Each year, an increasing number of international students study in Canada. Canadian post-secondary institutions constantly market abroad, and educating foreign students is estimated to be an $11.6-billion per year business. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Ahmed Hussen frequently speaks of the benefits that international students bring to Canada and of doing more to attract them here.
It is surprising, then, that study permit applications have one of the lowest approval percentages of applications submitted to IRCC. In 2017, IRCC approved 205,748 of the 307,850 applications that it processed. In other words, it refused about one-third of the study permit applications that it received.
Although IRCC does not publish statistics for the reasons why its visa officers refused so many study permit applications, an anecdotal review of study permit refusals suggests that it is an equal mix of insufficient funds, concerns that an applicant will not leave Canada by the end of his/her authorized stay and doubts regarding whether a person has the genuine intention of being an international student.
Study permit applicants must demonstrate in their visa applications financial sufficiency for the first year of studies. In all provinces except Quebec, IRCC has determined that, in addition to the cost of tuition, students must have $10,000 available for the first 12-month period, plus an additional $4,000 for their spouse, and $3,000 for each child. In Quebec, the amount is similar, but determined by Immigration, Diversité et Inclusion Quebec.
Leaving Canada by the period authorized by stay
There are many reasons why an officer might determine that an individual will not leave Canada by the end of the period authorized for their stay. This includes an applicant’s travel history, immigration status in their country of residence, family ties in Canada and in their country of residence, the purpose of visit, employment prospects in their country of residence, their current employment situation, a history of contravening immigration law and personal assets.
Bona fide student
In order to approve a study permit application, a visa officer must be satisfied that an applicant will be a bona fide student. This requirement can often seem to be the most arbitrary in its application, as officers typically analyze whether an individual’s proposed path of study would either improve an individual’s career prospects, is a logical educational progression or justify the cost of attending school in Canada. What can be especially frustrating for individuals is how inconsistent such determinations can be. Two recent Federal Court of Canada decisions in 2018 illustrate this.
In Ali v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), a visa officer refused a study permit application because the officer was not satisfied that a Pakistani national’s proposed study at Seneca College would further her career. The Federal Court found this determination to be reasonable, writing that “while the applicant claimed to have a long held aspiration to open a chain of restaurants, she had no education other than high school and a certificate of merit in a baking course … nor in the 10 years between her high school graduation and her application for a study permit had she obtained any work experience in the restaurant business, or at all” and that there was no evidence that the person had the finances to start a restaurant.
This can be contrasted with what Justice Shore wrote in Olatunde Taiye Taiwo v. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. There, a visa officer refused the study permit application of an individual who wanted to change careers from one in the corporate world to one in the charitable one because the officer determined that this did not have a logical progression. The Federal Court wrote that “the evidence is very clear as to the intentions of the Applicant based on the images he had seen, the voices he had heard and the call that he specified and reached him, for him to give of himself for such purpose. Otherwise, in the case of the Applicant, he would, himself, not have taken that direction; if not now, when and if not he, who?”
Tips for international students
With these refusal reasons in mind, there are several things that prospective applicants can do to maximize the likelihood of their study permits being approved.
First, it is imperative that they show the required amount of funds.
Second, study permit applicants should explain in detail why they want to pursue a given course. If they are mid-career, they should explain why the program of study will further their professional objectives.
Third, study permit applicants should provide documentary evidence to support their claims. Instead of simply stating that they have previously travelled, for example, they should provide copies of passport stamps.
Fourth, officers should look through the list of factors identified above for reasons why an officer might determine that someone will not go back to their country of origin, and try to provide documentation that positively addresses as many as possible.
Finally, even though IRCC limits the size of online study permit applications, it is important that applicants don’t let these technical limitations prevent them from providing all of the evidence that they want IRCC officers to consider. There are many ways around IRCC’s file size limits, including saving 4 pages to 1 in a PDF, and reducing the pixel ratio.
Hopefully, if applicants start implementing these strategies, the study permit approval rating will increase.