Grad pancake breakfast provides legal advice to international students

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The Graduate Students’ Society (GSS) hosted its fifth annual grad student pancake breakfast on Oct. 22 to welcome international grad students. This year, however, the international students were offered more than just pancakes, hash browns, and coffee. For the first time since its debut, legal counsel was set up for international students struggling with the many confusing bureaucratic applications that needed filling out.

Aid used to be provided by the University. Now—because of a change to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)—only lawyers, articling law students acting under a lawyer, or certified consultants of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (also known as a CSIC) can offer legal help to immigrants.  This is a sore issue for Stacey Chappel, executive director of the GSS. In a brief interview on the morning of the 22nd, she said, “It shouldn’t be against the law for you to talk about the laws.”

The University of Victoria website stated on Sept. 3 that, because of the recent change to the IRPA, international students could no longer receive help with applications such as: study permit extensions, student work permits, visas, and applications for family members. If the university helps international students with these things, the new Act states punishment could be as severe as a $100 000 fine and two years in prison.

Some international students, like Irene Ou, a leadership studies student, weren’t even aware that the university provided these services. However, upon hearing the news that UVic won’t be able to offer international students help, she said that, “UVic should know more about how to help their students.”

Han Yao, a grad student studying educational psychology, feels that the International and Exchange Student Services Office is “a very useful place, but I don’t go very often.” These students are both new to UVic and haven’t run into problems with any applications. This isn’t true of all students.

The IRPA was changed in 2011 in an attempt to protect people immigrating into Canada from receiving bad counsel with regards to various immigration forms. Even though the Act is a couple of years old, it has only recently been confirmed that this applies to staff at an educational institution. Many universities have started training their staff: Simon Fraser University for example. During this time they are offering a consultant in place of their usual international student aid. UVic has yet to have staff trained. Chappel says that UVic is too small to send employees away, unlike other universities like SFU and UBC, but “having support on campus for international students is very important to being a world-class destination.”

Some feel that this law doesn’t do what it set out to do. To make it safer for new people immigrating to Canada, they’ve also made it more challenging. The CSIC was established in the fall of 2003, and, by 2008, the government received eyewitness accounts of bad governance within the CSIC. This prompted them to make changes in how it was organized. They changed it from a not-for-profit to a non-share capital corporation.

Chappel thinks these government regulations are making life harder for international students, even though during the throne speech on Oct. 16, Governor General David Johnston said, “Our government will continue to promote Canada as a world-class destination for international students.”

Fifteen-minute meetings with the legal counsel, Kylie Buday, were given to the international students that were lucky enough to book one of the 21 available spots on Oct. 22.  The GSS board has yet to decide if they will offer any more legal clinics.

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