Canada’s immigration policies create discriminatory outcomes for African applicants, critics say

All immigration policies and programs have discriminatory criteria in terms of whom they select and whom they refuse as part of managing borders, contributions and impacts. Financial resources of international students and the requirement to leave at the end of the studies (unless they transition to permanent residency) are legitimate criteria even if they discriminate against those with fewer financial resources.

So the question always revolves whether the criteria strike the appropriate balance between admitting permanent and temporary residents (along with visitor visas). Different groups will advocate for more open or more closed policies.

In the case of international students, who have an easier path towards transitioning to permanent residency, with students being about half of all transitions. So a more interesting data question would be to look at the country of citizenship of those students transitioning and assess the common factors of those who successfully transition: 

Canada must apply a racial lens to its goal of increasing francophone immigration, and address why officials are refusing visas and study permits to African countries at higher rates, say immigration critics, if it has any hope of meeting its French-speaking targets.

MPs and immigration advocates said they’ve repeatedly warned Ottawa that a section on issuing study permits is leading to discriminatory practice on who gets approved, and creating higher rejection rates for African students that they worry will only worsen amid pandemic-driven backlogs. They said the condition under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (specifically, subsection 216(1)) that the officer must be confident the applicant will leave Canada by the end of their studies, and financial requirements stipulating whether they are eligible to study in Canada, should be removed and are unfair.

These requirements, they contend, are leading Canada to fail to meet its own targets to attract French speakers to live and stay in Canada. In the 2019-20 report on departmental targets, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said 1.8 per cent of permanent residents admitted to Canada, outside Quebec, identified as French-speaking, despite a target of reaching 4.4 per cent. That’s slightly fewer than the 2.8 per cent of permanent residents outside of Quebec who speak French, with both goals among the third of the department’s performance targets missed during the last fiscal year. In Quebec’s case, Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin (Saint-Jean, Que.) said, often, the province wants students to stay, contrary to the IRCC requirement that they be expected to leave at the end of their permit.

Canada should look at suspending use of that provision, said NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.).

“There’s definitely a disconnect with the reality of what’s happening, versus what Canada claims and what our government claims that they want to achieve,” said Ms. Kwan. She called on Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) to ask the “hard questions” about the barriers preventing IRCC from achieving its own objectives.

It’s apparent the government wants to push francophone immigration, but to succeed, Canada needs to take a “deep look” at where the source countries are, and what type of programs are in place to facilitate immigration, said Will Tao, a B.C.-based immigration lawyer. African nations make up more than a quarter of the 88 La Francophonie members, for example, and constitute a large pool of potential applicants to Canada.

In a December 2020 submission to the House Immigration Committee, the non-profit Arenous Foundation, which Mr. Tao helped launch, wrote it was “deeply concerned” that anti-Black racism continues to lead to high refusal rates from African and global South countries.

In 2019, 75 per cent of African study permits were refused, compared to 39 per cent as the global rejection, the report noted, citing an analysis by the news site Polestar Immigration. Arenous’ numbers suggest COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, and that countries with 70 per cent or higher refusal rates continue to disproportionately represent the same African and global south countries.

“When we look at this—the government’s plan to bring more francophone students—you can’t remove that race lens,” he said, and one of the biggest barriers in reaching that goal is Canada’s high rates of refusal for international students from francophone-speaking African countries.

Pointing to Canada’s poor history with Black immigrants—including a 1911 government order that denied Black people entry to Canada on the basis of climate unsuitability—the report said “it is incumbent on Canadian immigration to explore how to create a more racially just, anti-racist framework for assessing [temporary resident visas] and study permits from African countries.”

Though some efforts have been made through the student-direct stream, Mr. Tao said, prioritizing a limited subset of candidates from French-speaking countries won’t bring a greater, more diverse group of students. The IRCC added Morocco, Pakistan, and Senegal in September 2019 to facilitate more francophone markets.

The IRCC has a francophone immigration strategy that aims to attract more French-speaking foreign nationals to Canada. It has “intensified its year-round promotion and recruitment support activities,” said IRCC spokesperson Lauren Sankey in an email.

She said Canada is committed to “a fair and non-discriminatory application of immigration procedures,” and that anyone can apply if they meet the necessary qualifications.

“All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria. … Admissibility factors, such as having adequate resources to support yourself in Canada or showing that you would leave Canada if your authorized stay ends in the future, are common to many types of applications,” Ms. Sankey said. She added applicants aren’t refused if they intend to apply for permanent residence in the future.

Officers assessing whether a temporary resident application is “genuine” will consider applicants’ ties to their home country and their overall economic and political stability, their family and economic situation, and the purpose of the visit.

A study-permit applicant, meanwhile, needs to demonstrate they have the financial resources for their first year in Canada and a likelihood that they’ll continue to have adequate resources in future years. Ms. Kwan and Ms. Normandin said the House Immigration Committee, which they sit on, heard that applicants have been refused even when awarded scholarships or bursaries from colleges or the province.


Quebec colleges are “losing the race” to attract French-speaking students, and it’s long been an issue, said Ms. Normandin.

“Not only do we want these students to come, but we want to keep them after,” she said. In some cases, she added, students will have additional financial support from the province or universities, but that isn’t taken into account. “It’s really ironic the way it’s dealt with.”

Students coming from poorer nations may have a harder time proving they have sufficient assets to sustain their living while they are here, and to prove that they will come back to their country after they’re done, she noted. During the House committee’s recent study on the impacts of COVID-19 on immigration, she said, she was surprised to see how widespread the problem is, and that institutions outside of Quebec are experiencing the same issues.

While the language of the regulations don’t identify or isolate specific nations, the “result is discriminatory,” she said, and limits the students who are considered eligible from an already small French-speaking pool of potential recruits.

Applicants can also be rejected if the officer has reason to believe the applicant won’t respect the end of their authorized stay in the future, Ms. Sankey said. To Ms. Kwan, it seems “assumptions” are being made about who is more likely to comply with the rules of their visas given the “stark” contrast when you compare acceptance for African countries to arrivals from Europe.

“It seems that students from particular countries are routinely denied,” she said. “Perhaps there’s something wrong how that section is being applied.”

Canada’s approach to Haitian refugees might serve as an example, said Jamie Liew, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Even as record numbers come from the French-speaking nation—often irregularly across the United States border—she said barriers are “increasingly put in place that prevent people from certain francophone countries from accessing our borders.” And while she lauded Canada’s massive effort to resettle Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016, she worried whether it led to longer processing times in some African nations with French-speaking populations with similarly acute needs, including the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Djibouti.

If Canada wants to targets certain migrants, like francophones, she said, “we have to keep in mind where they are, who they are, and how does that fit with humanitarian objectives as well.”

“Some of these people are skilled workers, and I think we need to be more aware about how processing is being done and who’s applying,” she added.

Green MP Jennica Atwin (Fredericton, N.B.) questioned Mr. Mendicino in November on whether the 4.4 per cent target was an adequate goal for French speakers outside of Quebec. New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province.

“The latest numbers show the government isn’t even close to that target,” she said, and that was before the pandemic-driven backlogs.

“Clearly, more needs to be done to ease pathways to Canada from countries with French-speaking populations, including many African nations,” she added. “As we explore and confront systemic racism in Canadian policing, justice, and health systems, we need to confront it in our immigration policies and procedures. Why are African visas rejected at a higher rate than the global average? That’s a very good question.”

Source: Canada’s immigration policies create discriminatory outcomes for African applicants, critics say

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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