As of February 1, 2022, the agency had received 112,185 study permit applications and 26,479 study permit extension applications.

Canada’s total visa backlog stands at around 1.8 million immigration applications, of which 848,598 are temporary residency applications, according to IRCC data. But IRCC has also been praised for its collaborative approach with institutions by sections of the international education sector.

Currently, IRCC is communicating a 13-week processing time for outside Canada study permit applications. Citing impacts of the coronavirus disease, the IRCC website also states that it is experiencing delays in receiving applications, processing applications normally, and they are unable to provide accurate processing times.

“Almost every global supply chain has been disrupted and visa processing delays are just the closest to home for our sector”

The continued delays come after nearly 505,000 study permit applications were finalised in 2021 compared with about 220,000 in 2020 and about 424,000 in 2019, the most recent year unaffected by the global pandemic.

The agency also hope that $85 million allocated in the 2021 Budget will help to reduce application inventories by an investment in additional staff.

In January, Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser, acknowledging that processing delays “have been incredibly frustrating for many individuals”, helping applicants with predictable processing times and efficient communication from IRCC “remains a top priority”.

Students on classroom- and practical work experience-based co-op programs have also been experiencing delays once in Canada. Simon Fraser University students had been forewarned of IRCC co-op permit processing delays of 129 days (18.5 weeks) for their placements in the Lower Mainland Area of British Columbia.

However, in an effort to mitigate the delay for starting classes or co-op programs, SFU, George Brown College and other institutions have utilised IRCC’s temporary measures which allow students to pursue studies online from abroad until August 31, 2022, without affecting their post-graduation work permit eligibility.

Secondly, students in Canada are allowed to use their “on” or “off” campus work authorisation while awaiting for a decision on their co-op work permit application.

Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, emphasised that any delays by IRCC in processing study permits must be seen through the context of the complex, pandemic related, issues affecting student permit applications.

Bezo said that IRCC has been “exceptional” in its collaborative approach with institutions, CBIE, BCCIE, CEWIL and other educational stakeholders, who are looking at solutions to improve the application process in light of the huge demand.

British Columbia Council for International Education executive director Randall Martin encouraged institutions and students alike to have patience while IRCC reduces the application evaluation periods for international study permit applications.

“As pandemic travel requirements and restrictions ease globally, our world is in a perfect storm of both huge supply and huge demand, but with an ongoing and calamitous disruption of the supply chain,” he said.

“Specifically in international education, we have two years of pent-up demand for student mobility from students and their families, and two years of online delivery and largely empty classes that our districts, schools and institutions want to get filled.

“The supply chain issues in our sector seem to include visa processing offices for many countries and destinations, not just Canada; many are closed or grossly under-staffed due to local and regional Omicron surges, and the rust of two years of the pandemic, and they are now also overwhelmed by demand and volume,” he noted.

“The institutions understandably have great frustrations, and we of course share concerns about apparent backlogs, but again, almost every global supply chain has been disrupted and visa processing delays are just the closest to home for our sector.”

“Delays in study permit processing through the IRCC have been an additional challenge”

“Delays in study permit processing through the IRCC have been an additional challenge for students coming to University of Victoria,” the institution in British Columbia said. Some 17% of UVic’s student population before Covid-19 was international – a level it is hoping to maintain beyond the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, some students have also struggled to complete their study permit applications due to limited or unavailable in-person services such as visa application centres (biometrics collection centres) in their country of application,” a UVic spokesperson said.

It has introduced a range of new resources for its 3,500+ international students, such as self-isolation programs and emergency funding, but also added new positions in the International Centre for Students to support students facing immigration challenges.

In a statement given to The PIE News, IRCC said, “Although we had to navigate unprecedented challenges on Canada’s immigration system with the pandemic, IRCC remains committed to providing the best experience possible for people who see their future in Canada.

“Our continued priority is to provide timely service to clients by moving towards a more integrated, modernised and centralised working environment in order to help speed up application processing,” it added.

The government of Canada recognises that the recruitment of international students is a highly competitive environment.

Not only does attracting them benefit Canadian educational institutions, it’s also a pillar of its own immigration strategy as the country looks to fill demand by industry for a highly educated and skilled workforce.

According to government figures, in addition to the 505,000 study permit applications, from January-November 2021, “nearly 143,000 applicants who had ever previously held a study permit transitioned to permanent residence in Canada”.

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