Expert witnesses have told a panel of Canadian lawmakers that prospective overseas students from French-speaking African nations face greater visa refusal rates than applicants from other countries.
Experts have warned that higher refusal rates are having a negative impact on international student recruitment efforts as well as potentially harming Canada’s reputation as a welcoming location to study.
President and chief executive officer of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, Larissa Bezo, told the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that over 500,000 qualified students had their visa applications denied since 2016.
High refusal rates are a problem that has "grown" in recent years, she said, and are especially prominent for candidates from African and Francophone Africa.
“Each rejection letter is not only personally devastating for the student who have (sic) successfully qualified for admission to a Canadian institution, (but) each rejection also arguably represents a failure of process, a waste of resources for the student and for the institution,” she said.
It is also a loss of opportunity for the community where the student planned to study, as well as fewer opportunities to enhance the people-to-people relationships that education provides, in an effort to enhance Canada’s long-term global engagement and future success.
High visa denial rates in priority markets, notably in Francophone Africa, are an “urgent concern we must solve,” according to Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada.
While the overall approval percentage for Canada’s largest foreign student source countries is about 80%, with some approaching 95%, he said that students from Africa experience the greatest refusal rates.
Visa acceptance rates for undergraduate students from Morocco and Senegal, two of the key countries for Francophone student recruitment were 55% and 20%, respectively, in 2019.
According to 2019 statistics, three out of every four applications from African students were denied, and African education agencies have recently claimed bias over low Canadian visa approval rates.
“Higher refusal rates have a direct impact on our recruitment efforts and on Canada’s brand as a welcoming place to study and build a life,” Davidson suggested, adding that a “collaborate effort” was needed to tackle the issue.
According to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, “fundamental improvements” are required, including an increase in IRCC resources. When it comes to international students of both official languages seeking study permits, the process remains incredibly difficult for any young adult inexperienced with the Canadian immigration system to understand.
The country must be careful that these procedural flaws are not misinterpreted as a lack of respect by potential overseas student candidates. The threats to Canada’s brand’s reputation are enormous. Considering the country’s worldwide education strategy’s goal of widening markets, refusal rates are significant in several target countries. Discrepancies exist between visa denials and other government actions.
Québec, for example, spends about $50 million promoting the province to international students and providing them with scholarships. It is critical that the processing of study permits be equitable, fair, and transparent for all individuals, regardless of nation, language, or educational level.
According to immigration lawyer Lou Janssen Dangzalan of LJD Law, the causes for the alarming trend among African countries are unknown. The lawyer, however, cautions that the fact that visas are not handled in-country with the majority of those from the region being processed in Dakar or Dar es Salaam could have unexpected repercussions.
In-country processing could mean that decision-makers are better aware of the reality on the ground, but inter-African racism could also be an issue, according to Dangzalan.
African and Global South candidates face more obstacles to enhancing their applications, including stricter documentary requirements and a higher incidence of rejection. Immigration attorney at Heron Law Offices and co-founder of the Arenous Foundation, Wei William Tao, emphasized this.
Refusals are made on speculative financial grounds or on the presumption that candidates will not return to their home countries after completing their education. The adoption of AI by IRCC, as well as the launch of the Excel-based Chinook processing tool in March 2018, “threatens to further formalize, render less transparent, and subject to even less scrutiny the biases and weaknesses of our human-created foundation.”
Applicants from Africa and the Global South will be the most affected by the scheme. If action is not taken, the stories of suicide, financial devastation, and students unable to meet Canadian immigration standards will worsen. Witnesses also expressed uncertainty over whether Chinook is the cause of rising rejection rates, urging IRCC to share additional statistics.
The issue of increased refusal rates extends beyond African applicants. The denial rate for study permits in India climbed from 34% in 2018 to 57% in 2020. Many have referred to India, Mexico, and Colombia, where the number of refusals has likewise reached an all-time high. The massive rise in denial rates has left questioning the usage of automated application processing methods like the Chinook system.