Chandigarh, Jalandhar, New Delhi:
Suicide of a 23-year-old man in Haryana comes as an extreme warning amid long waits and high rejections of visa applications by Canada and other countries — blamed mainly on Covid-caused lockdowns, among other reasons.
Countries in the West — preferred destinations for students, many of whom hope to build a life there — have said they are hiring new staff and prioritising study-visa applications, but the wait can stretch into months. A belated rejection can lead to loss of money and motivation. Rejection rates are also reported to be up in Canada.
At present, if you are looking at a visa to the US, the wait can go beyond a year.
Canada is taking up to six months for visas in general; but even for student visa the wait is three months, thrice the pre-Covid times. And that’s today’s update from the Canadian government website. People have been waiting longer if their applications got stuck during the Covid surges in the last two years.
While tourists may not mind, those trying to visit family or taking business trips are affected worse.
The worst-hit are students, who in some cases start their courses online from here but then lose the admission — and money — if they are rejected by the visa office.
There’s been an unusual rise in refusal rate, particularly by Canada, raising anxiety among consultants too. A report of Canadian Parliament committee in May said that 41 per cent of study permit applications from India were rejected in 2021. Data from 2018 shows it used to be 25-35 per cent.
Since the number of applications has been rising — barring a dip in 2020 due to Covid peaks — the rejections appear even bigger in absolute numbers. More than 3 lakh applications were decided on last year, and the number is set to cross 4 lakh this year as the world opens up more.
Cameron MacKay, Canada’s High Commissioner to India, has said: “Unfortunately, we have a post-Covid pandemic backlog of visas in every category of visa. It is a very serious backlog… We are investing more money and more people to get through it.”
There have been allegations that those from Asia and Africa are being discriminated against. But the Canadian high commission has said that’s not true. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally and against the same criteria, regardless of the country of origin. Study permit applications are being prioritised for those prospective students who are headed to a province or territory that has a Covid-19 readiness plan,” a spokesperson said.
The delay and fear of rejection has got students and families worried particularly in Punjab and its surrounding region, among the main contributors to these applications.
“My brother had applied for student visa for a course which starts next month, but we don’t have a visa yet,” said Neetu Yadav in Jalandhar, part of the ‘NRI belt’ in Punjab’s Doaba region. “Even if we defer the admission, there can be no guarantee of a spot in the next session,” she added.
Ashish Ahuja, a visa consultant in Jalandhar, said, “Canada has a backlog of more than 24 lakh immigration applications, of all types, as of now. The government there keeps issuing statements that they are hiring new people to clear these backlog cases. But it’s tough for us to convince students and parents.”
Canada is the favoured destination due to its relatively friendly immigration policies. Expectations, thus, are higher, as is the frustration.
The suicide by a 23-year-old man in Haryana’s Kurukshetra yesterday is one extreme end of that. It wasn’t immediately clear when he’d applied, but such was fate that he did receive his visa — only after he was already gone.