Saudi students forced to leave Canada this week

Published On August 15, 2018 | By anamkhan | Business, International, News, Politics

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands by the country’s stance on human rights. (Reuters file photo/Christinne Muschi)

Anam Khan

The Saudi Arabian deadline forcing its students studying in Canada to leave the country approaches, but Ottawa says they can stay.

The Saudi government made the decision more than a week ago when the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted her support and concern for the Saudi bloggers Raif Badawi and his sister Samar who are in jail for their activism.

Saudi Arabia jumped to action and immediately deported the Canadian ambassador, cut business ties, and gave its students living in Canada two weeks to leave and complete their education elsewhere.

But the Canadian government says as long as the students’ visas are in order, they don’t have to leave.

“Obviously, this is going to be extremely hard for the students. They are being used as pawns by the Saudi government and it will create a good deal of dislocation in their lives,” said Aurel Braun, professor  of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Toronto.

“It will create a dislocation at universities and institutions in Canada,” he said. There are 77 Saudi students in the U of T medical schools.

The political spat between the two countries complicates the situation for those completing their education, Braun said.

“Some of these students actually are residents or interns in medicine and if those students are forced to leave, one can imagine that patients would suffer, hospitals have to replace them and you can’t just find new residents and new interns,” he said.

While Saudi Arabia is putting pressure on its students to leave, Canada is not, leaving students with a legal dilemma about their visa statuses.

“From IRCC’s perspective, a foreign national with a valid study permit can continue to study in Canada,” said Shannon Ker, Immigration advisor at the government of Canada.

Most full-time international students who graduate from their program in Canada are eligible for open work permits through the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.

The program gives them the opportunity to gain experience in the Canadian labour market that can later be used to transition to permanent residency through Express Entry.

Ker said international students are a key source of permanent resident candidates in Express Entry. They also have established social networks and familiarized themselves with life in Canada.

Ker said if a Saudi student claims asylum, rather than returning, each claim would be assessed on its merits.

“A person making an asylum claim must demonstrate to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) decision-maker that he/she has a well-founded fear of persecution or that he/she would, if removed, be subjected to a danger of torture or a risk to life or of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment,” she said

“Under the law, anyone claiming asylum in Canada has the right to due process. However, there are no guarantees that an asylum seeker will be allowed to stay in Canada at the end of this process,” Ker said. “To claim asylum in Canada, a claimant must demonstrate they are fleeing persecution and in need of Canada’s protection.”

In the case of Saudi students, the repercussions of not returning to Saudi Arabia are unclear. Humber News reached out to the Saudi Embassy but refused to comment on this scenario.

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