Is racism behind denial of visas to African students?

In the five years between 2018 and 30 April 2023, officials at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reportedly rejected 59% of the visa applications from English-speaking Africans and 74% from French-speaking Africans seeking to study in Canada’s colleges and universities.

In 2022, the disapproval rates were 66% for applicants from French-speaking African countries and 62% for applicants from English-speaking African countries.

Besides the higher rejection rate for francophone African students, the stats show a massively higher rejection rate for African students compared to students from Western countries. Refusal rates for Great Britain, Australia and the United States were 13%, 13% and 11%, respectively, while for France the refusal rate was 6.7%.

‘A certain rate of racism exists’

Referring to hearings held in 2022 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (SCCI) during which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) admitted there was a problem, Etienne Carbonneau, director of research and support for internationalisation at Université du Québec in Québec City, said: “Let’s put it bluntly, we think there is a certain rate of racism that exists [in IRCC].

“By this I mean negative prejudices against, particularly, French-speaking African populations. When you look at IRCC’s responses, basically, the immigration officers who process the permit application files seem to be saying that they don’t believe the students.”

Both Carbonneau and Daye Diallo, senior economist at the Montreal-based Institut du Québec, underscored that while the high refusal rate of English-speaking Africans can also be attributed to racism at the IRCC, the impact on English universities such as McGill University in Montreal, or those in Ontario or elsewhere in the country, is not as severe.

“In Ontario, it [the rejection rate] is more than 50%. Serious too, but it is higher in Quebec. And because Quebec speaks French, the recruitment pools are more limited. In Ontario there are many students who come from Asia and English-speaking countries,” says Diallo, co-author, with Emna Braham, the institute’s executive director, of the study, “Portrait de l’immigration temporaire: attraction et rétention des étudiants étrangers au Québec”.

“We cannot go to India or China because Indians and Chinese are looking for training in English,” Carbonneau explained. “If I were at McGill University or University of British Columbia, and I saw that it was getting difficult on the Indian side [ie, recruiting from India], I would look to other markets. I don’t have that opportunity [recruiting for a French university].

“The potential for growth is really in French-speaking Africa, but this potential is cut off by the practices of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Presently, some 50% of French speakers worldwide live in African countries; by 2050, the continent will account for 50% of the world’s population growth.”

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