Website problems with popular immigration program a 'disaster,' foreign student says

Some foreign graduate students say Government of Ontario computer problems are keeping them from finishing their immigration applications for permanent residency and could ruin their chances for a life in Canada.

Technical problems leading to stress and sleepless nights for foreign graduate students

One of the frustrating messages that appeared online for applicants to the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program.

For most people, getting an error message when trying to log on to a website is just annoying. But some international graduate students in Ontario worry it could ruin their chances of immigrating to Canada.

The students are in the process of applying for the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), a partnership between the Ontario and federal governments that grants permanent residence to successful applicants. The program has streams for graduate students who are in Canada for a master's degree or PhD. 

One master's student originally from South Korea told CBC Toronto she managed to successfully begin her application this week, but keeps getting error messages when she tries to fill out the rest of the required information.

"I've been fighting with my computer for three days," she said in a phone interview from Kitchener. CBC Toronto agreed not to use her name, as she fears publicizing her identity could affect the status of her application.

Once someone starts an online application for the OINP, the applicant has just seven days to complete it. 

'It's just been like a disaster'

The issue stems from Government of Ontario computer problems, according to the province

"Time is already ticking," the South Korean graduate student said, adding that she's hardly slept over the past few nights. She keeps trying her computer, hoping she can finally log in to the government's system.

"Yesterday, I didn't sleep at all. It's just been like a disaster."

Another message visitors to the website for the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program have found this week.

She's not alone. She's part of a messaging group with close to 100 international students, all experiencing the same problems.

One student originally from China wants the government to extend its seven-day deadline, given the technical problems.

Technical issues followed unexpected spike in demand

"We are aware that some individuals have been having difficulty with the online application system launched for the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program," Laura Sylvis, a spokesperson for the Government of Ontario's Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, wrote in a statement to CBC Toronto.

She blames the technical issues on high demand for the "hugely popular" program, noting they had 10 times the interest of last year.

The government's immigration website registered 117,000 visits between Tuesday and Friday of this week. 

OINP accepts just 6,000 people.

People who are still hoping to begin their application for the Masters or PhD streams will now have to wait another three months, as Sylvis notes both programs have already met their maximum intake levels.

Government trying to fix computer problems

As for those applicants who have already begun the process, the province says it's trying to solve the problem.

"The Ministry is working closely with our IT partners to address any and all technical issues," the statement reads. "We are also urgently addressing the impact of these technical issues on applicants and will continue to communicate through the program website and social media."