Hannah Santos: Coping with Student Visa Denials

Have you ever gone through the process of applying for a student visa? Then you would know that it is a painstaking process and the results are not always in your favour.

Hanna Santos, Dowtown Toronto

More than we can admit, the Philippines is subject to a lot of student visa requirements and applying for it may not be as simple as black and white papers. Time, effort, meticulously putting up a your whole portfolio, explaining why you want to study in a foreign country, convincing the visa officer understand that you deserve it and that you are more than capable of succeeding in this pursuit, sleepless nights while waiting for the result – all this hard work only to end with one blow of a visa denial.  

Sometimes, no matter how truthful you present yourself and how genuine your intentions are, your visa application still gets rejected. You have to remember that a visa denial does not necessarily mean you have lied, the term used is “misrepresented.” You have not presented yourself in a light that makes the visa officer understand you. Having this said, the anguish brought by rejection does not make it any less. The feeling of a visa denial is underrated and other people who have not experienced it cannot relate to the level of frustration a single decision letter brings. If I can describe it, it feels like seeing the finish line but then there’s a road block – so close yet so far – now you have to think of a way to get around the roadblock and detour. Roadblocks and detours are part of the journey for sure, as long as you don’t lose hope and enjoy the ride, you will arrive at your destination. 

People handle rejection differently for sure, but there is only one way to change your situation and that is to act on it. Results will remain the same unless you do a different approach. If you think this is based on a theory, the story of our feature student will convince you to challenge your adversities and make it work for you. 

From closed doors to new beginnings:

Hanna Santos, is a 27 year old international student in Ontario, originally from Quezon City who is no stranger to visa denials. 

“Ever since, my dream was to become a chef that’s why I took up Hotel and Restaurant Management. My plan was just to study Culinary Arts but it never crossed my mind to study abroad. Kasi before I really thought na sobrang hirap makakuha ng student visa, na mahirap makapasok sa school abroad. After years of working dito sa PH, I started at Starbucks – then shifted sa airline industry. Dito na ako nahilig mag-travel, explore the world ganon. Then naburn out ako na parang “What am I doing pa?” Wala akong mafeel na progress sa life ganon. I tried US J1 internship as a start sana to go back sa hotel industry, but I didn’t get any luck to get a US visa (this was 2019-2020). I was denied 3 times. My last visa interview was before the lockdown, March 2020. Sobrang wala akong plan B in life after that, so I was so depressed yet determine na i’push yung dream ko to become a chef and study Culinary Arts. So naghanap ako ng schools here while pandemic. I even plan to board a cruise ship but pandemic so walang training and all. I saw a story posted by my friend na going na sya sa Canada as an international student. So I asked so many questions, tas nung nalaman ko, na medyo madali lang pala. Dun ko na in-explore yung opportunities sa Canada – and that is when I started my Canada journey. I compared the course that I wanted here (PH) and sa CA. Sabe ko “Almost [the] same lang gastos sa tuition pero mas may opportunity sa CA kesa dito sa ‘Pinas.” Ayun, dun na ko nagdecide na sa CA nalang magtake ng culinary.”

Another hitch on the road

Although Canada is relatively more welcoming to international students than the USA, this does not make the application process any easier. Canada takes visa applications seriously and its warm accommodation to international students cannot be taken as leniency – to be admitted in the country takes just as much effort.   

“Since Centennial College’s center of excellence are hospitality programs, I feel that it would bring me to places. I intended to take Fall Semester but my visa didn’t get approve right away. I lodge my application on June 2, and got my refusal July 14 because of my employment situation. In which it was an honest mistake sa SOP na ‘di ko na-elaborate maigi yung role ko sa family business namin and that I was a part time barista sa isang coffee shop dito sa QC. So nagrevise ako agad ng SOP that same day and send it to my agent to check. The day after I provided my certificates of employment to support my answers sa refusal grounds ko.”

AT LAST!

“So we lodged 2nd visa app, July 16 agad – and with God’s grace, I was approved August 27. Nagpa-defer nalang ako intake since start ng class for Fall is September 7. My tip for those who want to take the student pathway is be sure that you really want the course/program na ittake mo kasi kung hindi mo gusto yung course, di ka makakasurvive. Magiging mabigat sa feeling yun na dahil gusto mo lang makarating ng Canada yun nalang. That’s a no no. You should take the course/program that will really help you build your career in the future and help you achieve your goals. Kasi kung gusto mo yung program/course, mas magiging madali yung pagaaral mo, mas magiging madali yung life away from family because you really love what you’re doing, hindi sya magiging mabigat. Kundi mas ma’i’inspire ka pa lalo to graduate on time and build the career your really want. For us Filipinos, it is not easy na mawalay sa family but we’re doing it for them and because of them.. kaya mas magiging madali yung paglayo sakanila if you really want/love what you’re doing” 

 “If you plan to go to Canada and take the student pathway or even other immigration pathways, I would say na dapat buo yung loob mo sa lahat ng bagay in every side, angle or whatsoever, dapat ready ka. Dapat determined ka to push through with it kasi pag andun ka na, wala ka pagkukuhanan ng lakas ng loob kundi sarili mo lang.”

Hanna’s story deserves centerstage as her brimming perseverance and resilience is a remarkable story that will surely help anyone going through the same challenges to pull themselves out of a dark place. 

Remember that rejections are mere redirection – to steer us to our rightful destiny. As long as you keep going, there’s no way you cannot reach your destination and achieve great things. 

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