‘Anxious’ Chinese rethink study-abroad options, from Canada to Malta and beyond

Significant. May reverse the relative decline in Chinese students choosing Canada compared to other nationalities. Study permits issued to Chinese students fell from 24 percent in 2018 to 13 percent in 2021 (January-November numbers):

Amid the pandemic and geopolitical tensions with the West over the past two years, members of China’s middle class found themselves increasingly compelled to postpone plans to emigrate overseas, while others refrained from sending their children abroad to study.

But as a growing number of international schools in China have announced in recent months that they were shutting down or were accepting only foreign students in the wake of a nationwide crackdown on education, obtaining a Western-equivalent education at home has become more difficult.

As a result, a rising number of Chinese families are re-evaluating their emigration and foreign-study options.

Industry insiders also say there has been increased demand for Canadian immigration programmes, as well as for fast-track schemes to obtain foreign citizenship via investment opportunities in some small European countries and island nations.

Daisy Fu, who is based in Shenzhen and helps Chinese people obtain Malta citizenship, said business is up 20 per cent in the past two months. “Most of the clients are parents who are anxious about the new education policy,” she said.

Canada’s Immigrant Nominee Programme may also become a popular and practical solution for worried Chinese parents.

“The number of Chinese families applying for professional immigration to Canada will reach a new high in 2022,” said Jack Ho, chairman of Famed Star Group, an international consulting company helping clients immigrate to Canada.

“Whether they are high-net-worth individuals or middle-class white-collar workers, the rapid changes in China’s policies on education, property and wealth markets have prompted them to urgently start their immigration programmes as soon as possible,” Ho said.

In the past, around 95 per cent of families would opt to wait in China until obtaining their permanent residency in Canada, he said. But in recent months, that percentage has plummeted, and he said more than half of his customers told him that they wanted to move to Canada immediately upon receiving a work permit, so their children could begin school there more quickly.

He said his company has assisted with the Canadian immigration process for more than 1,000 families since 2017. This year, he expects their annual business could reach a record high, surpassing pre-pandemic numbers.

Under President Xi Jinping, ideological control has been tightened as the Communist Party tries to instil patriotism in younger generations and stifle dissent. In May, China passed new regulations tightening party oversight of private schools and restricting foreign players in the sector.

For years, Xi denounced the after-school tutoring sector as disruptive, burdensome and in need of regulation. That culminated in Beijing introducing tough new curbs on the lucrative private-education sector last year, despite strong demand from middle-class families for foreign education.

Under the Regulations for the Implementation of the Private Education Promotion Law, no new licences will be granted to international schools offering compulsory education – six years of primary education followed by three years of junior high school education. Chinese-run private schools teaching compulsory education are also banned from using foreign textbooks, though private schools teaching grades 10-12 can continue offering international curriculums.

“Two of my children had been attending an international school in Chengdu that used Singaporean textbooks and had a Western teaching style, with baseball lessons and other foreign languages,” said Zhang Na, who runs a tech-and-culture start-up in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

“The tuition ran about 70,000 yuan (US$11,000) a year, and I was very happy with everything the school offered, but it closed this semester due to a sudden change in policy, so I had to temporarily transfer my sons to a private local school that teaches only a Chinese curriculum.”

Zhang said her sons became extremely stressed amid the fierce competition and pressure to excel in examinations.

“I once set aside my wish to immigrate, but now I may have to put it back on the agenda for my children,” she said.

In December, international schools in Shenzhen – including the Bay Academy, Shenzhen Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy and the King’s School Shenzhen International – which had previously enrolled Chinese students, announced that they would either close or pivot their business model to focus on only foreign students.

And in November, one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, Westminster School, said it would abandon its first overseas school in Chengdu, four years after the project had begun.

The school had ambitious plans to open six bilingual institutions in China, but “recent changes in Chinese education policy” forced the school to axe the entire project, according to Mark Batten, chair of the school’s governing body.

“It is highly unfortunate – the landscape for developing such schools now is very different from 2017,” Batten said in a letter to past and current students and staff.

In Beijing, education authorities are also pushing ahead with curriculum reform in private bilingual schools by requiring students to use Chinese textbooks adopted by public schools, and to take compulsory exams – known as the zhong kao – for admission to public senior high schools.

The Beijing World Youth Academy, with more than 1,200 students aged 5 to 18, complied with the mandate last year by requiring its grade 9 students to sit the exam – the first time the academy had done so in its 20 years.

A faculty member who spoke on condition of anonymity said the school had integrated subjects required by China’s statutory curriculum, such as Chinese language courses and maths to its Middle Years Programme – an International Baccalaureate programme requiring students aged 11 to 16 to study eight subject groups: two languages, humanities, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education and technology.

“By doing so, we can help students acquire a [junior middle school] graduation certificate and an academic track record acknowledged by Chinese authorities,” the staff member said.

According to implementation regulations outlined in the Private Education Promotion Law, which went into effect in September, private schools can develop their own curriculums based only “on the standards of the state curriculum”. And the curriculums must be submitted to education authorities first. Students in grades 1-9 are also not allowed to be taught from foreign textbooks.

“More schools offering international curriculums are expected to require students to sit the zhong kao, as China is unifying admission standards for private and public senior high schools,” said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute. “But regardless, international schools will only use zhong kao performance as a reference.”

Stephen Wang, the father of a grade 8 student at the Beijing World Youth Academy, said that although the zhong kao requirement has doubled his daughter’s workload, the academy’s inclusion in the national academic system may benefit her career in the future.

“My daughter makes painstaking efforts to study two sets of subjects. However, it may prove worth it someday. After returning from overseas, she’ll have the freedom to choose to develop a career in China,” said Wang, a 48-year-old private entrepreneur.

Susan Li, the mother of a grade 6 student at an international school in Beijing, said: “Our school hasn’t announced whether it will make the exams compulsory. But I’m afraid it will come sooner or later with the government’s tightened scrutiny of private schools.”

Nonetheless, the 45-year-old corporate executive said, “it would be a waste of time”.

“As we are determined to go to a university in the UK, preparing for and sitting domestic exams is really unnecessary,” Li said.

Source: ‘Anxious’ Chinese rethink study-abroad options, from Canada to Malta and beyond

Students left in lurch after Quebec private colleges, recruiting firm file for creditor protection

Not all that surprising given the financial incentives involved and the exploitation by some Indian recruiters and likely some private colleges:

Three Quebec colleges and a connected recruiting firm have filed for creditor protection, adding to the uncertainty for hundreds of international students who had already been seeking tuition refunds.

