Visa delays risking mental health of int’l students

Students told The PIE that they were taking medication for depression, with one student saying that they are suicidal. 

“Students have been taking antidepressants”

Some have been waiting for their visas to be processed since March 2020, and say they have had no contact from IRCC to update them on the status of their application. 

Others were given an agreement in principle to enter the country, as part of IRCC’s two-stage application process that ran last year and subsequently signed up for university courses. However they have since been rejected on the second stage. 

“This entire situation has been so miserable – and nobody has been held accountable,” an Indian student who did not want to be named told The PIE. 

“You wouldn’t believe what has been happening. Students have been taking antidepressants. Our parents have been suffering too,” she said. 

“We are in depression,” another told The PIE. “Sometimes we think we [have lost] everything, every hope… then we think to [take] wrong steps like suicide,” they said. 

Visa processing backlogs have resulted in long waits for international students who are hoping to enter Canada on study permits. 

Indian students in particular have been facing long waiting times. At the time of writing IRCC’s website estimated that study permits for Indian applicants would be issued within 14 weeks. 

However, The PIE accessed a Whatsapp group for Indian students who had applied in March, with some 194 members, and spoke with many who said that they were still waiting for their applications to be processed. 

“Everyday we live with anxiety, bad mental health and constant pressure from our parents”

These students have started their courses at Canadian universities and are studying online. But poor internet connectivity, time zone differences and the uncertainty caused by the visa backlogs has taken a serious toll on their mental health. 

“We all did our first semester online and the second semester has already started. Everyday we live with anxiety, bad mental health and constant pressure from our parents because if we receive a rejection, not only our money will have gone down the drain, but the [also the] effort and time that went into studying online at night from different time zones,” one student said. 

Another told The PIE that he had taken a large loan to finance his studies in Canada, and had paid for one semester. He did not want to lose that money by dropping out of his course. 

“We have taken loans for education and we are paying interest. If [IRCC] can’t issue a visa or give a decision, how can we plan our future? 

“The colleges fear they will lose their income, they have come up with new rules by deducing a lump amount of money we paid as fees.”

Students who applied for visas in March told The PIE, that others who had applied for their study permits more recently had actually received them, leading to questions around how processing is being prioritised. 

“We are also making great strides in processing more applications virtually”

IRCC told The PIE that it is “rapidly adapting, innovating and evolving” to best serve Canadians and those who wish to come to the country. 

The spokesperson explained that while none of the processing centres have been completely shut down, visa application centres (VACs) around the world have in many instances had to temporarily close, including in India, which has delayed processing. 

“The health and safety of our clients and staff are IRCC’s top priority when deciding to resume services at a VAC,” they said. 

“In late November 2020, VACs in India were able to start offering biometrics appointments and priority was given to applicants applying for a study permit and those applying for permanent residence in the family class as a spouse, partner, or dependent child. We continue to process those as quickly as possible.”

Two-stage assessment 

To tackle issues around students unable to provide biometrics or medicals due to VAC closures, the government created a temporary two-stage process for students who were unable to submit all of the documentation required to process their applications. However, students have also expressed concern around how visas are being processed

In the first stage of an application a students’ eligibility for study in Canada was assessed, including whether they had been accepted at a Canadian designated learning institution and had the funds required to study in the country.  

In the second stage students were able to submit documents such as biometrics, immigration medical examination or police certificates. Once this was done IRCC said officers would finalise the application process.

“I resigned my job back in March as I thought it would take two or three weeks to get a visa and then I would fly”

However students told The PIE that while they had been approved at the first stage – which was used to assess eligibility for study – they had their applications rejected at the second stage. 

One student who first applied in March and then again as part of the two-stage process, eventually had their application refused in December. 

“It’s pathetic. I resigned my job back in March as I thought it would take two or three weeks to get a visa and then I would fly,” they said. 

“But what I got from IRCC was betrayal and false hope in the name of an agreement in principle and then a refusal.

“I’m suffering from mental trauma and I am not able to sleep properly. It was a terrible experience for me. Time, money and career all wasted,” they said. 

IRCC told The PIE that under two-stage processing, a first stage eligibility approval isn’t a guarantee that a study permit applicant will eventually receive final approval. 

“At the second stage, an officer reviews the application on admissibility factors, including their biometrics, police certificates and medical exams, as well as any other information that has changed since the initial eligibility review,” an IRCC spokesperson said. 

IRCC also provided The PIE data that said just 25 Indian applicants out of a total of 12,025 had been refused at stage two after being approved at the first stage. 

However, The PIE also had access to a Whatsapp group for Indian students who had their applications rejected at the second stage which had 93 members. 

“We are continuing to work with IRCC to ramp up visa processing capacity and calling for flexibility around biometric and language testing requirements, to ensure that students can get their visas in time for academic deadlines,” a spokesperson for Universities Canada told The PIE.

The students who commented for this piece asked to remain anonymous. 

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