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Why experts say more international students are applying for asylum in Canada


From 2022 to 2023, there was a 324 per cent increase of international students from Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., applying for asylum in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada confirms 450 students from the college applied for asylum in 2023 compared to 106 in 2022.

People can apply for asylum or refugee status if they have reason to fear returning to their home country.

“Some of the questions are have you been mistreated, threatened or face persecution in your country?” Eunice Valenzuala, a refugee specialist with Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre said, adding sexual orientation, political opinion, gender and domestic violence are just some of the reasons why people apply.

Applying for asylum is a lengthy and difficult process that can sometimes take years to complete.

Lawyer Elizabeth Kim, who only works on immigration refugee cases, said it can take anywhere from six months to two years, from the beginning of the process to a decision. She called it a “last resort” to apply, and said lawyers often look to see if other options exist.

“If your goal is to remain in Canada, the last thing you want to do is take the course of action that’s going to give you a removal order automatically issued,” Kim said.

She said there appears to be a misunderstanding that people applying for asylum would simply prefer to stay in Canada. Instead, she said it’s that they cannot return to their home.

“I personally haven’t seen a lot of meritless claims where they’re just looking to [stay in Canada]. I don’t think I’ve seen any,” Kim said.

Increased cost of living 

Kim explained one theory she has for the increase in asylum claims in Waterloo Region is the increased cost of living. She’s had clients who cannot afford to pay for tuition and for the cost of living on their own, so they’re forced to drop out of school, meaning they no longer have student permits.

“Because of the housing crisis, because of the living expenses that are rapidly increasing, there’s only so much you can do on your own to afford all of that, right? Before, if you worked really, really hard, and studied in the day and worked at night, perhaps you could get by a little bit,” Kim said.

She explained some students have plans to complete schooling, graduate, get a post-graduation work permit, get Canadian work experience and then apply under Canadian Experience Class to stay in the country. But it’s getting harder to afford that.

While speaking at a virtual Toronto Metropolitan University panel, Marc Miller, the federal minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said some post secondary institutions have started relying on international students for profit, even if their academic level isn’t up to par.

Miller said some of those students come to Canada with the hope of a safe future and a successful career.

“[They] have it dashed quickly when they can’t get a job or get a crappy education and then have to file for asylum in some of the worst case scenarios, and that it’s an uncommon occurrence,” Miller said.

CTV News requested an interview with Conestoga College but they could not provide one.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the college does not receive data about asylum claims.

“A full team of advisors is available to offer help and guidance to international students throughout their journey at Conestoga,” the college said.

Where can students get help?

The Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre does not provide concrete advice on what steps international students should take if they visit, but they do offer information and options.

Valenzuala said more resources for students to gain accurate information could help steer them in the right direction. She worries misinformation also be contributing to the rising number of people interested in asylum claims.

“I think it would be very important if the professors at the college and for other services in the community to be aware of the refugee claim process because sometimes they give the wrong information to people,” she said.

Kim said it’s important for people to know all of their options and to seek legal help.

“You’re only going to help that by consulting an expert in it,” she said. “It is a complicated field and there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet.”

Kim added Legal Aid Ontario can help if someone doesn’t have enough money to retain a legal representative.

“People who are being granted protection and they have gone through that rigorous process of proving their eligibility, proving their admissibility, proving that they have a legitimate fear of persecution back home, then [they] should be supported. People should be embraced,” Kim said.

“People should be made part of our community.” Top Stories

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