News | International students struggle to remain legal

Immigration documents are difficult, complicated to renew

For Meryl Draper, the process of applying to renew her study permit has proved to be quite the ordeal. Without proper documentation, Draper would have been unable to head home to the U.S. for Christmas this year, or would risk the possibility of being de-registered from McGill, and banned from Canada for the following year.

International students in Quebec are required to renew their federal Study Permit every three years. In order to do so, they must first apply to Immigration Quebec to renew their Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ). Immigration Quebec advises students to apply three months before their permit expires, but delays and complications have left some McGill students waiting for over six months after submitting their applications.

Draper applied for her CAQ last May, three months before her application expired. Five months later, she received notification that there was a problem with her application, and that it would take an additional two months for her documents to be reviewed.

“I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas, which would have been devastating to me. … This measly little paper was holding me back,” Draper said.

Without her CAQ, Draper was considered to be under “implied status,” meaning that she couldn’t leave the country, or Canadian immigration would de-register her from McGill and she would not be allowed to re-enter Canada.

“It’s like being held hostage, and now you are intruding on my family time, family time that means so much to me. It is emotionally draining,” she said.

Draper’s case only turned around when she approached Dean of Students Jane Everett for help.

“[Everett] answered my email within five hours of receiving it. A week later I got a personal call from someone at Immigration saying they made a mistake, and that they were sending my permit,” said Draper.

“I am assuming that getting a personal call from Immigration is unheard of…so I am sure that me getting the Dean involved had something to do with it. Talking to her was the first time I had my faith restored in McGill administration. It’s the first time I thought someone gave a damn that I was able to leave the country,” said Draper.

Draper is not the only student who has been delayed in having a permit renewed. Kristina Litvin, from Boston, Massachusetts, also submitted her application last May, three months before it was due to expire. Her application was sent to the wrong address three times. Uncertain of the status of her application, Litvin went to McGill’s new Service Point to find out whether or not she could leave the country to go home for Thanksgiving weekend.

“According to Service Point, it wasn’t a problem. I just had to print out my statements saying I’d already applied. When I asked the same question to Canadian Immigration, they practically laughed at me,” said Litvin.

“According to Immigration, leaving the country means I’d ‘voluntarily revoke my implied status’ and would only return into the country as a visitor. I would be banned from my classes. When asked what would happen if I kept going to classes, I was told that my degree would be suspended and I wouldn’t be allowed in the country for a full year afterwards to finish it,” she added. 
Michael Kirwin, an advisor at International Student Services, commented on the delays.

“I don’t want to bash Immigration Quebec, but I think they have been very inconsistent. Some people have gotten it early, some people don’t hear back until May, and it is going to their Montreal address when they are home. We get as frustrated as students do,” said Kirwin.

“We don’t have the power to accelerate the processing,” he continued. “What we do do is that – if we find that a student file has been unfairly treated – we can try to help students contact people to find out what is going on.”

 Kirwin emphasized, however, that students waiting until the last minute and incomplete or incorrect applications cause the greatest number of complications. International students must demonstrate that they have the financial capacity to pay full tuition, as well as an additional $11,000 of liquid assets, documentation that takes time to compile.

Immigration Quebec did not respond directly to The Daily’s questions about the inconsistencies in processing time experienced by McGill students. Communications Advisor for the Quebec branch of Citizenship and Immigration Canada Julie Lafortune, however, recommended that students submit their documentation at least thirty days before the expiry of their permit, and assured that students whose permit expired before they received a response could continue to legally study in Canada until they received a decision.

For students like Meryl Draper and Kristina Litvin, who submitted their applications well in advance of the thirty-day deadline, the bitterness of their experience remains. 
“What bothers me isn’t the process itself. Every country has their own codes and processes for immigration, and it’s never a walk in the park,” Draper said. “But it’s the complete lack of communication and knowledge, both internally, within the departments, and to the applicants. When you try to get help, the people whose job it is to help you just don’t know.”

 “McGill’s the exact same way. You’d think that an internal institution of 30,000 students would know a thing or two about the nineteen per cent of their students who are international, but they have no idea, and no one cares to find out.”