It was on 9 February this year that 26-year-old Lovepreet Kaur from Punjab's Amritsar applied for her student visa to Canada. She had gained admission in the fall batch of Toronto's Centennial College to study her Master’s course in Human Resource Management.
Kaur's last date of joining the course was 13 September but her student visa only arrived on 14 September. She couldn't go to Toronto. Over the phone from Amritsar, she told The Quint, "I applied for the student visa seven months before last date of joining college. It was a day late and now I do not know what to do. I have been told that if a seat is available in the January 2023 batch, the institute will admit me."
Kaur is not the only one facing visa woes. The Quint spoke to Indian students who have gained admission in colleges in Canada and the UK but are yet to get their student visas. Many fear they will lose out a year because they didn't apply to colleges in India as back-ups either.
Looming Uncertainty Among Indian Students
On 24 August, Canadian newspaper, National Post, reported that there are still "1.3 million immigration applications in the backlog." The paper stated that the backlogs were initially caused by the pandemic, and exacerbated after the country launched a response to the refugee crisis in Ukraine.
This has had quite an impact on Indian students who wish to study in Canada. For Kaur, for instance, this endless wait to begin her degree is something she has been struggling with since the beginning of the year.
She told The Quint, "I gained admission in January this year and was keen to join the May batch but my student visa didn't arrive. So, I had to defer to September. I was lucky because in that batch, there was only one seat left. But again, my visa was delayed and I couldn't go. It's unfair. I have to now wait to see if there will be a seat for me in the next batch, which only starts in January 2023."
There is a looming uncertainty as thousands of students eagerly await their visas, hoping that they will make it in time for them to start their courses. The backlogs are leading to minimum three-month delays in processing student visa applications.
Rajya Sabha MP V Vijaysai Reddy said that the delays are impacting lakhs of students. On 9 September, he tweeted, "The glaring delays of 3 months for Canadian Student Visa are a matter of concern affecting lakhs of students wanting to study abroad. India’s students contribute $4 billion to Canada’s GDP. I, therefore, urge @MEAIndia to help expedite the processes and help the students."
On 19 August, the Indian High Commission in Canada issued an advisory to Indian students whose visa applications have been delayed, saying that they have received numerous petitions from students. It said that over 2,30,000 Indian students are enrolled in Canadian universities and institutes at present.
On 25 August, the Indian High Commission in Canada issued another advisory, which stated that "Due to this delay in their student visas, many students are unable to join their courses at the stipulated time. Canadian Universities have also approached the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, IRCC office to work towards expediting the visas as soon as well."
The advisory said that Canadian universities and colleges have "come up with temporary solutions for students while they wait for their visas. One such solution has been to contact their respective universities and defer their course to January 2023 instead of September 2022."
An earlier advisory had also stated that some institutes will give students an option to study remotely at the start of the term.
A similar situation has been playing out with students going to the UK for their studies. The UK Visas and Immigration Department (UKVI) said that they are receiving a high volume of applications since they are prioritising applications of Ukrainians who are fleeing the crisis.
‘Months of Work Going Down the Drain,’ Say Students
Kaur is still hoping that she will be able to enroll in the January 2023 course. She said, “The day my student visa arrived, I didn't know how to react – whether I should be happy or sad.” She added that this wait till January 2023 means that she will have to take the IELTS test again as her score would have expired.
"My brother went to Canada to study in 2019. Back then, the process was very smooth. He tells me that his schedules are tight and that he has to work very hard. I wanted that lifestyle because I want to be independent."Lovepreet Kaur
Meanwhile, another 18-year-old student from Haryana, who spoke to The Quint on condition of anonymity, said that he is awaiting his student visa. He was supposed to join Toronto's Humber College earlier this year but due to the visa delay, he was "allowed to join the first semester of his course, BCom in International Business, online."
He said, “I applied for the visa on 7 July this year. I still haven't even heard from them, and so for now, I am attending the classes online.”
The last day to get a refund for his tuition fee is 19 October. "If I do not hear about the visa before that, I will probably have to withdraw," he said. His worries are manifold as he has no back-up. "I do not know what to do as I have missed the deadline to apply for courses in Indian colleges as well," he said.
Online classes are not easy either, especially due to the time difference between India and Canada.
"I have classes at 3.30 am, and sometimes, I miss them because I am unable to wake up. I am already anxious about missing classes and in addition to that, I am worried about my visa."A student enrolled in a Canadian institiute
'Have to Change Courses, Let Go of Scholarships,’ Say Students
A 19-year-old student from Rajasthan, who applied for her student visa on 2 July, missed out on the ongoing batch at Toronto's Humber College, due to the late arrival of her student visa. The last day for her to join the batch in Toronto was 12 September. Her visa only arrived on 15 September.
"I want to pursue a Bachelor’s in Public Relations but now that course is not available in the January 2023 or May 2023 batches. This means that I would have to wait another year if I want to pursue it. But I have already paid a year's tuition fee. I have been consistently writing to the college, and if nothing else works out, I will change the course. I will instead pursue Bachelor of Commerce in Healthcare Management as the course is available in January 2023,” she said.
She added that her cousins are in Canada. “I wanted to go to Canada because I wanted to be financially independent, take education loans and then work there to pay off my loans. But I have landed up in a very stressful situation instead.”
"I had done all the processes on time, but somehow, it was not working out. In the last few months, I kept watching YouTube channels that give updates on the backlogs, hoping that mine would be processed sooner."19-year-old student from Rajasthan
A student from Jaipur who got a scholarship from the state government and the institute to pursue his MPhil from the University of Cambridge in the UK waits patiently for his visa too. He is afraid that he would lose his Rs 31 lakh scholarship.
He said, “The sad part is that I have done everything I could. I got this scholarship on the basis of merit. It's very important to me and I do not know if I will get the same scholarship if I go next year.”
He applied for his Visa on 26 July and his flight tickets are booked for 26 September – five days away. “I have packed, and I am ready to leave but I am not sure if I will be able to. I have been anxiously calling and mailing the university. After I made a paid inquiry, I got a mail saying that a decision on my visa has been made. But I still do not know what that decision is,” he said.