Ashley had already paid her registration fees and booked her flight from Punjab, India to Toronto when she found out just over a week ago that she was no longer accepted to Ontario’s Northern College. 

“It was very heartbreaking for me. It was a huge impact on my lifestyle,” Ashley, who doesn’t have a last name, told CBC Toronto.

Ashley received her acceptance letter in February to study health care administration at Scarborough’s Pures College of Technology, which is an affiliate of Northern College. She applied for a student visa, quit her job in health care, found a place to live in the GTA, and booked a one-way ticket to Toronto for over $2,200. 

The system is exploiting students.​​​​​​– Jaspreet Singh, World Sikh Organization

Now, instead of packing her bags, Ashley will remain in India while scrambling for a solution. And she’s not the only one. 

Some 500 international students recently received an email informing them that their admission offers for this coming school year had been revoked, according to Northern CollegeSome were already in Canada when they were informed their offers had been withdrawn.

“It was not a normal process for us as international students who have used all the savings that we have had,” Ashley said. 

In an emailed statement to CBC Toronto, Pures said it was “ready, willing and able to accept all international students who received letters of admission,” but that its affiliate, Northern College, decided against doing so.

“Our public college partner has decided to withdraw these admissions,” Pures said in a statement. “Pures had scheduled all the Fall semester students for study before the revocation was made by our partner.”

As a private college in a partnership with a public college, Pures said it doesn’t have the authority to make final decisions on the admissions process.

Northern College says the problem was caused by Canada approving more visas for international students than expected. 

David Francis, director of strategic initiatives for Northern College, said it’s the responsibility of Northern College to estimate how many visas will be approved ahead of each semester. That means the school gives out more acceptance letters than it can accommodate under the assumption that some of the applicants will have their visas denied.

“As we look at program capacities, they are moving targets,” Francis said. 

Additionally, Francis said many students apply to multiple schools. As part of its estimations ahead of each semester, Northern College assumes some of the students they accepted will choose to enrol in different institutions. 

In a statement to CBC Toronto, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it’s “very disappointed” in how Northern College handled the situation, adding it doesn’t have authority to manage letters of acceptance for individual institutions.

Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities shared a similar sentiment.

“As an autonomous institution, Northern College has sole authority over the admissions process,” the ministry said in a written statement.

Students will be refunded or transferred, school says

Pures says it will continue to work with its counterpart, as well as students, to resolve the issue. 

In the meantime, Francis says students will be refunded or transferred to different schools.  But some could still be on the hook for cancelled flights and accommodation. 

“The college is willing to work with students on a case-by-case basis,” Francis said. He also confirmed that students who had already arrived in Canada will be treated as priority cases. 

The isn’t the first time international students have been left in limbo by a Toronto school. Last May, hundreds of students said their enrolment was unilaterally suspended by Alpha College of Business and Technology, an affiliate of St. Lawrence College.

Jaspreet Singh, president of the International Sikh Student Association and a member of the World Sikh Organization, says these situations are indicative of a bigger problem.

“The system is exploiting students,” he said, adding that situations like these aren’t uncommon in Canada.

“The same thing is happening every year … every semester,” he said. 

‘I don’t know how to cope’

Back in India, the last-minute change has left students like Ashley in jeopardy of losing their study permits.

An international student is granted permission to study in Canada based on their acceptance to a designated learning institution. International students must present their acceptance letter upon arrival to clear immigration and receive a permit to stay in the country to complete their education.

The IRCC didn’t say if it would make any exceptions for students like Ashley. 

Ashley is now left worried about whether she will be able to reunite with her mother and brother. The pair are already in Canada and contributed financially to help her pay her tuition and visa application fees. 

Ashley is now applying to a different GTA college for next year and hoping she can get her old job back. Meanwhile, she says the situation has taken a toll on her and her family’s mental health.

“I don’t know how to cope with this. I am in depression and [suffering] insomnia. My mother is in the same condition and I can’t see her like this,” she said.

Like others, Ashley says she’s now demanding accountability from the school. 

“I just want to have a valid solution for my situation,” she said. 

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