UTM’s International Centre recently updated their services to comply with Bill C-35, which allows only authorized representatives from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to give immigration advice to students regarding study permits, off-campus work permits, and post-graduation work permits, among other things.

The change is significant, since the primary role of the IC since its inception in 2010/11 has been to offer CIC-related advice to students. Before the IC, UTM students had to go to the Centre for International Experience at the St. George campus to get immigration help.

In the 2010/11 academic year, the IC was piloted at UTM by a single staff member, Stacey Platt, then an advisor at the International Students Centre at U of T Scarborough. The IC planned to provide CIC advice and information on study abroad programs to students at UTM. In its first year, the IC held 361 CIC and 47 study abroad advising sessions. An advising session is a private hour-long meeting with a staff member. The IC’s budget is supported by both student tuition and central funding.

In 2011/12 academic year, the office continued with only Platt, but held 744 CIC and 96 study abroad advising sessions. The use of the service had more than doubled.

In summer 2012, Joanna Mackie, a former recruiter at the University of British Columbia, was added to the IC staff and the office was moved to a bigger space in which both Platt and Mackie had private offices for advising. The office also launched a drop-in advising slot to accommodate more students. By the end of fall 2012, the office had already held 586 CIC sessions, 112 study abroad sessions, and 278 drop-in advising sessions—an increase in one semester to 116% of the service in the entire previous year.

There is a lot of overlap in the work Platt and Mackie do; almost 75% of it is CIC advising. The rest of the time, Platt focuses on study abroad advising while Mackie focuses more on internationalLIFE, a peer support transition program for first-year
international students.

In 2012, international students represented 22.3% of the total undergraduate enrolment. This is projected to reach 25% of the total by 2014.

Currently, the IC at UTM has one advisor for every 1,000 international students. Other universities, like UTSC and the Okanagan campus of UBC, enroll a similar number of students but allocate one advisor for every 300 international students.

To ease some of the pressure, the staff at the IC, along with Dale Mullings, UTM’s director of residence and student life, proposed increasing the IC’s budget to accommodate one additional staff member. The new staff member would develop online content, assist with the internationalLIFE program, and do more drop-in advising. The proposal was voted down at a recent meeting of Quality Service to Students.

Many students see the IC as a place only for international students, but it’s also a place for “internationally minded” students who want to study abroad, according to Mullings.

International students have the added stress of maintaining their status in Canada while juggling academic obligations and co-curricular activities, says Platt. Sometimes students lose their status in Canada after their study permit expires and sometimes pass into a restoration period (during which they can still apply to be reinstated). It becomes hard for students to restore their status after the restoration period; Platt recalls an instance in which a student who had only one credit left to graduate was deported due to study permit expiration. She said that the student developed a lot of anxiety in facing his parents back home. She emailed the student a few times after he had left but never heard back from him again.

Earlier this semester, the IC had to cease all CIC advising to comply with Bill C-35. Now, the IC can only refer students to the CIC website or their toll-free number to get answers to any kind of immigration-related advice. It may take 20 to 30 tries to get a CIC representative due to the volume of calls, and students usually reach a different person each time they call.

There are more changes in the pipeline regarding international students, according to a report of recommendations to CIC by Canadian Bureau for International Education, a research and advocacy organization for international education. International students may soon have to be enrolled full-time in order to maintain their status in Canada, which means students cannot drop courses if they are struggling when dropping would recategorize them as part-time. Universities and institutions may also have to start reporting the status of international students to CIC, including whether a student is in good standing (a requirement for studying in Canada), whether a student has decided to take a semester off, and whether a student has gone from full-time to part-time status.

But everything is not for the worse, according to Platt, who reiterates that the regulations are well-intended and do crack down on fraudulent advising and immigration help, and that there are some good changes, including a more streamlined application process, more flexibility with off-campus work hours during semesters, and full-time work permits after graduation for international students.

With the changes to CIC advising, the IC can now catch up with their other services, including a more frequent newsletter, a more robust transition program, better guidance on the University Health Insurance Plan, and more outreach to and collaboration with student groups on campus to promote multiculturalism.

Both Platt and Mackie emphasize that students need to take control of their legal status in Canada. It is up to the students to be aware of their documents, their expiry dates, the CIC application processes, and the application timeframes, so that students don’t lose their status in Canada and are able to complete their education.