M College in Montreal, CDE College in Sherbrooke and CCSQ, which has campuses in Longueuil and Sherbrooke, all requested protection in a filing in Quebec Superior Court last Friday. The Montreal-based recruiting firm, Rising Phoenix International, also filed for protection.

They are all owned by the Mastantuono family — including Caroline, Christina, Joseph and Giuseppe Mastantuono — under the umbrella name RPI Group.

The request for creditor protection comes a little more than a year after the province suspended 10 private colleges, including M College and CDE college, for what it described as “questionable” recruitment practices for students in India.

The suspension meant the schools were temporarily prevented from accepting certain foreign-student applications. Quebec’s investigation into the 10 colleges revealed shortcomings around recruitment, commercial practices, governance and teaching conditions.

Although the suspension was lifted at the beginning of 2021, hundreds of students faced long delays in obtaining a student visa that would allow them to come to Canada.

Students from India struggle to get refunds

Students pay between $28,000 and $30,000 to attend the colleges, usually over a two-year period, according to court documents. Students from India represent 95 per cent of the 1,177 students at the three colleges.

In December, CBC News reported dozens of students in India had been trying to get their tuition refunded for months after their student visas had been delayed.

Several said their parents had saved for years so they could study abroad. Without a refund, some students said they are unable to apply to other colleges, meaning their academic progress is effectively frozen. Others had to take out loans or work part-time jobs.

According to the application for creditor protection, unpaid tuition fees and refund claims from 633 students against the RPI Group are estimated at nearly $6.4 million.

The document adds that there are “potential additional claims of approximately $5 million from pipeline students awaiting a decision on their student visa application.”

In its application, RPI Group blamed its financial troubles on “a cascade of unfortunate events,” including “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, untimely and improperly financed expansions, changes to the immigration process for international students, as well as the litigation and public relations issues faced by the group.”

RPI Group’s decision to purchase CDE and CCSQ colleges in June 2020 for $10.9 million also left it vulnerable after subsequent visa delays led students to ask for refunds, the application said.

‘No refunds can be processed at this time’

The application for creditor protection says the colleges are committed to ensuring “the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders, including students and other creditors.”

But a letter to students at CDE College from Joseph Mastantuono, the president of the school, suggests it will be difficult for them to get a refund.

According to the letter, which CBC News has obtained, there is a plan being developed for students close to graduation to help them complete their program.

Other students will have their academic training temporarily suspended to see if a potential buyer for the colleges can be found. Failing that, the students will have to transfer to other colleges.

The letter tells students that it is “within your right to withdraw from your college” but because of its creditor protection filing, “no refunds of tuition can be processed at this time.”

The Mastantuono family is involved in another legal matter involving international students.

In November 2020, investigators with the province’s anti-corruption unit arrested Caroline Mastantuono and her daughter, Christina, for allegedly committing fraud to facilitate the processing of student permit applications while working at the Lester B. Pearson School Board between 2014 and 2016.

Although the allegations occurred before RPI was created, the negative publicity led to creditors backing out or refusing to work with them.

Caroline and Christina Mastantuono deny any wrongdoing and have contested the charges against them. The case is still before the courts.

Source: Students left in lurch after Quebec private colleges, recruiting firm file for creditor protection

U.S. Trade And Immigration Policies Toward China Have Backfired

Of note, impact on visa restrictions on Chinese students and researchers:

When small children start playing chess they make one common mistake—they forget the other side gets to a make a move. That analogy describes U.S. policy toward China in three areas: trade, semiconductors and immigration. In all three areas, U.S. policies described by supporters as “tough” have backfired.

Innovation and International Students: Is it a good idea to let the FBI and members of the National Security Council develop innovation policies for the U.S. economy? Whether it’s a good idea or not, that is what’s happened when it comes to students, professors and researchers from China.

On May 29, 2020, Donald Trump issued presidential proclamation 10043 (PP10043) on the “Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” The proclamation led the State Department to deny and revoke many visas for Chinese graduate students and researchers

At its core, the proclamation denies a visa to someone who studied at a particular university on a proscribed list, even if no negative information exists on the individual. The proclamation sweeps up many people who show no evidence of bad intent. Picture an American young person denied a visa to study in a foreign country because he or she attended MIT and professors at MIT have received Pentagon funds or U.S. government research grants.

At least hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers have been refused visas under the proclamation. Exact figures are unavailable because the State Department has not been forthcoming in releasing information despite many requests. Official figures would understate the proclamation’s impact because individuals who believe they will be denied visas would not even apply.

In a June 2020 interview conducted soon after the proclamation took effect, Jeffrey Gorsky, former Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion section of the Visa Office in the State Department and an advisor to the National Foundation for American Policy, predicted the current impact. “There is already a longstanding program in place to vet potential students based on concerns over the transfer of sensitive technologies,” he said. “This proclamation will exclude persons from the United States based on past or minor associations with PRC entities even if the individuals pass the interagency clearance process. America will lose out on a valuable talent pool and the financial and scientific contributions these students make to U.S. universities and the United States.”

The policy is costly to the United States. Every 1,000 Ph.D.’s blocked in a year from U.S. universities costs an estimated $210 billion in the expected value of patents produced at universities over 10 years and nearly $1 billion in lost tuition over a decade, according to an analysisfrom the National Foundation for American Policy. That does not include other economic costs, such as the loss of highly productive scientists and engineers prevented from working in the U.S. economy or patents and innovations produced outside university settings. Approximately 75% of graduate students in computer science and electrical engineering at U.S. universities are international students, primarily from China and India.

As with trade, the Biden administration has continued the questionable policies on Chinese graduate students started by the Trump administration. A China expert on the current National Security Council staff has written favorably of the restrictions on international students from China. Immigration policy people who favor restrictions on international students, such as Trump adviser Stephen Miller, understood the proclamation would keep out many Chinese students. It’s not clear people with expertise on China understand enough about how visa policies are implemented to appreciate the significant negative impact of these policies on U.S. innovation.

Two recent reports question FBI investigations of Chinese-born professors at U.S. universities that have resulted in few successful criminal prosecutions.

“There is insufficient evidence that academic/economic espionage by Chinese nationals is a widespread problem at U.S. universities,” writes Rory Truex, an assistant professor at Princeton University, in a 2021 paper. “After 20 months of ongoing investigations in 2019 and 2020, the ‘China Initiative’—a Department of Justice (DOJ) effort—had brought formal charges at only ten U.S. universities or research institutions, and only three cases involved any evidence of espionage, theft, or transfer of intellectual property. Given that there are about 107,000 Chinese citizens in STEM [fields] at U.S. universities at the graduate level or above, current DOJ charges imply a criminality rate in this population of .0000934, less than 1/10,000.” (Formal charges are not convictions, and DOJ has dropped several cases.)

