vary dramatically by country, with students from Africa much less likely to receive a permit than students from many Asian and European countries.

Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) shows that 3 in 4 African students (75%) who applied for study permits in Canada between January and May this year were rejected.

As usual the reasons for rejection include a lack of funds and fraudulent applications. But it also includes a discretionary call which has long hobbled foreign visa applications of Africans: the suspicion that African applicants will not return to the home country after completion of study.

While there is no official change in policy towards African application, it must be noted that in many cases, the refusal rate has increased dramatically in recent years.” For example, there’s a view that the applications from Nigeria will get more scrutiny because of the increased rates of pending asylum claims by Nigerians in Canada—now the highest of any nationality in the past few years. Matching that trend, rejection of Nigerian applications jumped from 55% in 2013 to 81% in 2018.

Summerby-Murray said his university works hard to build and maintain relationships with the consular officials who decide whether a student permit is approved, and they also work with expert agents who vet students thoroughly before an application is filed.

Undergraduate refusals double

University-bound students are driving the higher rejection rate. While the study permit refusal rate for graduate university programs has increased slightly, the refusal rate for bachelor programs is the problem.

In 2014, only 20% of international students headed to a bachelor program were refused a permit, compared to 37% in 2018 and 53% in the first five months of 2019, a serious and troubling trend for potential and future international students thinking about studying in Canada.

5 years ago, visa officers were twice as likely to approve the study permit applications of international students bound for Canadian universities as students bound for Canadian college programs. Today the overall rates are similar.

The lowest refusal rates in early 2019 were for students who want to attend a doctoral program (11 per cent), high school (20 per cent), primary school (20 per cent), master’s program (31 per cent) or language program (31 per cent).

Alain Roy, vice president of international partnerships with Colleges and Institutes Canada, said he is pleased that the rejection rate for college-bound students has remained steady despite a huge increase in the number of applications.

“We visit. We call,” he said. “I can pick up the phone. I can talk to the consuls in Shanghai, the team in Beijing, the folks in Hong Kong, Nairobi and other places and say, ‘Heh, we have these refusals, can you reconsider?’ We have worked very hard on these relationships.”

Polestar collected impressions from several other university administrators across Canada, all of whom shared information on the condition that neither they nor their institutions would be named. Two smaller universities said they have noticed an increase in problems with study permit approvals and two larger institutions said they had not seen any increase.

International students who want to attend school in Canada must be admitted to a designated learning institution before they apply for a study permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Most students will also need either a temporary resident visa or an electronic travel authorization to enter Canada.

Visa officers may deny a study permit application if there are any issues with the student’s medical exam or finances to proof that you have enough money to support yourself while studying in Canada or if applicant can’t convince the officer that he/she/they does has a legitimate study plan for Canada, or that his/her/their main purpose in Canada is to study or that he/she/they’ll leave Canada at the end of the study period.

Toronto-based immigration lawyer Andrew Carvajal expanded recently to on one of the points above. He explains that an immigration officer may simply conclude that the applicant does not have a legitimate study plan for Canada, and may be using the study permit route as a way to quickly and legally enter the country.

“I’ve found more immigration officers are making that determination,” says Mr Carvajal. “Although an applicant has been accepted to a legitimate program in Canada, officials don’t see those studies as legitimate. Officers have become like career counsellors, whether a programme makes sense or not. That we have seen increase.”

To not get caught up in this situation we at Arborway Immigration highly suggest all potential International students in the process or thinking about studying in Canada should first consult and then higher Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants to help avoid any pitfalls or to help them prepare the application, study plan and also put forward the best supporting documents that will fit their particular situation so as to have the best chance to get a quick positive approval of the Study permit application.

If you are interested in studying in Canada contact us today.

All figures in this story are based on data provided to Polestar Research by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.


About The Author

Olayinka Ogundipe is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant with Arborway Immigration Inc a Canadian Immigration Firm located in the GTA. He is a member in good standing with The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), which is the Canadian government mandated supervisory, licensing and regulatory body for all Canadian Immigration Consultants and also an Ontario appointed Commissioner of Affidavit on Immigration, Citizenship and Refugee matters.You can follow him on Facebook @ArborwayImmigration, Instagram @ArborwayImmigration & LinkedIn @ArborwayImmigration

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