Student behind class-action lawsuit against Niagara College says settlement empowers international students

Good result and message:

The student at the helm of a class-action lawsuit against Niagara College says a settlement Thursday should empower vulnerable international students to stand up for themselves.

“This has set a great precedent that will benefit future international students in Canada,” an emotional Anish Goyal told Justice Paul M. Perell after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved a settlement between the college and its international graduates.

Some of those students were forced to leave the country in 2015 and had their immigrant dreams shattered when Canadian immigration officials rejected their work permit applications because their credits were earned through Niagara College’s online courses — though the government later reversed some of the refusals.

“I wish to thank Canada and all Canadians for being welcoming to international students. Also, to God for empowering me to help so many students. This situation has affected my life in ways that are irreparable by money. We settled this lawsuit mostly to ensure that we don’t burden the already overburdened courts of Canada and its colleges,” Goyal told Justice Perell.

“International students are here to be a positive part of Canada. I am sure every international student is here to work hard and be a better part of this society,” he said. “Problems are part of every system. Important is its willingness to help.”

According to the settlement terms, the college has offered to compensate each student between $7,500 and $20,000, depending on their circumstances. At least 100 former international graduates from the college’s general arts and science program have been identified as part of the lawsuit, but the number of members could reach as many as 500 as the legal action initially indicated.

The students had alleged the school and its representatives misled them to believe that by completing the mostly online general arts and science diploma transfer program, after finishing a year of graduate or postgraduate schooling in Canada, they would qualify for a three-year work permit.

But they later learned the four-month Niagara College program didn’t meet the immigration department’s work permit requirements because the program was considered distance learning. Without a permit, students must leave the country after graduation.

Price of Admission, an ongoing joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard, looked at the exponential growth of international students, particularly in the Ontario college system, and its impacts on Canada’s immigration and education systems.

The series found the influx has resulted in governments, recruiters, academic institutions and employers directly, and indirectly, profiting from international students, who are willing to pay hefty tuition fees and, in some cases, put up with abuse and exploitation, for the dream of making a life in Canada.

Goyal, who has a background in IT project management from India, is still in the process of settling permanently in Canada after ultimately receiving a three-year work permit. He and other members of the class action are bound by a gag order not to speak with the media as part of the settlement terms.

However, in the public court, the now 31-year-old lead litigant said he had learned from the hardships he endured and will use the experience and strength he acquired to build a future in Canada.

“As a gesture of peace and gratitude, I have decided to donate all the money I will receive from the lawsuit to charitable cause,” said the Brampton man. “(I) hope that no public sentiment is hurt by our (legal) actions.”

Noting that the court appreciated the settlement and expression of thanks from Goyal, Justice Perell replied: “It is honourable the good deed you are doing. It is also appreciated.”

Thursday’s settlement covers international students who graduated from the general arts and science diploma transfer program between Sept. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2016 and who were initially denied a three-year post-graduation work permit “due to distance learning.” Some of those students subsequently reapplied for and were granted permits while others were turned down after reapplying.

Those who qualify for the class-action settlement must contact the law firm Thomson Rogers with supporting documents by April 6. While class members who meet the requirements will be compensated, those who object to the settlement terms must opt out before that date.

Justice Perell also approved total fees of approximately $950,750 to the students’ lawyers from the compensation settlement, in addition to $250,000 in legal fees, disbursements and applicable taxes from Niagara College.

The college declined to comment on the court settlement.

Source: Student behind class-action lawsuit against Niagara College says settlement empowers international students

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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