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Canadian Study Permits: Room for Improvement

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This article is authored by Joshua Schachnow, CEO and Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Visto.ai.

In recent years, the volume of study permit applications and international students coming to Canada have skyrocketed. To put this in perspective, data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) shows the number of study permit holders has more than doubled from 219,035 study permit holders in 2015 to 458,650 in 2022.

This major increase comes with many side effects – good and bad. Plenty of young and motivated individuals excited to start the next stage of their educational career in Canada, a big boost to our economy, a supply of talent, and more.

But it also brings some concerns. With big growth in the numbers of applications, so too does the number of refusals. The study permit program – and all the aspiring students and their lawyers that try to navigate it – could benefit greatly from a tightening and clarification of the requirements to improve the quality of applications, reduce backlogs/processing times, and hopefully lead to a more predictable application.

Part One: Contradiction in Ties to Home Country Requirement

One of the key requirements for a study permit approval is to show proof of ties to your home country, meaning that you must demonstrate your intention to return to your country of origin after completing your studies in Canada. Unfortunately for applicants, this requirement is contradictory to one of the core benefits of coming to study in Canada in the first place – the ability to stay here and settle.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has programs such as the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) that allow many students to work in Canada for up to three years after graduation, giving students the opportunity to get work experience and start their career in Canada. For those looking to get permanent residence (PR), IRCC has also created, expanded on, and continues to improve PR programs that tend to be easier for international graduates inside Canada – like Express Entry, Provincial Nominee Programs and amidst Covid, the TR to PR program.

This contradiction can lead to confusion and unnecessary work for international students and the professionals they may work with. On one hand, students may go out of their way to strengthen ties in their home country by investing in real estate, leaving family members out of their application, and more. Yet IRCC has made it clear – both through their programs and marketing in countries abroad – that Canada is a great destination to study and eventually settle in.

By adjusting the requirements related to proving ties to your home country, IRCC will save applicants from making large, unnecessary investments and time spent apart from family members, all while aligning with the programs already in place.

Part Two: Lack of Clarity in Document Requirements

Study permit applications generally consist of two types of documents – forms created by IRCC and a list of supporting documents. The list of forms and supporting documents can vary depending on which country you’re applying from, whether you’re submitting it online or offline, your age, any family members included, and more.

Unfortunately, IRCC’s instructions aren’t always clear, and especially for a student that may be applying on their own, can create more confusion at best, and a swift visa rejection at worst.

For example, IRCC’s website mentions the need for a “Letter of Explanation” as a required document. But if you decide to apply online through your own account, there is no mention of the Letter of Explanation whatsoever in the document checklist that IRCC generates for you:

Effectively, it’s up to the student to know documents like this are required, and they (hopefully) include them under another document slot, like the Client Information option at the bottom.

If you read “Guide 5269 – Applying for a Study Permit outside Canada” on the IRCC website, you will also find no mention of a Letter of Explanation, nor will you find it on IMM 5483 E : Document Checklist – For a Study Permit.

Another confusing component can be the Family Information form – one of the multiple forms required by IRCC as part of the study permit application. On the screenshot above, you’ll notice that the portal asks for IMM 5645, yet the document checklist IMM 5483 (linked above) asks for Family Information form 5707 (yes, there are two different versions) and so do many of the visa office instructions from major sources of international students to Canada (for example, the Abu Dhabi and Manila office instructions specifically request IMM 5707).

While some may argue the online application requirements are different from paper-based applications, why does the IRCC website guide me to IMM 5483 and the visa office instructions, both of which suggest IMM 5707, if the online portal prompts that same student for IMM 5645?

How to move forward?

I don’t want to paint a dreary picture – over the last few decades, IRCC has created, launched, expanded on, and improved many great immigration programs and Canada is arguably at the very top of the list of countries people want to immigration to – as a student or otherwise.

But there is still room for improvement. If IRCC can start by removing their contradictory home ties requirement, and better synchronising the document requirements across the different types of study permit applications, it would go a long way for the applicants and the regulated professionals they work with.

Not only will this result in better quality applications and fewer rejections, but it will also create less of a strain on IRCC processing centres, help to reduce the backlog and make the Canadian immigration process better for everyone.

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