Rejection of Canadian study permits on the rise

By Rob Lamberti, Contributor

International students interested in studying in Canada may want to get legal assistance to ensure their student visa paperwork is completed properly, says Toronto immigration lawyer Andrew Carvajal.

There’s been a recent increase in rejections of people applying to study in Canada, with half or more being disallowed for courses in P.E.I., Nunavut, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, says Carvajal, partner with Desloges Law Group.

Carvajal has been working from a satellite office in Colombia to meet with potential clients —including students — who are thinking about immigrating to Canada.

He tells that although the number of people wanting to study in Canada is going up, so too are the number of rejections. The number of refusals is expected to increase with the higher number of applications, Carvajal says.

"But what caught my attention is that the proportion of people getting refused is going up as well," he says. The refusal rate has risen to about 35 per cent this year compared to about 25 per cent in 2013.

"I think the government is scrutinizing the applications and safeguarding the quality of the applicant more than it used to," Carvajal says. Immigration authorities will also rule that the applicant's intended course of study is not genuine and they are just using the study visa program to relocate in Canada.

"I've found more immigration officers are making that determination. Although an applicant has been accepted to a legitimate program in Canada, officials don't see those studies as legitimate," he says.

"Officers have become like career counsellors, whether a program makes sense or not. That we have seen increase," Carvajal says.

But a lawyer can help guide an applicant to present a clear outline of their intentions, he says.

"The way we combat this is to have very detailed study plans showing how the studies make sense in terms of the profession of the applicant, and how it blends with the academic and professional trajectory," Carvajal says.

Canada's requirements for a study permit include proof of identity, financial support and acceptance from a school.

The number of international students applying to community colleges is also increasing, Carvajal says.

"We've noticed for many years that permit requests from college applicants tend to have higher refusal rates than university applicants," he says.

About a decade ago, a person could get a study permit if they were accepted by a university and had the means to pay for it, Carvajal says.

"Now, it doesn't seem to be the case," he says. "Applicants are scrutinized much more on whether those studies make sense.

"If it's someone coming out of high school, immigration authorities tend to scrutinize that less," Carvajal says. "But if you have someone who's been working as an engineer for years and then applies to take a cooking diploma course, it's challenging.

"Even though many people want to switch careers, officials see that as applying for that degree for immigration purposes."

To avoid rejection, Carvajal says he and his clients craft a study plan based on the applicant’s work history, previous education and how it fits within a career strategy. A degree or diploma from a Canadian post-secondary institution could offer international students more professional opportunities.

He suggests immigration officials will more than likely increase their scrutiny as the number of applicants rise.

"I don't think there's any directive to be discriminatory to one country or another, to one student or another, but I think they are indirectly giving a harder time to those who apply to lesser-known schools," Carvajal says.

It's a subjective measure as to whether a student can prove they will return to their home country once they've completed their studies, he says.

"The takeaway from all this is that we need to do a better job preparing applications,” Carvajal says.

"As immigration lawyers, it's not just a matter of defending an application. We have to do a better job documenting the applicant's study plans, available funds and ties to their home country. Many people representing themselves are realizing that applying for a student visa is not simple," he says.

"It requires a significant amount of work, looking at the weaknesses and strengths of the individual cases and addressing them."

Carvajal says people can be successful when they apply on their own, but he believes the value added by having a lawyer help prepare the application has increased significantly as Canadian authorities scrutinize education visas more stringently.

Self-represented persons will have to rely on the standard outline provided by the government, but "What we do is assess each situation, and we decide if we will include extra documents to deal with any weaknesses the application may have," he says. "We know from experience what things to include and how to prove that you're not going to overstay in Canada.

"This is something we craft based on the individual's circumstances — where their family is located, their professional background, their academic records, and their travel history," Carvajal says. "We can provide individualized service and file the strongest application possible."

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