The Reasonableness of a Proposed Program of Study

Meurrens LawStudy Permits

One of the more common reasons for a study permit application to be refused is because a visa officer determines that an applicant’s proposed program of study in Canada is unreasonable given the applicant’s background.  The wording of such refusals varies, but it typically includes statements about how an individual could study in a similar program for a cheaper cost in their country of residence, or that there is no logical academic progression given their previous studies.

The following is an example of such a refusal.

The Law

Visa officers have the authority to determine whether a study permit applicant’s proposed program of study is reasonable.  It is reasonable for an officer to find that an intended program does not accord with an applicant’s previous academic history.  Officers can also question applicants who are abruptly changing career paths.

However, the decisions of visa officers must demonstrate that all evidence of applicants was considered. Where they do not, the decisions will be unreasonable.

For example, in Taiwo v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FC 91, Justice Shore stated that:

The Officer should not have doubted the Applicant’s explanations regarding his change of career path. The Applicant first studied in Sociology from 1995 to 2000, even though from 2004 to 2012, he has been employed as a Financial Officer and a Financial Manager. In 2012, the Applicant became the Financial Director at Tropical Spectrum BDC Ltd., a family owned business by the Applicant himself, in which he owns the majority of the shares of the company. The business is currently still running, recognizing that it is the Applicant’s wife, as stated in her sworn affidavit of financial support that she will take care of the company during the absence of her husband. In light of all the evidence, it was thus unreasonable for the Officer to raise concerns with respect to the Applicant’s intentions to obtain a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies in Canada, although the Applicant has spent over ten years in the business employment. The Applicant’s desire, as per his evidence, does not point in the direction of reasonableness of the Officer’s decision. Therefore, the decision is unreasonable.

Similarly, in Raymundo v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FC 579 Justice LeBlanc stated:

…the Officer’s conclusion that he was not satisfied that the Applicant’s proposed studies in Canada made sense and followed a logical and consistent study path given the limited information on how these studies would improve the Applicant’s career prospects to a degree that would offset the costs of studying abroad instead of pursuing programs available locally for a fraction of the cost.

This statement is simply not supported by the evidence that was before the Officer and the Officer offers no reasonable explanation as to why the proposed program does not make sense. On the contrary, the Applicant details, in the personal study plan he submitted in support of his visa application, how the proposed program would contribute to his career plan as well as the research he conducted to attempt to find a similar program in the Philippines that teaches the international business skills he seeks to acquire. In this regard, the Officer’s decision lacks intelligibility, transparency and justification.

As such, it is important that study permit applicants demonstrate why they are taking a proposed program of study.  If a program offers a unique hands-on approach, this should be stated. As well, as the Federal Court noted in Mahida v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 423 if an applicant can show that job postings for a career that she is interested in required a specific education, that can be helpful to demonstrating the reasonableness of a proposed program of study.

However, as the Federal Court noted in Omijie v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FC 878 while the onus rests on applicants to provide evidence that satisfies visa officers, there is no particular standard of expression or persuasion. While applicants should be detailed, they should take comfort in knowing that the documentation and explanations that they put forward does not have to be flawless, so long as they convey why the applicants wish to study in their chosen programs.  Nonetheless, as indicated in Marcelin v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 761, a case in which the Federal Court determined that it was reasonable for IRCC to state that it was not clear why an Honours Bachelor of Food and Nutruition Sciences program was a natural progression for a Bachelor of Science, there does need to be detailed documentation.

Finally, as Justice Norris noted in Yuzer v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 781, and Justice Gascon noted in Aghaalikhani v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 1080, while it is permissable for visa officers to consider whether there are more affordable programs closer to an applicant’s home country, a bald statement that “[s]imilar programs [and] courses are readily available in the region and for much lower costs” may be unreasonable without an explanation as to how the officer came to that determination. This principle was again reiterated in Motala v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 726. However, as Justice Southcott reiterated in Farnia v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2022 FC 511, a well reasoned explanation for why it a proposed program of study is unreasonable given the cost is permissible.

Availability of Other Courses

In Afuah v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 596, Justice McHaffie stated the following regarding the mixed jurisprudence on whether it is reasonable for officers to state that there are cheaper programs available locally without providing details:

… that there have been differing decisions of this Court in respect of such a statement. In Yuzer, Justice Norris found a similar statement that “[s]imilar programs [and] courses are readily available in the region and for much lower costs” to be a bald statement that left the Court unable to determine its reasonableness: Yuzer at para 21. In Aghaalikhani, Justice Gascon found a more detailed statement that “similar programs are available closer to the applicant’s place of residence for more competitive tuition fees and the benefits to the applicant of taking the program do not appear to outweigh the costs” was unsupported by any evidence on the record and failed to address the given reasons for pursuing studies in Canada: Aghaalikhani at paras 8, 20. Conversely, in Cayanga, Justice Boswell found a statement that it was “[u]nclear why PA is taking program at this time or why a similar program would not have been pursued until this time locally or regionally at less cost and higher convenience given the costs” was sufficient and reasonable: Cayanga at paras 4, 13. In Ali, Justice Strickland found an apparently more detailed conclusion about the costs and availability of local programs to be sufficient to understand why a study permit was refused: Ali v Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), 2018 FC 702 at paras 5, 19, 21.

In my view, these different outcomes must be considered attributable to the Court’s appreciation of the particular reasons given by the visa officer, in the context of the particular submissions and evidence put forward by the applicant. The more central an argument and the more important the evidence put forward on an issue, the greater the requirement for a visa officer to address that argument and evidence in their reasons: Vavilov at paras 125–128. Given the minimal requirement for reasons, and the need to review them in the context of the record, the difference between sufficient reasons and insufficient reasons may be subtle. In all cases, the question remains the same, namely whether the reasons show that the visa officer has considered the application in its entirety, and presents a justified, intelligible, and transparent basis for the refusal.