We are subjected to racist abuse in Canada, say African students
CANADA – Long considered a multicultural and inclusive nation, Canada recently acknowledged that its immigration system is tinged with racism and concerns have grown over high rejection rates for African students.
“I have met people who have had their visas refused more than five times,” even though they had been accepted by Canadian universities, says Serge Nouemssi, white coat and pipette in hand.
The 33-year-old biology student is originally from Cameroon and has been working on his PhD for more than three years in a laboratory at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivieres (UQTR).
Surrounded by greenery, the campus located halfway between Montreal and Quebec City hosts almost 15,000 students, including the largest percentage of Africans in the province – 65 percent of international students.
But “we’ve seen rejections of up to 80 percent of applicants who come from Africa,” said the school’s principal, Christian Blanchette, who noted that it’s been an ongoing problem “for years.
Racism in Canada
In a report quietly released in late September, the national immigration department said it “recognizes the presence of racism in Canada and within our own organization.”
According to federal data, Quebec is the Canadian province with the highest rejection rate of African students — about 70 percent from French-speaking African nations between 2017 and 2021.
The data says that applications from France, Great Britain or Germany to study in Quebec are almost always accepted – about a 90 percent acceptance rate.
In addition to having to pay tuition ranging on average from Can$17,000 (US$12,750) to Can$19,000 per academic year to study in Quebec and rising up to Can$50,000, African students must also provide financial guarantees.
“For us Africans, they (immigration officials) generally insist on proof of financial means” to be able to afford to live and study in Canada, Nouemssi explains.
“There are cases where we have shown financial resources that were close to a million dollars,” explains Caroline Turcotte-Brule, an immigration attorney. “The agent replied that our client did not have sufficient financial resources.”
“I have the impression that it is a bit random,” she adds, specifying that the reason for rejection is often the same: “a fear that the person will not return to their country of origin after” their studies.
“It’s a bit of hypocrisy,” said Krishna Gagne, another lawyer who notes that students have a legal right to consider staying in Canada after their studies.
Rolled out incentives
Ottawa has even encouraged foreign students to do so as it rolled out incentives in recent months to help deal with the labor shortage.
Sitting at her desk in a small laboratory at the end of a maze of underground corridors, Imene Fahmi says she had to try twice before she could come and study in Quebec.
“I encountered many difficulties,” explains the Algerian-born doctor, who was rejected the first time because the program she chose “was not related to her previous studies”, even though she had been aggressively recruited by her future research director.
She had to apply a second time and wait eight months before she was finally approved.
“When it comes to immigration, there seems to be no understanding of the nuances and backgrounds of some students, so we have rejections that are a bit absurd,” says her research supervisor Mathieu Piche, who cannot hide his frustrations.
Refusals and delays have consequences for the students but also “on the teachers’ work”, he adds.
The problem does not only affect students. In July, Canada faced a backlash over its denial of visas to hundreds of delegates, including Africans, who were to attend the AIDS 2022 conference in Montreal.
In its September report, the government promised better training for its immigration agents, and considered creating an ombudsman post to deal with disputes and review its much-maligned case management software.
These efforts are welcomed by Turcotte-Brule, but she emphasizes that there has been “a problem of systemic racism for a long time” in Canada and that “it’s not going to be solved overnight.”