Lines for SIN cards, passports were already long. Now international students are making them even longer

·4 min read
Hundreds of people started lining up outside a Service Canada office in Brampton, Ont., at 5 a.m. on Thursday and had to wait for hours. Many international students were in line hoping to receive a Social Insurance Number to be able to work in Canada.  (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)
Hundreds of people started lining up outside a Service Canada office in Brampton, Ont., at 5 a.m. on Thursday and had to wait for hours. Many international students were in line hoping to receive a Social Insurance Number to be able to work in Canada. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)

As more international students arrive in the Greater Toronto Area for school in September, lines outside of Service Canada offices are wrapping around buildings with wait times of up to four hours for some.

Earlier this summer, a backlog in passport processing times was plaguing Service Canada locations across the province. Now, with the addition of a surge in international students applying for Social Insurance Numbers (SIN), there's no relief in sight.

Karan Bhardwaj was among hundreds of people waiting in the pouring rain on Thursday morning outside a Service Canada office in Brampton, Ont.

After getting in line at 5 a.m. and waiting for roughly four hours, the international student from India applied for and received his SIN so he can work while studying in Canada.

"Day by day the inflation is getting very high," said Bhardwaj, who is studying at Loyalist College in Scarborough.

"So we need to work here to maintain our expenses."

He said waiting in line was the only option for him because it can take up to a month for the SIN to be delivered by mail if he were to apply on line.

Bhardwaj said a month "is too long for me to wait for a job," he said.

Influx of SIN applications anticipated ahead of fall

In a statement emailed to CBC Toronto Thursday, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said the increased demand is expected at this time of year.

"Service Canada tends to see increased demand for Social Insurance Number (SIN) applications in late August and early September each year, largely related to the influx of newly arriving foreign students," said ESDC spokesperson Maja Stefanovska.

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

The department said those who apply online for a SIN can begin working at a insured job before receiving a letter in the mail, which can take up to 15 business days from the day the application was processed.

If an online application is rejected, the applicant is notified by email or letter with instructions on what is required to obtain a SIN. Approximately 95 per cent of online applications are processed within 10 days, according to Service Canada.

Meanwhile, the department noted staff across the country are working overtime and on weekends to address the demand for services as Canadians eager to travel after more than two years of pandemic restrictions apply for passports

"Service Canada is aware that lineups continue to be an issue in certain locations, both at Service Canada Centres and at specialized passport sites," Stefanovska said.

"With respect to passports, in some cases, this is related to ongoing elevated demand for passports, both urgent and non-urgent."

CBC
CBC

Since May, Service Canada said it brought on more than 800 new employees across the country to address the backlog.

Due to high volumes, processing times continue to take longer than usual, the agency added.

Jatin Kapel was among the hundreds of people waiting in line to apply for a SIN card in Brampton Thursday. He got to the line at 5 a.m. hoping to secure a SIN after getting turned away earlier this week.

Kapel, an international student from India studying business at Seneca College, landed in Canada on Aug. 18. Just a few days later on Monday, he tried to apply for a SIN card at the same location but ultimately left because of the long lineup.

Wait times 'far from normal'

Jashan Jot Kaur, who is also an international student from India in Sheridan College's Environmental Technician program, waited in line for four hours on Thursday.

Like Bhardwaj, she said despite the long lines, she would rather wait to apply for a SIN in person than go online.

"I think it is worth it to wait here," said Jot Kaur,.who like many others in line is looking for part-time work and needs a SIN to apply for jobs.

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

Meanwhile, Stefanovska said Service Canada is continuing to work to address the wait times.

"These wait times are far from normal, and we know many people have been put in very difficult and stressful circumstances," she said.

"Service Canada is examining and implementing every possible option to expedite intake and processing of applications to help Canadians get their passports in a timely way."