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Refused a study permit for not having dependents?

One frustrating trend that persists within Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is the rejection of temporary resident applications from single, younger applicants without spouses or dependent children. Often, these individuals hail from countries where there is a presumption of a primary intention to immigrate permanently or where dual-intention arguments are complicated by evidence of instability. It is worth noting that this refusal reason disproportionately affects women, and it is a widespread issue at visa offices in the Middle East and Africa.

In this article, we will explore possible counterarguments that applicants can make, examine the position taken by the Department of Justice (DOJ) when representing their clients and IRCC, and ultimately discuss why this refusal ground is concerning moving forward.

There have been numerous Federal Court decisions that reject the argument that being young, single, mobile, and without dependents can be a sole ground for refusing a study permit application. In Iyiola v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 324, Justice Fuhrer summarizes the case law on this issue and emphasizes that simply finding a lack of dependents a negative factor, without further analysis, would unfairly disqualify many students from eligibility.

It was also held that it was unintelligible to construe a lack of documented travel abroad in itself, without a negative travel history or other negative factors, as an indication that an individual will overstay their authorized time in Canada. Onyeka and Ogunfowora support this view.

Two cases worth revisiting are Onyeka v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2009 FC 336 and Obot v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 208. These cases involved Nigerian study permit applicants who were refused on similar language grounds. In Onyeka, Justice Russell found that the Officer failed to explain how a lack of dependents leads to the applicant not leaving Canada at the end of their authorized stay. Justice Russell held that the officer's reasons were insufficient to amount to a reasonable exercise of discretion when the other factors were taken into account.

In a recent case, Singh v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 691, the applicant's work permit application was refused based on the officer's belief that the applicant's family ties suggested she would not leave Canada at the end of her authorized stay. However, the applicant had provided evidence that she had no direct family ties in Canada.

These cases suggest that simply mentioning the presence of a Canadian-based family member without further analysis will not be accepted by the Court.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) typically responds to judicial reviews by arguing two points, even if they are not reflected in the actual findings of the officer. First, they argue that the evidence provided by the applicant was insufficient, thereby raising concerns about the credibility of the application, which would require further information requests. Second, they attempt to piece together the applicant’s biographical history to complicate what might seem to be a clear-cut case with strong ties to their country of residence, to highlight push/pull factors.

Another case that the DOJ cites is Singh v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 526 (CanLII), in which the applicant argued that most students are single, have no dependents, and are highly mobile, so the factors that tended to show little incentive to return to their home country should be discounted.

The above examples demonstrate that judges in judicial review cases are not only reviewing the officer's reasonableness in rendering the decision, but are also conducting a gap analysis of what the applicant provided and what they could have provided.

Especially when there is a clear-cut family tie to Canada or if the applicant is applying from a country and with a factual matrix that gives rise to strong push and pull factors, it is recommended to provide as much evidence as possible to avoid a finding of insufficiency.

As seen in recent cases, the use of the phrase "young, single, mobile, and without dependents" is often gendered. It has also been observed that this term is disproportionately used to describe younger, single women who are applying for temporary residence in Canada. This could potentially be discriminatory and goes against Canadian Charter values, including age and gender discrimination (overtly) and race (as visa offices frequently use this language).

As was previously mentioned, being young, single, and mobile is not something that an applicant can change in the same way that they can improve their financial resources, travel history, or select a more logical program of study.

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