The University of Toronto has the second highest number of international students nationwide, with over 17 per cent, or approximately 14,000 students across the three campuses.

Every year, a new set of these international students has to apply for study permits through Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). In order to do so, they must provide proof that they can pay for tuition and living expenses, estimated at around $800 per month for 12 months. They must also submit scans of all passport pages, a digital photo, a letter of acceptance that states program start date, duration and tuition fees, a $150 application fee, and a completed application.

International students at U of T receive the same admittance information package as domestic students, which means that they are not given information on the study permit application process. They also do not receive information regarding the Centre for International Experience (CIE) and the services they offer.

U of T does not indicate the cost of tuition on its acceptance letters, information that is key to the study permit application process.

Lack of resources

“I don’t think that I got help from the school,” said Jing Jing Li, a Masters student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). “They should absolutely send you a package on how to apply for study permits.”

Although the CIE does provide assistance for study permit applications, it only does so after students reach out to them. With one immigration advisor for the entire St. George campus, international students cannot always access the assistance they may need.

Mary Githumbi, president of the International Students Association (iNSA), believes that divisional registrars’ not fully understanding the complex needs of international students contributes to the problem.

“I feel they have given the work to CIE so all international students are directed to the CIE, so the problem is that CIE knows about fee structure, study permits and the legal immigration stuff but they don’t understand how it intersects with the academic life,” Githumbi said. “So it’s always a back and forth referral system.”

Githumbi believes that not all registrars are properly trained in the intricacies that international students face. “I would say that human resources [are] really being strained when it comes to helping international students,” she stated. “ I don’t know how they are going to solve that problem I just know it is really strained. Sometimes I wish they would at least provide extra training to inform them and sensitize them about international students.

A confusing procedure

While U of T has digitized the application process via the Join U of T platform, information on tuition fees for international students is not made available there. It requires extra effort navigating through multiple websites, to arrive at the page where the tuition schedules for various faculties and entrance years are found.

“Acceptance packages include an estimate of tuition fees, as offers are made before the year’s tuition fees are confirmed,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T. Blackburn-Evans also said that when the fee schedules are finalised, they can be found on the U of T fees website.

Li said that the process of applying to schools from abroad can be confusing, especially with OISE where the system is so different from her home country, China. “It is crazy that they do not help. It is crucial that they assist international students.”

Erina Shirai, a fourth-year New College student, explained the complexities and difficulties of the initial application for a study permit, especially applying from a country in a different time zone.

“Although there are detailed instructions on the website, I believe it is necessary for the school to be more available to those international students who are not able to easily access such information as those who are in Canada,” Shirai stated. “The time difference was a huge hindrance for me when I tried contacting the school via phone, and the administration as well as CIE do not have flexible hours for those living abroad.”

Shirai echoes Githumbi and Li, saying that it would be beneficial for international students if registrars were to better explain the Canadian university system.

She suggests that a live chat function on the CIE website would be helpful, instead of having to wait a few days longer for a response back from them when preparing to study in Canada.

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