Setback for Lakhs From Punjab, Haryana as Canadian Student Visa Refusal Rises Sharply

Jalandhar: A sharp rise in the refusal rate of study visa permits and bulk rejections by the Canadian government over the past few days has cast a pall of gloom on the dreams of lakhs of students from Punjab and Haryana.

Though the refusal rate has been on the rise since the COVID-19 restrictions and air travel ban were lifted by Canada in 2021, rejection of study visa permits has risen to 60% over the past few days. Visas of even those students who have IELTS scores of 6.5 to 7 bands, a good academic record and financial background were also getting refused.

The Wire spoke to education consultants both in Punjab and Canada, who attributed this trend primarily to the high pendency rate of applications in different categories, fraud documentation by students in some cases, licensing issues with certain private colleges and also rising cases of gang wars involving Punjabi men in Canada. The consultants feared that the refusal rate of study visa permits might go up in the coming months.

Notably, a CBC News report recently said that of more than two million temporary resident and permanent resident (PR) applications pending in Canada, nearly a million came from India. The report also mentioned that at present, Canada has a backlog of more than 2.4 million immigration applications as of June 29, up from 1.8 million applications in March.

This data was received from Canada’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) department.

A large number of Indian students and skilled workers who have migrated to Canada are from Punjab. Around the year 2010, the preferred destination for students from Punjab and Haryana was Australia. However, after Canada opened the student visas and the option of getting PR within a period of three-four years, Punjabis youngsters in particular started moving there.

This trend has picked up during the past four-five years, as a result of which all major markets in Punjab and even villages are flooded with ‘Study in Canada’ billboards.

Also Read: Punjabi Students at Closed Canadian Colleges Who Were Studying Remotely Still Struggling for Refunds

Large number of applications pending

A report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was tabled in the Canadian House of Commons in May titled ‘Differential treatment in recruitment and acceptance rates of foreign students in Quebec and rest of Canada’.

As per this report, in 2021, the total number of Study Permit Applications refused and processed from India were 91,439 and 225,402 respectively. The refusal rate was nearly 41%.

In the case of India, the number of PR applications stands at 96,378 and the number of temporary residence applications is 430,286. The total number of pending applications was 9,56,950, the highest across the world.

As per the report, the number of study visa permits increased by 52% from 2,64,625 in 2016 to 4,02,427 in 2019, which was the highest since Canada’s study visa programme started.

However, in 2020, owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel and access to services to submit the required documentation for a complete application, there was a 36% decrease compared to 2020, when Canada had issued 2,56,740 study permits.

What education consultants think

Kanwaljit Kaur, a study visa counsellor from Golden Pillars Immigration and Consultants, Jalandhar said that at present the Canadian government has a backlog of over 2 million immigration applications in different categories like study visa permits, PR applications, temporary resident, visitor visa and spouse visa cases. “With such a high rate of pendency and fresh applications being filed in bulk, it has become a challenge for the Canadian authorities,” Kaur said.

She said that applications were getting refused earlier too but there was a sharp rise in the refusal rate of study visa permits for the past couple of months. “It is difficult to make out why students, who have overall 7 band in IELTS and around 80% marks in aggregate, were being denied study visas. Even though Australia has relaxed study visa options, Canada is still the first choice among students. It is a tricky situation not only for the students but for the education consultants too,” Kaur said.

Alarmed by this trend, education consultants and students are eyeing Australia as an option. Study expenses there are lower than in Canada. Students were required to pay the fees for one semester and get a minimum 5.5 band in all four modules of IELTS and an overall 6 band to have a shot at studying in Australia. There was no need to pay for living expenses as well. However, the Australian authorities were also going slow after fake documents were detected, leading to a higher refusal rate and inordinate delay in processing genuine student visa applications.

Representative image of India passports. Photo: Reuters

Moga-based Kaur Immigration’s co-founder and co-owner Rachhpal Singh Sosan said that the refusal rate in Canada was higher in cases where students were opting for the Pearson Test of English (PTE) with a 5.5 band score.

Sosan, who attended an IRCC webinar conducted by the High Commission of Canada in India in 2021, said, “I asked the Canadian High Commission officials about the reason behind the high refusal rate. They informed that the lack of clarity in ‘Statement of Purpose’ (SOP) in student visa applications was one of the major reasons.”

He gave the example of two students, who had the same IELTS score of 6.5 band, with graduation in Arts, had a good financial background and applied for an MBA programme at the University of Canada West.

“While the study visa of Simranjit Kaur from Faridkot district was refused, that of Mandeep Kaur from Abohar was approved. We have decided to re-apply Simranjit’s case and also sought a reply from the Canadian authorities for the refusal,” he said, emphasising that even though the refusal rate has gone up but genuine student visa cases were getting approved.

A Toronto-based consultant, requesting anonymity, said that the refusal of study visas has come as a major setback for many aspiring students.

“This trend is not just confined to student visas but visitor visa and spouse visa cases too. Earlier the processing time for visitor visas was around a fortnight, now it is taking two to three months for approval. Many spouse visa cases have also been rejected,” he said.

The consultant said that the high pendency of applications, besides other issues like gang wars, where Punjabis have been involved, could be some reasons behind this trend. “The sad aspect is that because of such incidents, even genuine students were also facing trouble,” he added.

Notably, on August 4, the Vancouver Police in the British Columbia province issued a list of 11 individuals, out of which nine were of Punjabi origin. The police in a series of tweets said these individuals were posing a threat to public safety due to their involvement in gang wars and extreme violence.

How do students apply for study visas in Canada?

Simranpreet Singh Gill, a resident of Moga, who was all set to fly to Canada on a study visa for a diploma in business administration at NorQuest College, Edmonton, Alberta said this was his first ever attempt at applying for any foreign college.

When asked why he opted to study in Canada after Class XII, Simranjit said, “Canada has ample job opportunities with a quality lifestyle. I will get the option of earning while learning and that too at a decent wage rate. Even if after some years, I decide to return to Punjab, I will have enough money to set up a business or lead a comfortable life.”

Students apply for study visas in Canada through Student Direct Stream (SDS) and non-SDS categories. Introduced in 2018, the SDS category is functional in 14 countries like India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Morocco to name a few.

The SDS category covers Designated Learning Institution (DLI) colleges, which means educational institutions with a licence to operate. The SDS category was earlier known as the Student Partner Program (SPP).

Under the SDS scheme, students have to pay two semesters’ fees, CAD$ 10,000 in Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) account, IELTS 6 band score and clear medical tests. IRCC’s service standard for processing a student permit was 60 days.

In the non-SDS category, the students were required to clear IELTS, PTE or TOEFL language proficiency tests.

Even those students who have scored 5.5 bands on IELTS or PTE tests were eligible to get admission to Canadian colleges or universities. The non-SDS category also requires a GIC account with CAD $10,000 and other identity proofs.

Featured image: A Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 22, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Chris Wattie

This article was first published on The Wire.