UTM officials allowed international students affected by the foreign service workers’ strike to begin their first-year studies in January “on humanitarian grounds”, according to Principal Deep Saini. This is the first time UTM has allowed students to begin their first-year studies in the winter session.
“Imagine if you’re sitting in a far-off land, and you’ve gotten an offer from the University of Toronto. You’ve accepted it, and you’ve basically turned your back to all other potential offers you may have had elsewhere, and then suddenly you find that you can’t get to Canada because you can’t get the visa,” said Saini. “It was a pretty brutal situation for these students, so we decided that this year it’s important that we allow students to start in January.”
Because of the foreign service officers’ strike last spring, international students were left in the lurch when the process of getting their student visas approved was delayed.
Last April, the officers responsible for processing Canadian visa applications went on strike to campaign for increased wages. The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers—which represents 1,350 non-executive Canadian diplomats—was then embroiled in the longest-running public service workers’ strike in Canadian history.
The strike caused delays in processing visa applications around the globe, which affected the applications of international students at UTM.
According to Saini, some 150 international students were admitted for the winter session, and a larger number received offers.
Every year, a few students are refused visas by the Citizenship and Immigration Centre due to the assessments of their financial capability and health records, among other factors. However, due to the special circumstances surrounding the processing of student visas this year, UTM made an exception.
“This year was special,” said Saini.
Dale Mullings, UTM’s director of residence and student life, said that UTM reached out to international students over the summer to encourage them to apply for their study permits online. The CIC also encouraged the application for study permits online, which were sent out worldwide to be reviewed and processed much faster than the paper copies being circulated.
Mullings said students were allowed to start classes two weeks into the start of the winter session, as they needed time to prepare for study and book flights after receiving their permits.
“I think the efforts have been successful in managing the number for January here,” said Mullings in an interview.
To accommodate the students beginning their studies in January, an additional orientation must be planned for the winter.
“We have to repeat the process now, on a smaller scale,” said Saini.
According to Mullings, one struggle faced by international students, identified by International Centre student-user focus groups and peer academic leaders in the InternationalLIFE program at UTM, is engaging with students not from their home country.
Mullings said new student coordinators have been hired in response to this issue and that programming aimed at international students and domestic students with an international interest will begin next week.
“Rather than the one-day, larger, international orientation-type activity that would happen with a large population in September, this is more one-on-one peer-based focus to get them connected with the appropriate resources on campus now,” said Mullings.
According to Mullings, another challenge faced by international students is “navigating the systems”, including ensuring that their study permits don’t expire, for example. UTM is looking at launching an alert system to help students keep track of them.