Students from India face lots of challenges in Canada: Experts

Updated on Nov 12, 2021 11:30 AM IST

Canada is registering a record intake of students from India this year, but a leading immigration lawyer and charity groups are warning of the challenges these newcomers face on arrival.

Travellers arrive at a check-in area at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Ontario. Canada is registering a record intake of students from India this year, but a leading immigration lawyer and charity groups are warning of the challenges these newcomers face on arrival. (Bloomberg)
Travellers arrive at a check-in area at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Ontario. Canada is registering a record intake of students from India this year, but a leading immigration lawyer and charity groups are warning of the challenges these newcomers face on arrival. (Bloomberg)
ByAnirudh Bhattacharyya | Toronto

As Canada heads towards a record intake of students from India this year, a leading immigration lawyer and charity groups are warning of the challenges these newcomers face on arrival leading to suicides and even prostitution as they come under pressure in a foreign land.

According to data from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 156,171 study permits were given to students from India, almost double the number from 2020, which was at 76,149, a substantial drop due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel. However, the surge this year could lead to a new record high in Indian students reaching Canadian universities and colleges, as it’s on course to eclipse the previous mark of 174,687 in 2019.

International students overall make for an industry that adds between 7 billion and 8 billion Canadian dollars each year to the Canadian higher education sector, resulting in serious recruitment activity, particularly in states like Punjab. In a recent report tracking that phenomenon and its extreme downside, the Canadian outlet Globe and Mail noted, “Bringing Indian students to Canada has become a lucrative business spanning two continents.”

The dark side of these burgeoning numbers is the mental health problems faced by these students, as families take on enormous debt to send their children abroad. The amount charged by education institutions in Canada are usually four times the approximately 7,000 Canadian dollars figure for domestic students. Adding to the burden are expenses for accommodation and food, among other items.

The outlet The Pointer reported that a single funeral home in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) recorded five dead bodies of Indian students each month.

Ravi Jain, founder of Canadian Immigration Lawyers’ Association, said, “Consultants in India are painting a rosy picture and then there’s a tragic side”.

There’s tremendous pressure on these students to recoup the investments by their parents, and often unable to do so, they turn to drugs, leading to overdoses, suicide, and even prostitution.

Kamal Bhardwaj, proprietor of the Lotus Funeral and Cremation Centre in Toronto, is seeing this regularly, as he said they are handling corpses of five to six students each month. They are not privy to the cause of death, but some bodies turn up with ligature marks, indicating possible suicide and others bear signs of overdose. “There’s been an increase in the number of young people dying,” he told the Hindustan Times.

In fact, that has led him to partner with two others to found a charity serving these students. Called Sunoh, it offers counselling, including for those contemplating suicide. And it organises webinars before the students leave India so as to provide them with a realistic picture of life in Canada and the hardships it entails. A partner organisation recently had half-a-dozen young girls arrive in distress as they were pregnant. Bhardwaj felt this pointed to possible “human trafficking”.

Montreal-based physician Shivendra Dwivedi has a similar initiative, called Sahyog, which also offers webinars and mental health counselling. He said, “These poor students are being exploited. It’s a racket. Recruiters are selling them an impossible dream.”

He plans to approach Canada’s new Immigration Minister Sean Fraser for initiating urgently required reforms in the system.

Jain, who practices with the Toronto-based firm Green & Spiegel and is also former chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s Immigration unit, said this problem is “widespread” and “it’s become more common. The community doesn’t really come out about it too much because there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment and of course the government doesn’t want to publicise it” because of the billions of dollars in revenue involved.

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