My Kingdom for a Study Permit

We recently successfully obtained study permits for two students from the Middle East. One hailed from a country listed on the United States travel ban list while the other country is undergoing political turmoil and violence and our client is an ethnic minority in this country.

Of course we prepared the files appropriately. Where we could show positive travel history we did. We showed family support and income in both cases. We provided statements from our clients indicating their “gameplan” in terms of why they wished to undertake these studies and why they would return home at the completion of studies.

The reality is we file similar applications every day and even well prepared applications fail on the basis of a cursory review from a Visa Officer at a foreign consulate or Embassy. We have successfully challenged improper refusals to the Federal Court, but the inequities in the system remain obvious. Why are similar and sometimes even identical applications subject to different outcomes?

The Liberal government discussed having an administrative appeals process instituted for visitor visa refusals. While this would be worthwhile, it seems like reforming the study permit process would result in more benefits to our programs and policies and our stated immigration goals. Here is a modest proposal for changing the current system:

(1) Have all study permits reviewed by Canadian officers located in Canada. Based on the centralization of other files and assessments in Canada, this could bring a uniformity to the decision making process that the current system lacks. It would likely result in more system predictability and less costly Federal Court challenges and improper refusals;
(2) Remove the “temporary intent” requirement from study permit applications. This is a silly and contradictory requirement. Of course most persons who apply for study permits desire to be in Canada permanently. Yet they are forced to show ties to their home countries that most students don’t have (property, investments) or life experiences they lack (travel to other Western countries previously). If we are talking about building up Canada’s social capital through immigration or reversing the brain drain given the opportunities afforded by developments in the United States, then we should not be insisting on such requirements here;
(3) Instead of focusing on “establishment” which skews selection towards students coming from wealthier families, let’s take a closer look at student achievement, goals and the types of programs in which they wish to study in Canada. Let’s weight decision making towards those with good grades and who want to study in fields where we are suffering shortages or will suffer shortages. There are going to be areas where the politics makes selection impossible (medical fields, trades), but there should be other areas where are schools have spaces and where the economy is suffering a shortage. Let’s target those areas.

The issuance of study permits can and does change lives. I have no doubt my two clients who received permits will excel in Canada. They will finish their studies. They will work here on post graduate work permits and if things hold I have no doubt they will become permanent residents and contribute to the growth of the country. These outcomes will benefit both them and us. A future, more consistent study permit program will multiply these positive effects.