A recent investigation by the MIT Technology Review found the Department of Justice’s China Initiative investigations have devolved primarily into finding disclosure and paperwork violations. “The initiative’s focus increasingly has moved away from economic espionage and hacking cases to ‘research integrity’ issues, such as failures to fully disclose foreign affiliations on forms.”

The MIT Technology Review concluded: “Our reporting and analysis showed that the climate of fear created by the prosecutions has already pushed some talented scientists to leave the United States and made it more difficult for others to enter or stay, endangering America’s ability to attract new talent in science and technology from China and around the world.” A former U.S. attorney who helped create DOJ’s China Initiative during the Trump administration agreed with the MIT Technology Review critique.

The Thousand Talents recruitment program started by China’s government in 2008 encourages Chinese scientists overseas to return to China and, more generally, for talented Chinese-born scientists to work in China rather than the United States. It would seem current U.S. policies have backfired and support the long-term goals of the Chinese Communist Party to bring talent back to China.

Source: U.S. Trade And Immigration Policies Toward China Have Backfired

Canada urged to investigate decline in Nigerian study permit approvals


A group of academics of Nigerian descent are calling on the Immigration Minister to investigate the declining number of study permit approvals for applicants from Nigeria, arguing that the English proficiency test is discriminatory and that racism within the department is affecting applications.

Twenty-seven professors, scholars, academics, researchers and graduate students from universities across Canada signed a letter sent to Sean Fraser this week, pointing out that English is the primary language of instruction at all levels of formal education in Nigeria and that institutions of higher education in Canada exempt applicants from Nigeria from English-language tests. Meanwhile, they wrote, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) requires applicants to take an expensive test to expedite their applications.

The letter says Canadian university admission committees are better positioned to assess an applicant’s language proficiency, so when that determination is made, the visa office should not require the test, even to expedite the application. It also points out that the English test is no way necessary to expedite the processing of study permits.

“In fact, we believe that the requirement exudes stereotype and racism to the extent that it makes Nigerian study permit applicants feel that their English language skills, which they have acquired during their education in Nigeria, are inferior,” the letter says.

The letter references a report, the “IRCC Anti-Racism Employee Focus Groups,” that specifically mentions the stereotyping of Nigerians. The report says that inside IRCC there are “widespread internal references to certain African nations as ‘the dirty 30’” and to “Nigerians as particularly corrupt or untrustworthy.”

Jeffrey MacDonald, an IRCC spokesperson, said language testing is generally not a requirement for a study permit, but some visa offices may require them, even from applicants from English-speaking countries. He said Nigeria has not been singled out.

Mr. MacDonald said there is zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind at IRCC. “True and lasting change begins with acknowledging the difficult reality that racism exists all around us, including in the public service. We have an obligation to our employees, and to all Canadians, to do better – and we will,” he said.

“We welcome the feedback from the professors and thank them for their insights.”

Gideon Christian, the president of the African Scholars Initiative, an assistant law professor at the University of Calgary and a signatory to the letter, said the English proficiency test is a significant financial barrier and has racist implications because it sends the message that Nigerian students’ English is inferior.

“The Nigerian community, here in Canada and in Nigeria, have always had that strong belief the IRCC treatment of the application is biased, racist and discriminatory – this is kind of the feeling you have based on experience,” he said, adding that it was corroborated by the IRCC report.

Prof. Christian said most of the 27 signatories are university professors who came to Canada as international students.

“I definitely do not consider these individuals dirty,” he said. “They’re coming here, working hard. They contribute to the Canadian economy.

“They used that term because the colour of my skin is not as light as theirs. I think that is abhorrent and that is really something the Immigration Minister should look into.”

The letter concludes by requesting a meeting with Mr. Fraser.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-urged-to-investigate-decline-in-nigerian-study-permit-approvals/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Morning%20Update&utm_content=2021-12-2_7&utm_term=Morning%20Update:%20Air%20travellers%20to%20Canada%20will%20need%20to%20isolate%20because%20of%20Omicron%20fears&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=%2BTx9qGuxCF9REU6kNldjGJtpVUGIVB3Y

Trudeau promet « un examen détaillé » du refus d’étudiants africains francophones

PM comment of note:

Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau assure procéder à « un examen détaillé » des répercussions qu’ont les critères des programmes fédéraux sur la composition de l’immigration. Faisant référence au refus massif d’étudiants africains francophones, il a affirmé lors de la période des questions à la Chambre des communes mercredi « que ces rapports sont particulièrement inquiétants ».

Le Devoir révélait récemment que les taux de refus de permis d’études pour les ressortissants des pays du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ne cessent de grimper. Certains candidats qui répondent à tous les critères sont ainsi empêchés de poursuivre leurs études au Québec.

M. Trudeau répondait mercredi à l’intervention du chef du Bloc québécois, Yves-François Blanchet. Sous le « prétexte » que les agents d’immigration ne croient pas que ces étudiants rentreront chez eux après leurs études, ils sont refusés, a-t-il dit. « C’est un grave procès d’intention. Une forme de discrimination à dénoncer, qui nuit aux échanges et au développement de l’Afrique », a ajouté M. Blanchet, exhortant le gouvernement à intervenir.

« Nous n’allons tolérer aucune discrimination systémique », a rétorqué le premier ministre, rappelant qu’il a reconnu qu’il en existe « dans toutes nos institutions à travers le pays ». L’examen détaillé des répercussions des programmes d’immigration servira à garantir que tous les demandeurs sont traités « de manière équitable », a-t-il avancé.

Le taux de refus pour tous les pays d’origine est en outre beaucoup plus élevé dans la province que dans le reste du Canada, un phénomène qui préoccupe toute la classe politique québécoise. Il est « inacceptable » qu’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) « nous prive d’étudiants africains francophones correspondants en tout point au profil d’immigrant qu’on souhaite attirer au Québec, notamment pour développer nos régions, soutenir nos cégeps et pallier […] la pénurie de main-d’œuvre », a notamment écrit sur Twitter la députée du Parti québécois Méganne Perry Melançon.

Des problèmes documentés

Le nouveau ministre fédéral de l’Immigration, Sean Fraser, a également promis la semaine dernière de vérifier « personnellement » que les préjugés inconscients des fonctionnaires de son propre ministère ne font pas en sorte de discriminer les Africains francophones souhaitant venir étudier au pays.

