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Some Quebec colleges say Ottawa denies 80 to 90 per cent of study permits from Africa

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MONTREAL — Some Quebec junior colleges say 80 to 90 per cent of the international students they’ve accepted from Africa are being refused study permits by the federal government, jeopardizing their ability to offer programs and raising questions about bias in the immigration system.

At the CEGEP de la Gaspésie et des Îles, in eastern Quebec, only two of 19 students from Africa who were accepted to the school and requested permits were able to secure one, according to its general manager. At Collège d’Alma, in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, 20 students out of 139 got permits.

Representatives of both colleges say that, in comparison, virtually every student who applies from France is accepted.

Yolaine Arseneau, the manager of the Gaspé junior college, says the number amounts to an 89 per cent refusal rate for African students. “We find that enormous,” she said.

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In a phone interview, she said the situation is frustrating for the college, which goes to great lengths to recruit international students, only to have efforts fall flat. Not to mention the impact on the students themselves.

“It must be very discouraging for them,” she said.

Frédéric Tremblay, the communications head at Alma College, says there appears to be a “distortion” between the federal government and the province — particularly in regions outside greater Montreal, which are faced with an aging population and a labour shortage.

He said the main reason given for refusing study permits is that authorities don’t believe the applicant will return home after studying — even as the province hopes to retain them. “It’s advantageous for Quebec to go find students who already speak French and who we can train here to keep them in the workforce,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, students are refused on the basis of not having the financial means to support themselves — even if they’ve been awarded full scholarships.

The refusal of permits for students coming from Africa is nothing new, and it is an issue at all educational levels and in all provinces, said Francis Brown Mastropaolo, the director of international affairs for Quebec’s federation of CEGEPs. But he said Quebec junior colleges and their prospective students are hit the hardest.

Rejection rates vary by country, he said, and some of the highest are in French-speaking African countries where Quebec seeks immigrants, such as Algeria and Congo. At the same time, rejection rates tend to go down with higher levels of study, meaning refusals at the college level are higher than those for master’s and PhD candidates, he said.

Overall, he estimates that 80 per cent of junior college study permits from French-speaking Africa are rejected by the federal government, compared with 30 to 35 per cent for students from India and 20 per cent from China.

He said the colleges that are affected the most are those in Quebec’s outlying regions, which have low enrolment and need the boost from international students to be able to maintain programs.

“Sometimes having three, four, five international students allows us to start the program for a three-year cycle, and consequently there is more access for local students,” he said.

Arseneau believes more French-speaking international students provides both a potential future workforce and help to ensure the survival of programs to benefit locals. In addition, students from varied backgrounds improve the student experience through “intercultural exchange,” she added.

While the college representatives can’t say for sure whether racial bias is a factor in the differing acceptance rates, they say it’s at least a possibility — something even the federal government acknowledges.

Brown Mastropaolo was one of many experts who testified when the House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration began studying the issue in February.

The committee produced a report with 35 recommendations, including more transparency on reasons for refusal, regulating recruitment agencies to safeguard against fraud and working with schools and provinces to reduce misunderstandings that can lead to refusals.

It also called on the federal government to clarify the rules to ensure that a student’s request isn’t jeopardized because they eventually want to settle in Canada.

In a response tabled Sept. 28, the federal government acknowledged the issues that were raised.

“While all applications are assessed against the same criteria, regardless of an applicant’s country of origin, the department recognizes that the impacts of historical racism and discrimination extend to Canada’s immigration system,” wrote Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“While approval rates for study permit applications for those intending to study in Quebec are similar to those destined to other provinces, more work is required within the department to understand the differences in study permit approval rates between Africa and other regions.”

In its 20-page response, the government committed to working with the Quebec government on study permits. It also agreed to work on providing better information on its application process, increasing training and resources for its personnel and reviewing the way it assesses candidates, including ensuring that those who may eventually want to immigrate to Canada aren’t punished.

Brown Mastropaolo said that after years of work, it’s “encouraging” to see the federal government finally acknowledging the long-standing problems in the system. “Now, what we want to see are results,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Available Nexus appointments Canada

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There’s good news for those looking to expedite their border crossing experience.

To mitigate the ongoing backlog issues at Canadian border crossings, border officials have reopened two Nexus and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) enrolment centres in Canada.

It’s the first time any Nexus and FAST offices have been open in Canada since the pandemic began, and federal officials say more offices will be opening in the future.

The Nexus program, which has over 1.7 million members, is designed to speed up the border clearance process for its members, while also freeing up more time for Canadian and U.S. border security agents to tend to unknown or potentially higher-risk travellers and goods.

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The benefit of Nexus is that it allows for those travelling between the two countries to save time, skipping long lineups and using the shorter, dedicated Nexus lanes when crossing the border, as well as designated kiosks and eGates at major airports, and quicker processing at marine crossings.

Reopening these two Canadian centres is the first phase of a larger plan to address the lengthy Nexus and FAST backlog, and will increase availability for applicants to book appointments to interview for Nexus pre-approval, the Canada Border Service Agency said in a statement Monday.

