A recent report in Le Devoir revealed an increasingly high study permit refusal rate among applicants coming from francophone African countries, especially in Quebec. New immigration minister, Sean Fraser, has promised to address the issue, including mandatory unconscious bias training and appointing each department sector an “anti-racism representative”.
The refusal rate among certain French-speaking African students in Quebec has increased over the last few years to nearly 100% in 2020 and 2021. This is not a new phenomenon – the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) published a statement regarding discriminatory practices carried out by IRCC in 2019, specifically regarding an “inconsistent treatment of visa applications made by academics from African countries wishing to visit Canada”.
Dorothée and Mboungou, a couple from the Republic of the Congo, experienced this bias first-hand when attempting to apply for authorization to study in Canada. Despite submitting an “impeccable” application, the permit was refused after barely a week had passed. The reason for refusal? The officer was not convinced that they would leave Canada by the end of their authorized stay. Dorothée and Mboungou are the only applicants from the Republic of the Congo who have been refused a study permit. Between the months of January and May 2020, just 13% of study permit applications from the Republic of the Congo were approved.
This subjective rationale is often used by immigration officers to refuse temporary permits, believing that the applicant will not return home once their permit expires. A report from the Canadian Association of African Studies revealed that many African scholars were refused for this reason when applying for a visitor permit, despite having significant ties to their home country (eg. steady employment, family, high quality of life).
Refusing a study permit under suspicion that an applicant will not leave Canada by the end of their authorized stay not only leaves the door open to discriminatory practices, it also runs contrary to the government’s message to international students.
Canada has long been vocal about the economic importance of retaining international students and have implemented programs and policies to assist in their transition to permanent status. International students are offered a special work permit, allowing them to work in Canada for up to three years after graduating. For international graduates who might not yet be eligible for Canadian permanent residency, Canada introduced the temporary TR to PR pathway. Through the pathway, international graduates that were currently working in Canada could apply to remain permanently in the country. If a federal immigration program isn’t an option, provinces also host Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) specific to international graduates.
In a recent interview, Minister Fraser drove this point home, “International students are one of the groups that successfully integrate more and more so than just about any other group of newcomers…that’s a good thing, not just for the newcomer to Canada, but for our economy as well.”
The issue of discrimination toward certain French-speakers from African countries has been brought to the attention of Canada’s newly minted immigration minister, Sean Fraser. Minister Fraser spoke on this issue recently, vowing to take action to ensure the public has faith in Canada’s immigration system.
“There’s no secret that over the course of Canada’s history, unconscious bias and systemic racism have been a shameful part of Canada’s history over different aspects of the government’s operations. One of the things that we want to do is make sure that … this kind of unconscious bias doesn’t discriminate against people who come from a particular part of the world.”
In the recent interview, the new minister has also promised to bring more French-speaking students to Canada.
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