Un rapport fédéral publié en octobre révélait que son ministère fait face à des problèmes de racisme à l’intérieur même de sa bureaucratie. Des fonctionnaires utiliseraient des clichés ouvertement racistes dans leurs conversations et des préjugés guideraient les embauches et les promotions.

IRCC échoue par ailleurs toujours à atteindre les cibles fixées pour l’accueil d’immigrants francophones au Québec et hors Québec, a aussi alors rappelé M. Fraser, malgré la pénurie de main-d’œuvre que connaît le pays.

Mardi, un nouveau rapport du commissaire aux langues officielles, Raymond Théberge, en a remis une couche : le Canada aurait dû admettre au moins 75 839 immigrants francophones de plus hors du Québec depuis 2008 pour maintenir le poids démographique du français dans les provinces à majorité anglophone.

Au Québec, les principaux bassins de recrutement des étudiants francophones africains font face à des taux de refus de permis d’études de plus de 80 %. La France arrive souvent en tête de liste des pays d’origine des étudiants étrangers. Depuis 2018, elle partage toutefois la première position avec l’Inde, d’où la majorité des ressortissants choisissent plutôt de poursuivre des études en anglais.

Source: Trudeau promet « un examen détaillé » du refus d’étudiants africains francophones

Canada extends online study eligibility period for PGWP applicants

Hard to understand the logic of this beyond support for universities and helping to meet government immigration levels. Canadian experience was one of the selling points for PGWP, this change largely removes it:

Online study is not normally eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), but that has changed since the pandemic.

International students can now do 100% of their studies online from outside Canada, and still get a PGWP once the program is complete. Canada has extended the period that international students can study online until August 31, 2022, up from December 31, 2021. The measure was originally implemented in 2020, as part of a coronavirus-related measure to allow international students affected by the pandemic to still be eligible for the PGWP.

Study programs must be with an eligible Designated Learning Institution (DLI) and meet other PGWP requirements. The shortest length a program may be is eight months. The time spent studying outside Canada after August 31, 2022, and any time spent studying before you applied for a study permit does not count toward the length of a PGWP.

The length of your study period is important both for the PGWP eligibility, and also in determining how long your PGWP will be valid for. If your study program was more than eight months but less than two years, the PGWP’s validity matches the length of the study program. If it was more than two years, the PGWP may be up to three years in duration.

PGWP opens pathways to Canadian immigration

Having Canadian work and study experience can go a long way toward an immigration application. A Statistics Canada report says six in 10 international students (first-time study permit holders) who worked during or after their studies became permanent residents.

Certain economic-class immigration pathways like Express EntryQuebec Experience Program (PEQ), and the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) all highly value Canadian work experience. Some programs even require it.

The Canadian Experience Class, for example, is an Express Entry-managed program that requires one year of Canadian work experience in a skilled occupation. The PEQ, is a popular pathway for French-speaking international student graduates in Quebec. Also, the PNP opens immigration pathways for people who are not eligible for Express Entry.

The PGWP is an open work permit, meaning you can use it to work for any employer, in any occupation in Canada. It is a one-time deal, and it cannot be renewed or extended.

However, if you do get it, you have the opportunity to work anywhere in Canada. Studies suggest that having both Canadian work and study experience can boost immigrants’ earning potential. For these reasons, the PGWP is a highly sought-after work permit, as it opens the doors to opportunities in Canada.

Source: Canada extends online study eligibility period for PGWP applicants

Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

Of note, along with some of the factors, some justified, some more questionable that made Canada relatively more attractive than other destinations. Focus on increasing international students predates current government. Interesting comment by Chris Friesen regarding preference given to international students with respect to permanent residency. :

Canada has become the most popular country in the world for international students, says a survey conducted in more than 50 countries.

Two in five international students rate Canada as their first choice for higher education, according to IDP Connect’s fall poll of 3,600 study-visa holders. That’s more than double the proportion that picked the next highest-ranked nations — Britain, the U.S. or Australia.

A majority of students who choose Canada as their top option said a key reason was being allowed to work while studying, says IDP, as well as the relative affordability of tuition fees, given most of the country’s universities and colleges are subsidized by taxpayers.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education adds that 60 per cent of foreign students in Canada, more than half of whom come from India or China, want to apply to become permanent residents — an option not available in most countries.

Given the competition in the West for foreign students, some specialists are skeptical about Ottawa’s increasingly eye-catching efforts to appeal to the estimated six million students in the world who are going abroad for their educations.

Higher education experts question why Canada appears to be the only nation that has given foreign students social-assistance payments during COVID. They also ask about Canada’s unusual decision to allow students almost unlimited opportunities to work while ostensibly studying.

Canada’s foreign-student numbers have almost doubled since the Liberals were elected in 2015. Their numbers are returning to the 600,000 a year range despite COVID border restrictions. During the pandemic, many offshore students studied remotely, but most are physically back on Canadian campuses.

Foreign students make up about 20 per cent post-secondary students in Canada, which along with Australia and Britain, has the highest ratios in the world. In the U.S., foreign nationals on study visas account for only seven per cent of students. In the European Union, they’re just six per cent.

Ottawa, which now considers foreign students prime candidates for immigration, has gone the opposite direction of other countries during COVID and allowed study visa holders to apply for taxpayer-funded programs such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has also given international students almost unlimited access to full-time jobs, including for at least three years after graduation. And the Liberal government has made it possible for them to keep their long-term work opportunities even if they have not been in the country. In addition, unlike elsewhere, many provinces, such as B.C., offer almost-free medical coverage.

British Columbia, which normally has about 22 per cent of all of Canada’s foreign students, has the strongest concentration, focused mostly in Metro Vancouver where their presence affects the rental and housing markets. B.C. has four times as many foreign students per capita as Alberta.

The Vancouver campus of the University of B.C., similar to previous years, has almost 17,000 international students this fall, accounting for about one third of all graduate students and one quarter of undergrads. More than one third are from China and one fifth from India. The rest hail from scores of countries, particularly the U.S., Korea and Iran.

Simon Fraser University has almost 7,000 foreign students, 26 per cent of undergrads and 34 per cent of grad students. About two in five are from China and one in five from India, with smaller cohorts from Korea, Iran and Hong Kong. The proportion of foreign students at Capilano University and Vancouver Island University is lower.

