Diplomatic spat upsets student plans, raises backlash fears

Ongoing diplomatic tensions between India and Canada have cast a pall of uncertainty over the plans of prospective Indian students, some of whom are delaying the start of their studies. For those already in Canada there are fears of a possible backlash and discrimination.

The Indian Embassy in Canada has suspended visa services for those wanting to travel to India after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a potential link was being investigated between the Indian government and the killing of separatist Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb three months ago.

Both countries have expelled a senior diplomat from their respective countries and issued travel advisories to their citizens.

Approximately 226,000 students a year from India pursue education in Canada, and the number continues to grow, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data.

According to IRCC, 434,899 international students arrived in Canada in the first half of 2023, of whom 175,021 or around 40% are from India.

A major concern among students is the possibility that Canada will stop issuing visas to Indians, which will have a big impact on outbound student numbers.

While education consultants in India are keen to stress that the situation for prospective students remains normal, students fear the row could escalate and lead to the halting of visas by the Canadian embassy in India or, at the very least, to delays. Many have invested substantial amounts of money in their study abroad plans.

Deferring the start of studies

Representatives of Canadian universities, who were in the southern city of Hyderabad for an education fair on 22 September, said the ongoing diplomatic row could cause visa delays for Indian students and possibly affect the spring academic session due to begin in January.

They pointed to the possibility of delays in securing study permits and have advised students to defer their start date to the fall session which opens in August 2024.

Pradip Singh in New Delhi, who planned to enrol in college in Canada for the session commencing January 2024, said he has deferred his enrolment to the following session (August 2024) instead, hoping diplomatic tensions will settle down.

“I had chosen Canada because of high-quality education combined with liberal government policies related to post-study work and immigration,” said Singh in reference to Canada’s post-graduation work permit which allows graduates to stay and work in Canada for up to three years and thereafter apply for permanent residency. “But the growing diplomatic tension between the two countries is not helpful for students like us,” he added.

A student who did not want to be named said he had already secured admission at a college in Canada. “Things were proceeding smoothly. I also obtained a bank loan to pay the tuition fee and meet other expenses. I have to deposit the course fee but I don’t know what to do now. There are many other students like me who are in a fix,” he said.

Canada is the first choice for students from Punjab State in particular, and if diplomatic ties become further strained, this would have a significant impact on applicants from that region.

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