While Canadian students are enjoying the first month of classes, some international students are still waiting for their documents to be processed after Canada's new immigration law came into effect on June 28, 2002.
"The major problem is when an [international] student wants to renew their student permit," said University of Calgary International Student Centre Director Glynn Hunter. "They must apply through a case processing centre in Vegreville Alberta, where all student permits in Canada are sent for renewal. What normally takes two to three weeks, now takes eight to nine
This is a great concern considering the number of international students that attend the U of C each year.
"In 2001, after the first day of
classes, we had 595 full-time undergraduate international students and 362 full-time graduate students," noted U of C Registrar David Johnston.
Revisions to the Canadian Immigration Act are made every few years and the latest revisions involved name changes. What most people refer to as a student visa--formally called a Student Authorization--is now called a Student Permit. Some students have a Student Authorization and now some students have a Student Permit. This overlap has created confusion.
"The officers at Vegreville got backed up [in processing documents] for many reasons," said Hunter. "It was bad timing. In August there is a concern across the country for students to renew documents and receive transfer documents to new institutions.
"Also this summer, officers at Vegreville were sent away for training to learn about the new regulations, so documents just started piling up. At the same time, penalties [against students] for violating regulations have become more severe," continued Hunter.
Since it is illegal for international students to start classes until they get their documents, some students have been panicking.
"It's not right to think it's unfair to abide by the terms and conditions of the Student Permit," said International Student Advisor Madelyn Bradley. "There is a responsibility on the student when entering another country. If they came on a four-month exchange, then wanted to renew their Student Permit, they have to give it enough time to renew."
To speed things up Bradley has referred numerous students to the Calgary Immigration office downtown.
"The Calgary office has bent over backwards to help out," said Bradley, who works everyday with students by checking their permits, fixing problems with them, and educating students about new changes.
"There are not as many problems as people think," said Hunter. "New regulations benefit international students. They have tightened up reasons immigration officers can refuse students from entering Canada.
They are also trying to be more flexible to allow transfers between institutions by making documents more general in their wording."
In the past, documents were extremely specific about the program and institution of study causing many students to require new documents should they change their mind in the slightest. Now, students taking programs lasting less than three months no longer need a study permit which cuts down on the red tape.
"International students do not cause a great concern for immigration," said Hunter when asked about increasing the flexibility for students entering Canada. It is going to take some time to work through the initial confusion before things are running smoothly again, however the situation has not yet reached a critical point.
"Immigration is not mean and the U of C is helping students," said Bradley. "There is nothing abnormal to report [from the registrar]."