In addition to the Liberal government boasting foreign students bring more than $21 billion a year into the economy, Canadian higher education specialist Alex Usher says the country’s post-secondary institutions now rely on foreign students for 45 per cent of fee revenue. That’s up from 15 per cent in the 2000s. Usher cautions against such a heavy reliance on foreign students.

When COVID first hit, both Australia and the U.S. brought in far more rules about foreign students than Canada; directing many back to their homelands.

The two English-language nations wanted to protect the health of residents and, unlike Canada, were not prepared to provide social-assistance, health benefits and jobs to foreign nationals while the domestic population struggled. As a result about 10 per cent of post-secondary staff and faculty in the U.S. and Australia was laid off.

Canada began allowing study-visa holders into the country in October 2020, despite the border being then shut to almost everyone except essential workers. But Australia only decided this week to welcome back more than 200,000 foreign students. There had been fears that many Asian students would opt to study in person in Canada and the U.S. rather than pay for online courses from Australia.

University of Sydney Prof. Salvatore Babones, who has studied international student policy in Canada and around the world, said this week: “I’m surprised Canada has extended welfare (CERB) benefits to international students. It’s a strange decision, since most such students must demonstrate the ability to support themselves financially before being granted a study visa.”

The international education specialist finds it “sad” that Canada has lifted the normal 20-hour-a-week cap on how much each foreign student is permitted to work. “The cap serves an important purpose: It ensures that students are in the country to study, not on an exploitive fake study program in order to get a work permit.”

While Canada’s unusually magnanimous benefits for foreign students might sound humane, Babones said, they in effect turn study visas into work visas, “that require recipients to pay ‘protection money’ to educational institutions in exchange for permission to work.”

Vancouver’s Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing settlement services for immigrants and refugees in Canada, has said the Canadian public is in the dark about how policy has been changed to give preference to international students.

Ottawa, he said, should set up a royal commission to look into issues such as whether Canadians agree that foreign students, who tend to come from the “cream of the crop” in their homelands, should go to the front of the line for permanent residence status.

Source: Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

Quebec: Les francophones discriminés [international students]

More commentary.

Checked Quebec numbers: CEGEP international student enrolment up more than 5 times (de 2 899 en 2009-2010 à 16 505 en 2019-2020) compared to university enrolment that only doubled during the same period (de 24 504 en 2009-2010 à 48 406 en 2019-2020). http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/colleges/enseignants-et-personnel-de-college/references/enseignement-superieur/portrait-statistique-des-etudiants-internationaux-a-lenseignement-superieur/

But the relative shift from French to English CEGEPs is notable, irrespective of any discrimination issues:

Le Québec bataille pour sa place d’État francophone fier depuis des lustres au sein d’un Canada qui n’en a généralement que faire, soupirant d’ennui entre deux réformettes de façade. À divers niveaux, tous les gouvernements du Québec se sont préoccupés des combats à livrer pour résister aux assauts bien vigoureux de l’anglais, entre autres dans le champ de l’éducation. Le gouvernement de François Legaultveut d’ailleurs donner plus de mordant à la loi 101, car la fronde anglophone n’a jamais été aussi vive.

Pendant que sur le front politique le discours est à la défense du fait français, le terrain regorge d’incohérences qui ne commandent que de l’indignation. Comment en effet concilier ces deux données ? L’explosion spectaculaire du nombre d’étudiants internationaux dans les collèges du Québec — en hausse de 369 % en dix ans — a surtout profité aux établissements d’enseignement de langue anglaise. Mais en moins de deux ans, Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) a refusé 35 642 candidats originaires des principaux pays francophones du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest qui voulaient venir étudier au Québec.

Une première analyse brute des données dévoilées la semaine dernière par la journaliste du DevoirSarah R. Champagne donne à penser que le « système », dans son gigantisme et son indolence bureaucratique, effectue de la discrimination à l’entrée. Ouvrir les vannes à des étudiants anglophones venus de l’Inde et les accueillir à pleines portes dans des établissements privés non subventionnés de Montréal ? Que oui ! Mais accepter des candidats inscrits à des études supérieures en provenance du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, deux zones francophones ? Que nenni !

Les taux de refus pour ces deux bassins de locuteurs pourtant très francophones « frôlent les 100 % », dénoncent des avocats en immigration, qui ne s’expliquent pas le quasi-automatisme dans le rejet de candidatures pourtant bien défendues — dossier financier très solide, entre autres critères observés par les ministères de l’Immigration. Un nouveau système de tri automatique des candidatures en vigueur depuis 2018 serait-il en partie la cause de ces refus en bloc ? Personne ne peut le certifier, mais cela pourrait par exemple expliquer que, sur la base de revenus moyens par habitant très peu élevés dans certains pays d’Afrique, des dossiers de grande qualité présentés par des individus soient écartés avant même d’être analysés. Cette question mérite d’être creusée.

Plus on cherche à comprendre cette grande absurdité, plus on s’enfonce dans les contradictions. Celle-ci par exemple : un couple congolais au dossier financier plus que bien ficelé a reçu sa réponse de refus en l’espace d’une semaine en provenance des autorités canadiennes — déjà de quoi faire sourciller quand on sait que la question des délais interminables dans le traitement des dossiers d’immigration constitue le principal problème dénoncé par Québec. L’argument qu’on leur a donné ? L’agent d’immigration n’a pas été convaincu qu’ils quitteraient le Canada après leurs études. Quitteraient, oui. Pourtant, les politiques officielles et l’énergie déployée tant par le gouvernement du Québec que par celui du Canada vont dans le sens complètement contraire : celui de travailler au maintien des étudiants étrangers en sol québécois après la fin de leurs études. Que comprendre de ce cirque ?

Pour les mêmes pays d’origine, le Québec voit ses taux de refus plus élevés qu’ailleurs au Canada, ce qui s’expliquerait en partie par une méconnaissance des agents d’immigration du système collégial québécois, certains dossiers étant refusés sur la base d’une mauvaise liaison entre la demande d’étude et le cheminement scolaire du candidat. C’est à n’y rien comprendre : les cégeps existent depuis 1967 au Québec.

Le Québec, qui perd ici pied et contrôle sur une immigration potentielle de qualité en son propre sein, aurait raison de vociférer et de revendiquer la pleine maîtrise sur les flux d’entrée en ses frontières. Mais il devra aussi pratiquer un sérieux auto-examen. S’il n’a rien à voir avec le refus de candidatures francophones en provenance de pays du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, c’est quand même dans sa propre cour que s’est jouée l’augmentation faramineuse d’étudiants étrangers anglophones — parfois même inscrits dans des cégeps francophones.