Those looking to get Nexus approval can now schedule interviews, by appointment only, at the Lansdowne, Ont. (Thousand Islands Bridge) and Fort Erie, Ont. (Peace Bridge) enrolment centres, through the trusted traveller programs portal.

Travellers looking to apply will still need to complete a new two-step process, and the Canadian offices don’t mean applicants won’t have to cross the border to finalize the process.

If conditionally approved for Nexus status, travellers can complete the first part of the interview at one of the two reopened Canadian enrolment centres, then complete the second interview portion just across the border at the corresponding U.S. enrolment centres on the other side. For Lansdowne, that’s Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and for Fort Erie, it’s Buffalo, N.Y.

To become conditionally approved, both the CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have to grant approval prior to scheduling the interview portion, and interviews need to be conducted on both sides of the border.

“Nexus and FAST are a win-win for Canada and the United States – and we’re working hard to find creative solutions to reduce wait times, address the backlog and help more travellers get Nexus cards,” said Marco Mendicino, minister of public safety, in a press release. “This new, two-step process is further proof of our commitment to it. We’ll keep finding solutions that leverage technology and streamline renewals.”

Applicants also have the option to complete a one-step process and schedule complete interviews at enrolment centres in the U.S., which may be a preferred option for those who don’t live near the two centres currently open in Canada.

And those who are already members of the Nexus program and are awaiting an interview can renew their membership ahead of its expiry date in order to retain their travel benefits for up to five years.

More centres are expected to open at select land border crossings in the future, as this initial phase carries on, CBSA says.

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China slams U.S. Inflation Reduction Act for ‘disrupting international trade, investment’

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The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Thursday criticized the U.S. for disrupting international trade and investment by adopting the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), urging the U.S. to fulfill its obligations under WTO rules.

The criticism came after the Chinese delegation attending a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Council for Trade in Goods expressed serious concern over the ‘discriminatory and distorted subsidy provisions’ of the U.S. IRA, as well as its series of policies that disrupt the global semiconductor industry chain and supply chain.

The meeting of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods was held in Geneva between November 24 and 25.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Ministry of Commerce Spokeswoman Shu Jueting said that China’s response is an exercise of its rights as a WTO member to challenge the trade measures of another member and their impact on such an occasion.

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“In its speech, the Chinese side expounded on the suspected violations of WTO rules by the relevant provisions of the U.S. law from a professional perspective, noted that the U.S. approach has seriously disrupted international trade and investment while undermining the stability of the global industrial and supply chains, and expressed grave concern over the U.S. application of double standards and acts of bullying regarding international trade rules,” Shu said.

“China urges the U.S. to strictly fulfill its obligations under WTO rules and earnestly safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral trading system,” she said.

Stressing that the world today is facing multiple challenges including setbacks in economic globalization and a sluggish economic recovery, Shu reiterated China’s commitment to opposing unilateralism and stabilizing global industrial and supply chains.

“China is ready to work with other members to follow through on the outcomes of the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), engage fully and deeply in the reform of the WTO, stand against unilateralism and protectionism, and support the WTO in better playing its role, so as to contribute to stability of the global industrial and supply chains and recovery of the global economy at an early date,” said the spokeswoman.

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Civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret Chinese police station

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A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities.

The group Safeguard Defenders said in a report in September that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto, and the updated report names another 48 locations.

Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit human rights group, said two of the new locations are in Canada: one in Vancouver and the second unknown.

The group’s previous investigation looked into the expansion of “long-arm policing” and transnational repression imposed by the Chinese government.

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Its latest report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” gathered more evidence on how these police station function and their “persuasions of return” strategies, the group said in its report.

“Patrol and Persuade also documents the silent complicity of a number of host countries, instilling a further sense of fear into targeted communities and severely undermining the international rules-based order,” Safeguard Defenders said in an online statement.

Its previous report alleged employees from the overseas police system use intimidation and threats to enforce the “involuntary” return of immigrants back to China for persecution.

The group claimed that between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China.

No one from the Chinese Embassy was immediately available for comment on the new information, but it has previously described the offices as volunteer-run service stations to process things like driver’s licences.

The report said the newly documented Vancouver-based police station is being operated by authorities from Wenzhou, a port and industrial city in China’s Zhejiang province.

It said most of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, directly refuting the government of China’s previous statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“New information shows at least one illegal ‘persuasion to return’ operation run through the Wenzhou station in Paris, France; and at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture and/or persuasion to return operation,” the report said.

The group claimed their work prompted at least 12 countries, including Canada, to launch investigations into local police stations.

A series of recommendations have been listed by Safeguard Defenders for all governments to consider, such as educating local law enforcement on the methods used by the operators and imposing costs on entities and individuals involved in the repression efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month he raised the issue of interference directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

Xi later berated him for informing the media about their conversation.

The RCMP said in early November that it is investigating the issue, and officials told MPs in early October that they were aware of the claims by the group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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