Question Period: Study Permit Processing Backlog

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Majors Hill Park, Ottawa

Hon. Jane Cordy: Senator Gold, as we return to the Senate this week, there are many university students across the country who are returning to their campuses. However, thousands of international students who have applied to attend university here in Canada are all no doubt under a tremendous amount of stress and face uncertainties as they continue to wait for study permits.

It was reported that, as of August 18, the government was still processing 163,000 applications from international students. With those numbers, and with only two weeks before the start of the semester, I would think that many of those students would have missed the start of this fall term.

Senator Gold, would you be able to provide an update to this chamber on the backlog of international student study permit applications?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question and for highlighting this issue that is important both to the students who want to come here and also to our universities and our country that benefit from those students. The government understands the hardships, difficulties and uncertainties caused by longer wait times in their applications.

That’s why the government has taken a number of measures to do more to tackle the backlog while making the immigration system more sustainable in the long term. That includes the fact that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, will have hired approximately 1,250 new employees to improve processing capacity.

Allow me to share some figures with you regarding student permit processing. IRCC finalized almost 560,000 study permit applications in 2021, and that beats their previous record in 2019 by 31%. IRCC is already outpacing that amount this year, with almost 452,000 study permits finalized between January and August this year, which compares to about 367,000 finalized during the same period last year.

Government will be open and transparent in their plan to tackle the backlog and return to service standards. That’s why the government has, in fact, started publishing their progress online on a monthly basis.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much, Senator Gold, for those statistics. I was not able to jot them all down, but I will certainly take note of them when I get your answer in print.

You are absolutely right: Our country gains so much from our international students. Canadian universities have increasingly relied upon attracting international students to study in Canada, who have provided our schools with much more diverse campuses and a learning culture that benefits all students. It also benefits the communities in which the universities are located.

Not surprisingly, Canada’s universities have maintained an excellent reputation internationally, and they attract students from all over the world.

This backlog — and I know you gave information this afternoon — does threaten all of that. As application backlogs continue, the fear is that potential international students may start to look elsewhere.

Senator Gold, does the government have a plan — you gave a bit of it earlier — to expedite the process for the start of the January 2023 term because that isn’t too far away? These are students who have applied well in advance, accounting for the 12 weeks stated processing time by IRCC, with some applying eight or nine months ago.

Senator Gold: I’ll be brief. The government has put into place the measures I described. It believes that these will make a difference. We are on track to do better than last year, and the government will continue to do what it can to clear the backlog and make our universities accessible to those students from abroad who wish to come here.

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