Some international students in Barrie taking Georgian College courses online due to student visa backlog

The Toronto Star

Brett Glover The Star Thu., Sept. 22, 2022

One international student in Barrie feels they’re missing out due to online learning, while it may boil down to an increased demand in student visas.

Jim Swales, a Barrie man who has hosted international students at his home for several years in a row, spoke on behalf of the student, who didn’t want their details shared. Swales said the student paid a lot of money to attend Georgian College, which they feel should include in-class instruction with live interaction with instructors and other students.

Instead, this student and others like them will be taking online courses for the next several weeks, to accommodate for delays in processing student visas at the federal level. Despite this, Swales says the college could have taken different steps.

“If they wanted to do online learning, they could have stayed at home and ... saved thousands and thousands of dollars," he said. "But they weren't given that opportunity."

The college said it took this step to allow more time for other international students to arrive.

“To accommodate the many international students who could not travel to Canada and who were at risk of losing an entire semester, Georgian made the decision to modify specific programs, impacting approximately six per cent of the student population,” Maher Ghalayini, acting vice-president of academics, said in an email to

“One example of a delivery-mode modification was moving online for the first two to six weeks of the semester, during which time more theoretical content will be taught and the focus on hands-on, in-person learning will shift to the latter half of the semester,” Ghalayini continued. “This will allow more time for IRCC to process more visas and allow more students to arrive for in-person studies.”

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship of Canada (IRCC) confirmed a delay in processing student visas, explaining there was a higher demand than expected this year.

“In the last year unaffected by the global pandemic, 2019, IRCC received about 288,000 study-permit applications from January through August. By comparison, in 2022, we received about 478,000 study-permit applications over those same months,” reads a statement provided by IRCC that indicated the organization hopes to hire 1,250 new employees to help tackle the backlog.

“We know these unexpected changes have inconvenienced some students during the first few weeks of the semester, but, in making these temporary changes, we’re able to make learning accessible to hundreds of international students who are awaiting their visas,” added Ghalayini.

But Swales said the way Georgian has handled this is “very unfair” to students who came to Barrie.

“They should have done both programs parallel and give both sets of students basically what they were expecting and had paid for,” he said.

Swales added it isn’t just the in-person learning experience the students are missing out on; it’s the social interaction, which he says is hindering their ability to learn English.

“The only way that improves is if you're socializing with other people and having to communicate and ... honing your speaking skills,” he said, adding he’s seen past international students learn the landscape from each other, too. “They can buddy up if they want to go someplace. ‘Oh, I've been there before. Let's go now. I'll ride with you. I'll show you the bus route,’ whatever it might be.”