Saskatchewan

U of R international students struggle with delayed study permits, loneliness, money

International students are facing many issues right now. University is in session, but many new international students are unable to register for classes. Due to the pandemic, Canadian Immigration Services has been delayed in approving study permits and visas.

COVID-19 causes delays with processing and approving visa and study permit applications

Ngozi Attah, a TV and radio presenter from Nigeria, is supposed to begin classes at the University of Regina this week. But study permit and visa delays have stuck her in limbo. (Submitted/Ngozi Ogaga)

University is in session, but many international students are facing issues getting their studies started right now. 

Many new international students are unable to register for classes. Due to the pandemic, Canadian Immigration Services has been delayed in approving study permits and visas.

Bisi Oladele is regional editor at The Nation newspaper in Nigeria, and was accepted into the University of Regina's Master of Journalism program. He applied for a student permit in mid-June. On average, Oladele says applications from Nigeria only take four to six weeks to be processed and approved.

Oladele still has not heard back about the status of his application. 

"We all understood that the coronavirus pandemic is likely responsible for the delay we are experiencing in the processing of our visas," Oladele said.

"But by and large we really do not know what's going to happen. We were supposed have fully joined the student community at the U of R as of now."

Oladele says there is no option to follow up with Canadian Immigration Services.

"We are encouraged not to call or email, but to wait for communication from Canadian Immigration ... If not for the show of understanding and good communication from the U of R, we would have been fully frustrated."

Master of Journalism program has majority international students

There are 13 students in the 2020 Master of Journalism program, eight of whom are international students.

Mark Taylor, the department head at the School of Journalism, said enrolment in the program in 2020 is the highest it's been in seven years. The Master of Journalism program's newest cohort is the biggest the school has ever had.

"But that's if they can get here. Even virtually get here," Taylor said. 

Taylor said this problem is not unique to the journalism school. It's a problem facing many international students wanting to study in Canada. 

Bisi Oladele is supposed to begin the University of Regina Master in Journalism program, but still has not received his student permit. (Submitted/Bisi Oladele)

Oladele said the permit delay is causing him a lot of concern and stress. 

"For me to leave my job and pursue the program I need to give one month notice ... but already the program has started. You can see the difficulty that I have," Oladele said. 

Drop-out deadline looms

Ngozi Attah, a TV and radio presenter also from Nigeria, was accepted into the Master program in 2019, but was denied a study visa at the time. Attah said she was not given a reason for the denial, but was asked to reapply. So she had to defer her admission for a year.

When the pandemic hit and embassies closed, Attah said she delayed reapplying because she was concerned about spending the money when things were so uncertain. She is now waiting to see what happens with other international students' applications. 

"We want to improve ourselves. We need to be known. The international students need to express themselves and let the embassy know that this is what we're facing," Attah said. 

Taylor said the school has come up with a work-around plan to help international students while they wait. 

"The one thing we can do is let them participate in these classes, even though they're not officially registered, in hopes that if and when everything is processed, they can just keep on rolling and they're not behind a month."

If students want to begin studying, they must register for classes online and pay tuition fees. 

Taylor said Sept. 16 is the drop deadline for students to get 100 per cent of their tuition refunded. Sept. 30 is the deadline to get a 50 per cent refund. 

If the international students have to drop the program, that will take away 75 per cent of the school's graduate class. 

"I feel for the students most because they're the ones in limbo. But it is frustrating for us," Taylor said. 

Financial pressure, mental health concerns

Md Abul Hossain is a second-year economics international student from Bangladesh and international students' director at the U of R students' union. 

He said international students both in and outside of Canada are facing more than visa delays. 

"They are struggling with their work, their families, their mental health," Hossain said.

"A few students told me that their parents and relatives are directly effected because of COVID-19. Some have economic issues because they're not earning. The parents are not able to send them the whole amount of the tuition."

International Night 2020 on March 6th arranged by UR International at the University of Regina, right before COVID-19 began. (Submitted/Shahadet Hossain)

International students are only allowed to work 20 hours per week, and their tuition is approximately three times more than domestic students, said Hossain. This has caused significant financial strain for many during the pandemic.

When COVID-19 arrived in Canada, many students returned home and are now doing their classes from there. But they are struggling with difficult time differences — doing very early morning classes and late night classes.

Hossain said many are facing mental health issues as well.

"Because they're staying home most of the time, those students who came last winter or this fall ... because they don't know anybody ... they are [alone]."

Hossain said that many international students do not feel comfortable with doing so much online. While the students' union is holding virtual events, many international students are not participating.

"Even in person, people don't feel comfortable talking to new people. But now it's online. They're not even thinking about talking with someone about their problems," Hossain said.

"Being alone gives them another mental pressure. I don't know how long they can handle it."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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