Dans une étude publiée par l’Institut de recherche en économie contemporaine, Éric N. Duhaime brosse un portrait statistique sans équivoque : alors que le recrutement d’étudiants étrangers au collégial s’était toujours historiquement tourné vers des bassins francophones, la tendance s’est inversée depuis 2017 environ. En 2019, « plus de la moitié des étudiants internationaux du réseau collégial provenaient de l’Inde (7687), dépassant les effectifs de la France (4072) ». Marché lucratif, détournement de mission pour le réseau de l’éducation et… impact significatif sur la langue d’usage dans les rues de Montréal, qu’on le veuille ou non.

Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/editoriaux/649134/etudiants-etrangers-les-francophones-discrimines?utm_source=infolettre-2021-11-23&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=infolettre-quotidienne

Ottawa refuse de plus en plus de francophones, surtout venus d’Afrique

Similar perceptions and data as seen elsewhere in Canada.

While the disparities in rejection rates raise legitimate questions, disparities themselves do not necessarily mean non-objectivity or bias, just the need to take a closer look to assess or re-assess criteria:

Alors que le nombre d’étudiants étrangers anglophones augmente au Québec, les taux de refus pour des pays africains ne cessent de grimper, et certains dossiers « impeccables » sont refusés. Des candidats répondant pourtant aux critères sont ainsi empêchés de poursuivre leurs études ici, déplorent-ils.

Leurs avocats en immigration dénoncent ces taux « qui frôlent le 100 % » pour certains pays du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, deux bassins de locuteurs du français. « Il arrive fréquemment qu’un candidat aux études démontre une capacité financière de 100 000 $ pour la durée de son programme, qu’il a son acceptation de l’université, mais il est quand même refusé », note l’avocate québécoise Krishna Gagné.

Le taux de refus global est aussi beaucoup plus élevé au Québec que dans le reste du pays, selon les données fournies au Devoir par Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC). La différence est attribuable entre autres aux principaux bassins de recrutement pour la province, par rapport au reste du Canada.

En moins de deux ans, entre janvier 2020 et septembre 2021, Ottawa a ainsi refusé 35 642 candidats des principaux pays francophones du Maghreb et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest qui voulaient venir au Québec. Pendant ce temps, le nombre d’étudiants en provenance de l’Inde — qui se destinent majoritairement à des cours en anglais — a atteint des sommets, notamment dans le réseau collégial québécois.

Parmi les témoignages recueillis, figure celui du couple Dorothée et Mboungou, originaire de République du Congo. Ils racontent avoir présenté des preuves de leur argent disponible dans des comptes en euros et en monnaie locale. Appartements en location qu’ils possèdent, maison, voiture, entreprise, parcelles de terre ; ils ont également fait évaluer tous leurs biens, en plus de devoir voyager trois fois dans le pays voisin pour faire prendre leurs empreintes digitales par un centre autorisé par le Canada.

« Nous ne sommes pas des nécessiteux au Congo, il ne faut pas croire que tous les Africains sont d’une pauvreté extrême », résume la mère de famille qui travaille pour la multinationale Total depuis 14 ans. Ils ont demandé d’utiliser uniquement leur prénom, de crainte de nuire à une future demande de permis d’études.

« À partir du moment où on a déposé tous les papiers, il s’est passé à peine une semaine avant le refus, comme si la réponse était déjà toute faite », note Dorothée. « Est-ce que c’est une discrimination ? On s’attendait à une étude objective de notre dossier », ajoute-t-elle.

Des raisons contradictoires

Leur dossier était pourtant « impeccable », insiste leur avocate québécoise, Krishna Gagné, mais Ottawa les a refusés. Le principal motif invoqué ? L’agent d’immigration n’était pas convaincu qu’ils quitteraient le Canada à la fin de la période d’études, comme le veut le règlement sur l’immigration.

Ce motif semble « entièrement contradictoire » pour Me Gagné. En effet, les politiques d’immigration tant provinciales que fédérales encouragent de plus en plus les étudiants étrangers à rechercher un statut permanent après l’obtention de leur diplôme.

Ottawa a ouvert cette année de nouvelles voies d’accès à la résidence permanente pour les étudiants étrangers diplômés d’une institution d’enseignement canadienne, soit 40 000 places attitrées. Lors de l’annonce en avril, le ministre de l’Immigration d’alors, Marco Mendicino, disait vouloir permettre « à ceux qui ont un statut temporaire de planifier leur avenir au Canada ». « Nous voulons que vous restiez », avait-il déclaré.

Québec est aussi très actif en matière d’opération de séduction à l’étranger. Seulement en 2021, le gouvernement a conclu des ententes de près de six millions de dollars avec diverses organisations pour « l’attraction et la rétention » d’étudiants étrangers.

« Il existe nombre d’incitatifs pour que les gens restent après leurs études, donc cette raison [évoquée par les agents d’IRCC] contrevient au discours politique et à ces efforts. On dénonce cet aspect », souligne aussi Francis Brown, directeur des affaires internationales de la Fédération des cégeps.

Le couple congolais n’avait pour sa part pas l’intention de rester. Le père de famille espérait qu’un diplôme canadien donne un élan international à sa carrière et à son entreprise : « Il voulait tout simplement sortir un peu du cadre national, même si sa boîte fonctionne très bien », a confié au Devoir son épouse.

« Seulement avec l’argent qu’on a dépensé pour les démarches, on aurait pu payer toute une scolarité en France », soupire la femme. Mboungou a d’ailleurs déjà décroché une maîtrise en France en 2020 à l’Université Lumière Lyon avec des démarches de permis d’études « beaucoup plus simples ».

Le Québec pénalisé ?

« On ne fait pas le poids face à d’autres systèmes d’immigration », fait valoir M. Brown. Il rappelle notamment que les récents délais de traitement des permis d’études se sont encore allongés cette année, ce qui a été déploré par le gouvernement de François Legault dans une lettre transmise au fédéral.

Le Québec est pénalisé par rapport au reste du Canada en raison de ses bassins de recrutement francophones en Afrique. L’Algérie, le Sénégal et le Cameroun figurent par exemple parmi les six premiers pays d’origine des étudiants étrangers au Québec et ont connu des taux de refus de plus de 80 % en 2020 et en 2021. Le Maroc figure au 4e rang en importance sur le plan du nombre d’étudiants, mais son taux de refus est moins élevé en moyenne que ceux des autres pays africains.

