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Alberta government now processing provincial attestation letters for international students

The Alberta government has confirmed that it has begun processing provincial attestation letters — one of the new federal requirements for certain international students — as of March 1.

But some student advocates say they’re frustrated with a lack of communication from the province about how exactly the new process works, and they’re worried that the extra hurdle will cause further delays for prospective students to get their permits.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the prerequisite in January, among a series of other measures. It directed provinces and territories to have their official processes in place by the end of March.

The attestation letters are meant to serve as proof that students have been accounted for within the federal government’s cap on international students, as it cracks down on private post-secondary institutions that are accused of exploiting students from abroad.

Students need the completed letter to apply for their student permits.

Shaziah Jinnah Morsette, president of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, said she’s concerned the additional hurdle could be a roadblock for prospective international students.

A collage. The University of Calgary and Mount Royal University
Student advocates at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University are raising concerns about how the extra documentation could result in permitting delays for prospective international students. (David Bell/CBC)

She said as recently as two years ago, the students’ union was seeing massive delays from IRCC for international student permits.

“We heard from students that didn’t arrive and didn’t come to study in person that year, or deferred an entire year and had to put their life on pause,” said Morsette.

“With another step, this also brings in the challenge for the provincial level in ensuring there’s no delays there in a system that we really don’t know much about yet. And then on top of that, [there’s] concern about efficient processing for students at the federal level as well.”

Student advocates say they’re also worried that potential permitting delays could make it even more difficult for those students to find housing.

How the process works

According to the province’s website, “Alberta will establish a process for issuing attestation letters to students by March 31” — even though it started processing those letters at the beginning of the month.

Over the last couple of weeks, some universities across Alberta have sporadically updated their websites with details about how to obtain a letter. 

So far, the general consensus seems to be that prospective international students must accept their admission offers and pay their tuition deposits before the university requests attestation letters from the province. The university will then send the completed letters to the students.

But that depends on the university. The province said it’s up to the post-secondary institution to decide whether it requires a tuition deposit first.

That’s the process currently in place at the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and the University of Alberta.

Some other institutions, like Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and Bow Valley College, say they’re continuing to “closely monitor developments” and will issue letters “as soon as the process is determined.”

According to a statement from Mackenzie Blyth, press secretary for minister of advanced education Rajan Sawhney, the province has a cap of 41,000 attestation letters it can process.

“Alberta’s priority was to first provide allocations to publicly funded post-secondary institutions, where over 95 per cent of Alberta’s international students attend,” she said.

The letter is not required for master’s students and PhD students, among other exceptions.

‘Government policy should not cost students’

At the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU), vice president of student affairs Anisa Tilston said it’s fair that some universities require tuition deposits before providing the attestation letter.

“Needing students to pay beforehand will hopefully reduce the amount of requests for letters who don’t end up attending the school,” she said.

But, like Morsette, Tilston said she’s also concerned about the lack of details about how the process works across the province.

“I worry about the lack of information inhibiting MRU’s ability to support international students through that process.”

Morsette said she hopes this requirement doesn’t become a deterrent for prospective students.

“The bottom line is that new government policy should not cost students their education or their access to it,” said Morsette.

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