The recent deterioration in Indo-Canadian relations has triggered fear and anxiety among those aspiring to study abroad, educational consultants specializing in Canada, and Canadian Permanent Residency (PR) applicants.
Canada, with a population of approximately 37 million, has a significant Indian ethnic and cultural presence, constituting nearly 1.4 million people, or roughly 3.7 percent of the total population, according to the 2021 census. Among them, over 770,000 individuals identify as Sikhs, making up about 2 percent of Canada’s population.
The situation took a nosedive following Canada’s expulsion of a high-ranking Indian diplomat in response to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in Parliament suggesting a “potential link” between the Indian government and the killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.
India promptly dismissed these allegations as “absurd” and urged Canada to take action against anti-India groups within its borders.
The issue of support and shelter for Sikh separatists in Canada has strained relations between Canada and India.
Canada’s policy of offering political asylum to Sikh activists accused of promoting separatism and Khalistani activism has been a major point of contention. Tensions in the Sikh diaspora in Canada have added to the problem, leading to diplomatic disputes and security concerns in India.
With both governments grappling with strained relations, the predicament casts a cloud of uncertainty over study and settlement aspirations in Canada.
Canada And India Education Ties
As of 2023, Canada had 319,130 international students from India, a significant contributor to the country’s education sector. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data revealed that Canada set an immigration record in 2022, with 551,405 international students from 184 countries.
Mike Henniger, COO at Illume Student Advisory Services, noted the immediate impact of this diplomatic row. High-level institutional delegations have canceled trips to India, and anxiety among students and agents is growing.
The speed and intensity of the situation have taken many by surprise, and the education sector finds itself caught in the crossfire of diplomatic tensions, reminiscent of the 2018 incident involving Saudi Arabia.
Also Read: ResearchED: Why Does A Small Group Of Khalistanis Continue To Survive In Canada And How Do They Impact India?
India was among the top 10 source countries for international students in Canada, with 319,130 students studying there by December 31, 2022. Foreign students contribute over $15.3 billion annually to Canada’s economy, making it highly vulnerable to potential economic repercussions stemming from the ongoing diplomatic dispute.
The primary drivers of Indian migration to Canada are better job opportunities and access to quality education. The Memorandum of Understanding on Higher Education, renewed in February 2018 between the two nations, has played a significant role in encouraging Indian migration to Canada.
In 2022, the number of Indian students enrolling in Canadian institutions increased by a remarkable 47 percent, constituting around 40 percent of the total overseas student population in Canada.
Impact Of The Conflict
The escalating diplomatic tension has left study-abroad aspirants concerned about the possibility of visa denials. Vikramjit Singh Arora, a student from Jalandhar, expressed his apprehension, having recently cleared the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and researching Canadian universities for his dream of settling there after studies.
On the other hand, Ashnoor Kaur, another student, received assurance from her consultant that study-abroad opportunities would not be significantly impacted. She stated that her consultant, assisting her in gaining admission to a Canadian college, assured her that there’s no need to worry.
Narpat Babbar, an educational consultant and owner of Jupitter Academy in Jalandhar, spoke to Indian Express. He remains optimistic and believes that any impact will be short-lived. He emphasized that students contribute 30 percent of Canada’s annual budget and anticipate a return to normalcy in a couple of months.
However, Gurpreet Singh, a consultant with a decade of experience, expressed concerns about potential ripple effects on international students. He noted that 40 percent of international students migrating to Canada annually are from India, highlighting the economic significance of this demographic. Singh emphasized the need to monitor how both countries handle travelers’ entry at their respective borders and its potential impact on students.
Chitresh Dhawan, a veteran in the study abroad industry, cautioned against making definitive statements too early. He believes that the situation will become clearer in the coming days as diplomatic developments unfold.
Potential Challenges And PR Applicants’ Worries
One area where Canada’s economy could face challenges is in academia.
Canada has issued 997,125 study permits to Indian students since 2015, and while there is no immediate indication of a decline in this stream, the situation could change if Indian government scholarships are redirected to other countries with reputable universities like Australia, the UK, and the US. This potential shift could have economic consequences stemming from the crisis.
Some consultants raised concerns that this situation might be exploited by those promoting countries other than Canada for study, potentially discrediting Canada with baseless claims about its impact on study-abroad prospects. There were also worries that entry to both Canada and India might become more challenging for students.
Apart from the education sector, a significant number of Indians are employed in Canada, and the current crisis has raised concerns about their safety. It is crucial for both countries to be mindful of the potential negative impact on the Indian diaspora living in Canada, whose endeavors contribute to the betterment of both nations.
Regarding Permanent Residency (PR) applicants, a Jalandhar-based couple, expecting their Canadian PR status by year-end, expressed their concerns about potential delays. They fear that even if relations improve, there could still be several months of delay.
Another PR aspirant based in Jalandhar, with family members already settled in Canada, anxiously waits for his PR status. He emphasized the importance of sensible actions by both India and Canada, as political decisions could significantly affect their future.
The current diplomatic tensions between Canada and India have profound implications for multiple sectors, including education.
The full extent of the impact remains uncertain, but both nations must navigate this situation carefully to safeguard their interests and the well-being of their citizens and student communities. The relationship between these two nations, once a source of promise and cooperation, now faces significant challenges that require prudent diplomacy to resolve.
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