D’autres ressortissants à destination du Québec se font rejeter par Ottawa à hauteur de 80 à 90 %, comme ceux de la Guinée, du Bénin, du Togo et de la République démocratique du Congo.

Dans les autres provinces, l’Inde représente une grande partie du bassin d’étudiants étrangers, mais son taux de refus est beaucoup moins élevé que pour ces pays africains francophones. Il n’a été que de 30 % pour les neuf premiers mois de 2021, soit nettement sous celui des pays d’origine pour le Québec.

Qui plus est, le taux de refus des candidats d’un même pays d’origine est parfois plus élevé au Québec que dans le reste du Canada. En 2020, les demandes de la Côte d’Ivoire ont par exemple été refusées à 75 % au Québec et à 68 % dans le reste du Canada.

Ce fossé s’explique en partie par une « méconnaissance de la place du réseau collégial dans le système d’enseignement supérieur » par IRCC, selon la Fédération des cégeps. Plusieurs étudiants se font ainsi refuser un permis d’études dans un cégep « parce que l’agent considère que la demande ne concorde pas avec le parcours, sur la base du cheminement scolaire », dit Francis Brown.

Une personne avec l’équivalent d’un baccalauréat universitaire par exemple serait considérée comme trop « avancée » par un agent d’immigration pour faire une technique dans un cégep. Les étudiants africains s’inscrivent pourtant dans des programmes « avec un taux de placement très élevé », insiste Nathalie Houde, conseillère en recrutement à l’international pour le Cégep de Jonquière. C’est le cas dans des filières industrielles, par exemple, où les demandes d’admission de la part des Québécois sont en baisse, mais qui connaissent pourtant de graves pénuries de main-d’œuvre.

En août dernier, cinq étudiants acceptés par ce cégep avec des bourses d’excellence se sont vu refuser l’accès au Canada, relate-t-elle. « C’était une situation absurde et excessivement difficile », poursuit-elle. La bourse, octroyée par Québec, couvrait les frais de scolarité plus élevés pour les étrangers ainsi que des frais de subsistance. Quatre d’entre eux ont finalement pu arriver à temps pour la session d’automne.

Le taux de refus a en outre augmenté depuis 2017, ce qui indique que la situation empire au lieu de s’améliorer, note Me Krishna Gagné et d’autres membres de l’Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l’immigration (AQAADI). Le fossé entre les refus au Québec et au Canada s’est aussi accru globalement, selon les données d’IRCC.

Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/648552/etudiants-etrangers-ottawa-refuse-de-plus-en-plus-de-francophones-surtout-venus-d-afrique?utm_source=infolettre-2021-11-19&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=infolettre-quotidienne

Canada is refusing more study permits. Is new AI technology to blame?

Given the high volumes (which immigration lawyers and consultants benefit from), expanded use of technology and templates inevitable and necessary, although thorough review and safeguards necessary.

Alternate narrative, given reporting on abuse and exploitation of international students and the program itself (The reality of life in Canada for international students), perhaps a system generating more refusals has merit:

Soheil Moghadam applied twice for a study permit for a postgraduate program in Canada, only to be refused with an explanation that read like a templated answer.

The immigration officer was “not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay,” he was told.

After a third failed attempt, Moghadam, who already has a master’s degree in electronics engineering from Iran, challenged the refusal in court and the case was settled. He’s now studying energy management at the New York Institute of Technology in Vancouver.

His Canadian lawyer, Zeynab Ziaie, said that in the past couple of years, she has noticed a growing number of study permit refusals like Moghadam’s. The internal notes made by officers reveal only generic analyses based on cookie-cutter language and often have nothing to do with the particular evidence presented by the applicant.

“We’re seeing a lot of people that previously would have been accepted or have really what we consider as complete files with lots of evidence of financial support, lots of ties to their home country. These kinds of files are just being refused,” said Ziaie, who added that she has seen more than 100 of these refusals in her practice in the past two years.

It’s a Microsoft Excel-based system called Chinook. 

Its existence came to light during a court case involving Abigail Ocran, a woman from Ghana who was refused a study permit by the Immigration Department.

Government lawyers in that case filed an affidavit by Andie Daponte, director of international-network optimization and modernization, who detailed the working and application of Chinook.

That affidavit has created a buzz among those practising immigration law, who see the new system — the department’s transition to artificial intelligence — as a potential threat to quality decision making, and its arrival as the harbinger of more troubling AI technology that could transform how immigration decisions are made in this country.

All eyes are now on the pending decision of the Ocran case to see if and how the court will weigh in on the use of Chinook. 

Chinook was implemented in March 2018 to help the Immigration Department handle an exponential growth in cases within its existing, and antiquated, Global Case Management System (GCMS).

Between 2011 and 2019, before everything slowed down during the pandemic, the number of visitor visa applications skyrocketed by 109 per cent, with the caseload of applications for overseas work permits and study permits up by 147 per cent and 222 per cent, respectively.

In 2019 alone, Daponte said in his affidavit, Canada received almost 2.2 million applications from prospective visitors, in addition to 366,000 from people looking to work here and 431,500 from would-be international students.

Meanwhile, the department’s 17-year-old GCMS system, which requires officers to open multiple screens to download different information pertaining to an application, has not caught up. Each time decision-makers move from screen to screen they must wait for the system to load, causing significant delays in processing, especially in countries with limited network bandwidth.

Chinook was developed in-house and implemented “to enhance efficiency and consistency, and to reduce processing times,” Daponte said.

As a result, he said, migration offices have generally seen an increase of between five per cent and 35 per cent in the number of applications they have been able to process.

Here’s how Chinook works: an applicant’s information is extracted from the old system and populated in a spreadsheet, with each cell on the same row filled with data from that one applicant — such as name, age, purpose of visit, date of receipt of the application and previous travel history.

Each spreadsheet contains content from multiple applicants and is assigned to an officer to enable them to use “batch processes.”

After the assessment of an application is done, the officer will click on the decision column to prompt a pop-up window to record the decision, along with a notes generator if they’re giving reasons in the case of a refusal.

(An officer can refuse or approve an application, and sometimes hold it for further information.)

When done, decision-makers click a button labelled “Action List,” which organizes data for ease of transfer into the old system. It presents the decision, reasons for refusal if applicable, and any “risk indicators” or “local word flags” for each application.

The spreadsheets are deleted daily after the data transfer for privacy concerns.

While working on the spreadsheet, said Daponte, decision-makers continue to have access to paper applications or electronic documents and GCMS if needed.

“Chinook was built to save decision-makers time in querying GCMS for application information and to allow for the review of multiple applications,” Daponte noted.

