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Visa delays leaving international students in limbo for fall semester

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OTTAWA — International students facing visa delays because of Canadian immigration backlogs are unsure if they’ll make it in time for the fall semester as Ottawa works out whether it can prioritize applications for September.

Students, universities, immigration consultants and even the High Commission of India have raised concerns about delayed visas putting many students’ studies at risk.

Federal data shows that as of the end of July, 34 per cent of pending international student visa applications were taking longer to process than government standards dictate.

“I have seen a huge delay right now,” said Humera Khan, a Montreal-based international student recruiter who is CEO of Logic Academic Services.

Khan said she’s never seen so many students waiting for visas only weeks before school is set to start.

If the government doesn’t process their visas in time, those students will likely have to defer their studies for up to a year, she said. “It is a lot of uncertainty, there is a lot of emotion involved.”

Some have already paid tuition, adding significant financial stress to the difficult task of moving to a new country and starting school, she said.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the department started trying about a month ago to figure out whether it could prioritize students whose studies were due to start in September.

“Trying to figure out whether it’s going to potentially jeopardize the efficiency of the overall effort is something that we’re still figuring out,” Fraser said in an interview Wednesday.

“We are trying to get as many people here for their start date as possible.”

Fraser said the Immigration Department is processing more study permits than ever before, and the delays are being driven by the huge increase in demand.

So far this year Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has processed more than 360,000 study visas, a 17 per cent increase over the same period in 2021.

The High Commission of India in Ottawa said in a statement it was talking to Canadian universities about what can be done to accommodate the large number of Indian international students who are still waiting for visas.

The high commission said universities have also approached the immigration ministry with their concerns.

Some institutions will provide a remote option for students unable to reach Canada at the start of the term because they have not yet received a visa.

The high commission has asked the government to fast-track visas for Indian students

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said there doesn’t appear to by any rhyme or reason when it comes to why some applications have been processed on time and others haven’t.

She has heard from students who are feeling incredibly stressed about whether they’re going to be moving across the world to study in Canada in a few weeks.

“September is just around the corner as the school year is gonna start, and they don’t know what’s going on with their application,” Kwan said in an interview.

The fact that so many students are likely to find out at the last moment shows the department doesn’t recognize the real-life experiences people are going through, she said. “They have to find living quarters, for example, get housing in place, get familiar with how to get to and from school.”

Everything from course selection to orientation is jeopardized, she added, and the delays cause uncertainty for institutions as well.

A recent report by the House of Commons immigration committee shows processing times for student visas have grown substantially since on the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government standards dictate the application should take only about two months to process, but between December 2020 and November 2021 the  average wait time was 82 days.

Fraser said he’s not concerned about tarnishing Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for international students because Canada is having its best year ever in terms of accepting a record number of students.

“But the individual stories that you hear are the ones that stick with people. People remember how they’re made to feel when they don’t get their permission to come to Canada in time to start their program,” he acknowledged.

The government is working with schools to develop contingencies for people who don’t get the paperwork on time, including online classes, he said.

“We don’t want to lose out on talent. We want to make it easier to come to Canada and we want to satisfy this demand that we’re seeing, which this year is far beyond what we’ve seen before.”

Fraser said he expects processing times for international student visas to return to government standards by the end of the year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.

In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.

That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.

“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”

Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.

Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.

The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.

Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”

The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Military en route to assist with recovery efforts

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Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.

At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.

Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.

The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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