Thousands of Indian students who have been admitted to institutes of higher education in Canada are now staring at uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic, due to alleged lack of communication from the Canadian Embassy on their visa applications.
Students from India make up a significant portion of the international student community in Canada. According to a report in the Times of India, the number of students who have been granted study permits in Canada has grown over the past three years. In 2017, 82,990 Indians (26.3% of the total international students who applied) were provided student visas. This number increased to 1.07 lakh (30.1%) in 2018 and 1.39 lakh in 2019 (34.5%).
People who apply for a visa with the Canadian Embassy can apply for a study or a work permit after their visa applications are accepted. According to the website of the Government of Canada, a normal visa takes around 16 weeks to be processed, while a visa under the Student Direct Stream (SDS) visa takes around 20 days.
During the nationwide lockdown, consulates had closed and visa processing centres had come to a halt. The inordinate delay in taking a decision over the visas has put the lives of thousands of Indian students on hold.
Mental agony and financial drain
Arun*, a 23-year-old engineering graduate from Kerala, was jubilant when he received an admission offer from Conestoga College in Ontario, Canada. He quickly arranged for money to pay the college fees and the living expenses deposit in Canada in order to file a visa application with the Embassy.
‚ÄúI had to pay a full year‚Äôs fees and 10,000 Canadian dollars as living expenses deposit in Canada to be even eligible for applying for a visa and thus spent Rs 15 lakh approximately on this,‚ÄĚ he told TNM. Arun had applied for an SDS visa in March 2020 and is yet to hear back from authorities.
The story is similar for many other students waiting for their visas as well.
Vijay*, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer from Chennai quit his job of 14 months in an engineering company to pursue his PG diploma in a college in London, Ontario. He has already paid around Rs 16 lakh towards fees and living expenses and has been repeatedly filing visa applications, only to be rejected each time.
‚ÄúThis time, I filed in February and on July 10, I got to know that it has been rejected. The normal time stipulated to process paper-based visas is 12 weeks and Student Direct Stream (SDS) visas is 20 days. Had this rejection been conveyed earlier, I could have found some other avenue to focus on,‚ÄĚ he added.
While Arun is already paying Rs 10,000 as EMI on his education loan for a course he is yet to begin, Vijay says he paid around Rs 60,000 for each time he applied for a visa, besides the EMIs on his education loan so far.
‚ÄúI also got placements after my undergraduation but I didn't go because they wanted me to sign a bond. Now this is a big gap in my profile, even if the admission gets deferred to next year. I have no means of income and I am incurring expenses without knowing what the way forward is,‚ÄĚ Arun added.
‚ÄėRadio silence from Embassy‚Äô
The students say that the major cause for uncertainty among those awaiting visas across the country is the lack of communication from the Embassy.
‚ÄúThere is no information from the Embassy as to when these students can expect a decision on their visas. Most have quit their jobs and put other things on hold to apply for a visa and this is unfair. If there is a clear dateline or even a communication from them, these students can take a decision and move on,‚ÄĚ Prithvi Raj, a student applicant himself, who has started a petition to bring out the issues plaguing other applicants, told TNM.
The mental agony and the stress that the students deal with because of this state of limbo is inexplicable, he added.
To query about the delay in processing visas, the High Commission of Canada attributed the delay to the shortage in staff working in its offices in India and Canada due to COVID-19. "Furthermore, the Visa Application Centre (VAC) network across India remains closed for biometric collection and document intake. The Indian airspace too remains closed to international commercial air traffic until July 31. For these reasons, while an Student direct stream (SDS) application may be submitted online, processing times are much longer than normal and finalization will be delayed," the High Commission told TNM.
(*Names changed on request)