However, critics are concerned that the way the system is set up may be guiding the officers toward certain conclusions, giving them the option of not reviewing all the material presented in each case, and that it effectively shields much of the decision making from real scrutiny.

According to Daponte’s court affidavit, the notes generator presents standard language that immigration officers may select, review and modify to fit the circumstances of an application in preparing reasons for refusal. The function is there to “assist them in the creation of reasons.”

Ziaie believes that explains the templated reasons for refusals she’s been seeing.

“These officers are looking at a spreadsheet of potentially 100 different applicants. And those names don’t mean anything to the officers. You could mix up rows. You could easily make errors,” said the Toronto lawyer.

“There’s no way to go back and check that because these decisions end up with very similar notes that are generated right when they’re refused. So my concern is about accountability. Every time we have a decision, it has to make sense. We don’t know if they make mistakes.”

That’s why she and other lawyers worry the surge of study permit refusals is linked to the implementation of Chinook. 

In fact, that question was put to Daponte during the cross-examination in the Ocran case by the Ghanaian student’s lawyer, Edos Omorotionmwan.

Immigration data obtained by Omorotionmwan showed the refusal rate of student permit applications had gone from 31 per cent in 2016 to 34 per cent in 2018, the year Chinook was launched. The trend continued in 2019 to 40 per cent and reached 53 per cent last year.

“Is there a system within the Chinook software requiring some oversight function where there is some other person to review what a visa officer has come up with before that decision is handed over to the applicants?” asked Omorotionmwan.

“Within Chinook, no,” replied Daponte, who also said there’s no mechanism within this platform to track if an officer has reviewed all the support documents and information pertaining to an applicant’s file in the GCMS data.

“This idea of using portals and technology to speed up the way things are done is the reality of the future,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Will Tao, who has tracked the uses of Chinook and blogged about it.

“My concern as an advocate is: who did this reality negatively impact and what systems does it continue to uphold?”

Tao said the way the row of personal information is selected and set out in the Chinook spreadsheet “disincentivizes” officers to go into the actual application materials and support documents out of convenience.

“And then the officers are supposed to use those notes generators to justify their reasoning and not go into some of the details that you would like to see to reflect that they actually reviewed the facts of the case. The biggest problem I have is that this system has had very limited oversight,” he said.

“It makes it easier to refuse because you don’t have to look at all the facts. You don’t have to go through a deep, thoughtful analysis. You have a refusal notes generator that you can apply without having read the detailed study plans and financial documents.”

He points to Chinook’s built-in function that flags “risk factors” — such as an applicant’s occupation and intended employer’s information — for inconsistency in an application, as well as “local flag words” to triage and ensure priority processing of time-sensitive applications to attend a wedding or a funeral.

Those very same flag words used in the spreadsheet can also be misused to mark a particular group of applicants based on their personal profiles and pick them out for refusals, said Tao.

In 2019, in a case involving the revocation of citizenship to the Canadian-born sons of two Russian spies, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark ruling that helps guide judges to review the decisions of immigration officials.

In the unanimous judgment, Canada’s highest court ruled it would be “unacceptable for an administrative decision maker to provide an affected party formal reasons that fail to justify its decision, but nevertheless expect that its decision would be upheld on the basis of internal records that were not available to that party.”

Tao said he’s closely watching how the Ocran decision is going to shed light on the application of Chinook in the wake of that Supreme Court of Canada ruling over the reasonableness standard.

“Obviously, a lot of these applications have critical points that they get refused on and with the reasons being template and standard, it’s hard for reviewers to understand how that came to be,” he said.

In a response to the Star’s inquiry about the concerns raised about Chinook, the Immigration Department said the tool is simply to streamline the administrative steps that would otherwise be required in the processing of applications to improve efficiency.

“Decision makers are required to review all applications and render their decisions based on the information presented before them,” said spokesperson Nancy Caron.

“Chinook does not fundamentally change the way applications are processed, and it is always the officer that gives the rational for the decisions and not the Chinook tool.”

For immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo, Chinook is another step in the Immigration Department’s move toward digitalization and modernization.

Ottawa has been using machine learning technology since 2018 to triage temporary resident visa applications from China and India, using a “set of rules derived from thousands of past officer decisions” then deployed by the technology to classify applications into high, medium and low complexity.

Cases identified as low complexity and low risk automatically receive positive eligibility decisions, allowing officers to review these files exclusively on the basis of admissibility. This enables officers to spend more time scrutinizing the more complex files.

Chinook, said Bellissimo, has gone beyond the triage. He contends it facilitates the decision-making process by officers.

The use of templated responses from the notes generator makes the refusal reasons “devoid of meaning,” he noted.

“Eventually, do you see age discriminators put into place for study permits when anyone over the age of 30 is all automatically streamed to a different tier because they are less likely bona fide students? This is the type of stuff we need to know,” Bellissimo explained.

“When they’re just pulling standard refusal reasons and just slapping it in, then those decisions become more difficult to understand and more difficult to challenge. Who made the decision? Was technology used? And that becomes a problem.”

He said immigration officials need to be accountable and transparent to applicants about the use of these technologies before they are rolled out, not after they become an issue.

Petra Molnar, a Canadian expert specializing in migration and technology, said automated decision-making and artificial intelligence tools are difficult to scrutinize because they are often very opaque, including how they are developed and deployed and what review mechanisms, if any, exist once they are in use.

“Decisions in the immigration and refugee context have lifelong and life-altering ramifications. People have the right to know what types of tools are being used against them and how they work, so that we can meaningfully challenge these types of systems.”

Ziaie, the lawyer, said she understands the tremendous pressure on front-line immigration officers, but if charging a higher application fee — a study permit application now costs $150 — can help improve the service and quality of decisions, then that should be implemented.

“They should allocate a fair amount of that revenue toward trying to hire more people, train their officers better and give them more time to review the files so they actually do get a better success rate,” she said. “By that, I mean fewer files going to Federal Court.”

As a study permit applicant, Moghadam said it’s frustrating not to understand how an immigration officer reaches a refusal decision because so much is at stake for the applicant.

It took him two extra years to finally obtain his study permit and pursue an education in Canada, let alone the additional application fees and hefty legal costs.

“Your life is put on hold and your future is uncertain,” said the 39-year-old, who had a decade of work experience in engineering for both Iranian and international companies.

“There’s the time, the costs, the stress and the anxiety.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/11/15/canada-is-refusing-more-study-permits-is-new-ai-technology-to-blame.html