Precious Christianah Ademokun thought she would be in Canada and part way through a college programming program by now.
Instead, after months waiting in Nigeria for her study permit application to be processed, she was denied a student visa — and was out $9,000 after the Toronto college she applied to wouldn't refund her.
Now, after CBC Toronto shared Ademokun's story, she said in an email that George Brown College has promised to refund the entire amount as soon as possible.
"I am very grateful," Ademokun told CBC Toronto. "I was really sad when it happened."
The school wouldn't share specifics, but told CBC Toronto, "based on a review of the specific circumstances of this case, we have come to a resolution that has met with the full agreement of the student."
Ademokun, 19, received her admission into a program at George Brown College in April and applied for a student visa on July 4, says she was told the visa application process could take six to eight weeks.
Still, she had to make the college's fee deadlines while she waited for a decision from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Ademokun was required to pay a minimum of $8,867 for first semester fees out of the total $16,872 for the both semesters.
On Sept. 19, with no decision on her visa by the IRCC, she missed the school's refund deadline.
It wasn't until Oct. 6 that Ademokun received a decision from the IRCC. Her study permit had been denied. Despite that, George Brown College told Ademokun it could not refund any of the fees she paid to the school.
Ademokun appealed, but the school denied her request for withdrawal and refund in a letter sent to her on Dec. 15.
'Trapped' between college deadlines, visa approval
Ademokun's situation is one that many international students find themselves in, said Nick Peterson, a support staff member on the Student Association at George Brown College.
Peterson said he is approached at least twice a month by international students, both in person and by phone, caught between the college's deadlines and visa approval.
"Students are trapped between the college and their visa forms, and they don't know where to go next or who to talk to," Peterson told CBC Toronto.
Peterson said the students often seek assistance from the student union, which usually can't help.
"Because we don't have play in college policy and operations, most of the time the answer is no, unfortunately."
College reviewing internal processes
According to George Brown College, international students who are refused a study permit are eligible for a refund or deferral, if it is requested within their deadline date.
The school's registrar Janene Christiansen said in a statement to CBC Toronto that it values its international students and understands "it is always a huge disappointment when study permits are denied."
After being contacted by CBC Toronto, Christiansen said the school was "following up directly" with Ademokun to "find a resolution."
"Now that new information is coming to light, we are following up directly with the individual to gather more details and find a resolution."
Christiansen also said George Brown College's international withdrawal and refund policy is aligned with other colleges in Ontario and complies with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities directives, as well as IRCC regulations.
However, she says, the school is reviewing its internal processes and policies to "ensure an improved, clear and transparent process for all prospective students.
According to the Government of Canada's website, study permits for international students currently take up to nine weeks to process.
IRCC working to address application backlog
An IRCC spokesperson said it could not comment on specific cases, but said it is working to address current application backlogs after "record-breaking year" for processing immigration applications.
"Study permit applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible after they receive their letter of acceptance from a designated learning institution, in order to ensure their application is processed in time," said IRCC spokesperson Julie Lafortune.
Lafortune said IRCC has implemented a number of efforts such as digitizing applications and hiring and training new staff, and that as of Nov. 30, 2022, IRCC processed more than 670,000 study permits, compared to more than 500,000 during the same time period the year before.
"As a result of these efforts, most new study permits are now being processed within the 60-day service standard."
The IRCC aims to process 80 per cent of new applications within six weeks, she added.
To address the IRCC's delays in processing study permit applications, Christiansen said George Brown College provided a one-week extension to all international students to submit their withdrawal applications.
"We also make every effort to work directly with students whose permits may be delayed to provide options," she said.
Lack of transparency, lengthy processes
But Mitra Yakubi, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, said international students face many systemic barriers including higher fees and and lengthy processes — adding tight deadlines only makes things more difficult.
"[They] need to not be treated like cash cows, they need to receive support and support that meets their unique needs." - Mitra Yakubi, Canadian Federation of Students Ontario
"A big issue is the lack of transparency and the lengthy processes that they have to go through when it comes to immigration and permits and like institutional deadlines," Yakubi said.
"[They] need to not be treated like cash cows, they need to receive support and support that meets their unique needs."
Yakubi said change needs to happen across the board, and more post-secondary institutions need to provide support for international students.
Meanwhile, Ademokun is still hopeful to study in Canada, but wants to be able to move on and apply to other schools.