Montreal

Students in India say they're in limbo, waiting months for permits to learn in Quebec

Students in India are desperate for news about when they can come to Quebec and begin their studies.

Students are desperate for news after spending thousands on tuition fees

Gitika Sharma, 19, and her parents are waiting for news in India. Sharma says she’s spent six months waiting on the government to issue her a permit to study at a Montreal College. She says friends who applied after her have already received theirs. (Submitted by Gitika Sharma)

Gitika Sharma, 19, says the past six months have been filled with sleepless nights and anxiety.

Sharma lives in Chandigarh, a region in Northern India. Hoping to study in Canada, she chose Herzing College in Montreal and its early childhood education program.

Sharma has spent thousands of dollars on tuition fees to study in Quebec but she can't come to Canada because she has yet to receive her study permit from the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

"Students and their parents feel depressed," Sharma said. "Our parents see us at home, not doing anything all day and not going to college here, because we wanted to study in Canada."

Currently, international students can take courses online, with a significant time difference, but they can't fly to Canada or graduate if they do not obtain this permit.

For the past several weeks, Indian students and some higher education institutions have written to the federal government to unblock this situation, saying it affects hundreds of students looking to study in Quebec. They want to know why this is happening and when they will be able to come to Canada to study.

Another barrier for these students is the federal ban on flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30-days, amid a surge of COVID-19 cases numbers in these countries.

Some colleges singled out

In December 2020, the provincial government suspended 10 private colleges' ability to issue the Quebec Acceptance Certificate (QAC) — a document that international students need for their study permits from Ottawa.

Quebec also launched an investigation into what it described as "questionable recruitment" practices for students in India by the schools in question.

In mid-January, the suspension was lifted after the Superior Court ruled that these schools were allowed to issue the certificates to international students.

A spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration says they are complying with the decision and processing all applications submitted to them.

The ministry also says it has contacted the federal government with its concerns and has asked the federal government for a status update on these files.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has yet to respond to CBC's requests, after a week of notice.

Colleges say students deserve answers

Michael McAllister is the president of Herzing College in Montreal, one of the schools whose international students were put on hold by Quebec.

He says the government should publish its findings or recommendations following the investigation, instead of leaving hundreds of students waiting.

"They have all the information, do something with it. Make a decision that helps the students move forward, whether it's against us or for us. At least you made a decision."

Veronica Carcagenova speaks for Canada College, another school on the government's list. She says many of their students have taken out loans and interest is piling up as they await news.

"There are several students who are depressed. We have students even who have shared with us they want to commit suicide," said Carcagenova.

Meanwhile, according to Radio-Canada, other institutions, like the Lester B. Pearson School Board and Concordia University, say they have not noticed any major problems in how their students' permits are processed.

Montrealer hopes to be reunited with brother in India

Vaishali Battu says it took her 12 days to get her student permit to come to Montreal, two years ago. Meanwhile, her brother has been waiting close to five months. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Vaishali Battu came to Montreal more than two years ago, looking for a better future.

Now, she's hoping her brother Ajay Battu, 19, will be able to join her and live out his dreams pursuing a career in computer engineering in the city.

Battu applied for his student permit five months ago after being accepted into Montreal's Matrix College. Since then, nothing has progressed.

"He's in a total depression. My parents are so depressed, every time I call them, they sound so low," Battu says. " I can feel his pain as well because his future is undefined."

While waiting for his permit, her brother has been taking online classes from his home in India. Due to the time difference, those classes are often in the middle of the night.

"It's kind of frustrating as well. The students, ... really lose focus at night. They cannot concentrate on their studies at night," Battu said.

Watching others move forward

Sharma says it has been difficult for her and her family, as they see other students who applied to other provinces get their permits in a more "timely manner."

She's hoping students will get closure soon, and from there decide if they want to pursue their studies in Quebec or withdraw their tuition fees and study elsewhere.

Ajay Battu, 19, with his sister Vaishali Battu. Ajay Battu is taking online courses at Montreal’s Matrix college from his home in India, while he waits for his study permit to come to Quebec. (Submitted by Vaishali Battu)

'Not a good look' for Canada, says immigration lawyer

Immigration lawyer David Chalk says the process for obtaining a study permit usually takes around two months and sometimes as little as two weeks, for those under a fast-track program after they received their provincial certificates.

"Honestly, this looks bad, this looks like somebody is trying to implement some sort of disincentive to study at those colleges," he said.

Based on reports, Chalk says these colleges have been co-operating with the investigations and he believes the government should come out with a report as soon as possible to "clear the air."

"If such an action needs to be taken to sanction colleges, well they should do that. It shouldn't be students that are paying the price of our difficulties in regulating these educational institutions. If there really are difficulties," Chalk said.

He says many international students also use the study permit to later become permanent residents, later contributing to Canadian society.

Assessing on a case-by-case basis 

The government recognizes the "tremendous social, cultural and economic benefits" that international students bring to Canada and that there are benefits for students who choose to study in Canada beyond earning a degree or diploma, said Sonia Lesage, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

There are a variety of reasons that a study permit application submitted much earlier in the pandemic could still be in processing and not finalized, she said.

Study permit applications are still being processed for applicants accepted at a designated learning institution under investigation by the province of Quebec, she said.

"We are monitoring the investigation in Quebec," Lesage said in an email. "Additional checks and verifications may be required for officers to be able to reach a final decision on these cases, which can delay processing."

From March to October 2020, travel restrictions prevented most international students from travelling to Canada, even if their study permit application was finalized and approved, Lesage said.

Those who were exempt from travel restrictions at the time were prioritized, she said.

After travel restrictions for students changed in October, IRCC has prioritized study permit applications from prospective students whose designated learning institution had a COVID-19 readiness plan approved by their province or territory, she said. 

"Despite the processing challenges presented by the global pandemic, all applications submitted will still be finalized as soon as we are able to do so," Lesage said.

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