|English: International Students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
BY PAUL MCLEOD OTTAWA BUREAU
OTTAWA — Canadian universities say they are being hamstrung by a law that was intended to clamp down on immigration scammers.
Bill C-35 was first titled the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act. It banned unauthorized people from acting as “immigration consultants” to prey on people looking for a way into Canada.
Though the bill was passed two years ago, it was only in May that universities received the final edict that it also applies to them. That means university staff cannot advise international students on matters like applying for a visa, work permit or permanent residence.
“They can’t seek advice from the trusted advisers on campus who are very accustomed to giving them a basic level of ‘Here’s where you go, here’s what you do, here are the requirements and here are the guidelines,’” said Mount Saint Vincent University president Ramona Lumpkin.
As government funding has frozen, universities have been increasingly leaning on foreign students for enrolment and rev-enue. Last year, over 11,000 international students came to Atlantic Canada to study. More than half of those, about 6,200, came to Nova Scotia.
International enrolment in the region has risen by double digits each of the past five years. But universities say Bill C-35 and a strike among Canada’s diplomats could be major hits to next year’s enrolment and the number of students who choose to settle in Atlantic Canada.
Bill C-35 amended Section 91 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It put in place penalties of up to $100,000 for advising or offering to advise someone on immigration proceedings unless the adviser is certified.
Uncertified student advisers are banned from communicating with the government on behalf of a foreign student, filling out forms for them, representing them at an immigration proceeding or even providing guidance on a student’s options.
According to Lumpkin, no university employee in the region is certified with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council except for one person at Mount Saint Vincent.
Certification requires 180 hours of course work, a written exam, annual fees of $1,700 plus insurance and 16 course hours per year.
“Most of our universities are smaller liberal arts universities so that’s a pretty significant human resource and financial commitment that our universities would have to make to fulfil the registration requirements,” said Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities.
After Bill C-35 was passed, universities tried to negotiate some leeway. But their proposal for a cheaper, narrower, university-specific certification process was not approved by Ottawa.
“CIC recognizes that educational institutions and international student advisers have provided advice to international students in good faith,” said Bill Brown.
“That said, these legislative changes apply across the board to all persons subject to Canadian law.”
Halpin said the new law will likely reduce the number of foreign students who choose to stay and live in the region after graduation.
Universities are also watching the standoff between Ottawa and the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which represents Canada’s diplomats working abroad. About 150 visa officers walked off the job across 15 foreign missions Monday.
The growing backlog in visa processing has universities wondering whether international students will be processed in time for the fall semester.
“There’s really grave concerns about the effect this is going to have on enrolments this September,” said Halpin.
“If those students are unable to get their visa application in time to start school in September, they’re lost for good.”
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