In 2022, international students contributed $22.3 billion to the Canadian economy, of which approximately $10.2 billion came from Indian students.
Ahmedabad-based Dirgh Shukla, 22, is on tenterhooks. For his admission to an MTech degree, he was just readying to apply for a student visa when the tiff between India and Canada broke out.
“Diplomatic tensions between the two countries have made me worry a bit. I’m already halfway through the long process of going to university in Canada. Any snag right now will result in partial waste of my resources,” Shukla says.
Similarly, Chandigarh-based Rohan Aggarwal, 26, was caught by surprise when the row broke out. He, like Shukla, is scheduled to leave for Canada in January. While Shukla has gained admission to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Aggarwal is headed to the Schulich School of Business, York University, in Toronto.
“Initially, it led to some confusion and worry about the impact on my plans. However, after consulting with my university's immigration team, I feel more reassured. They've explained that my studies should not be heavily affected by these tensions,” Aggarwal says. “Of course, I hope for a quick resolution to this situation, but I'm not currently rethinking my plans to study in Canada.”
Shukla and Aggarwal are looking to join more than 8 lakh international students in Canada, of which about 40 percent are Indian—the largest cohort by far. As per statistics from the Canadian Bureau of International Education, the second largest group of international students comes from China, which represents 12 percent of the total number.
In 2022, international students contributed $22.3 billion to the Canadian economy, of which approximately $10.2 billion came from Indian students. They also supported over 170,000 jobs in Canada in 2022, of an overall 370,000 jobs supported by international students.
Canada, in return, has always been welcoming to Indian students, offering a range of funding options and importantly, a clear path towards permanent residency. In the US, on the other hand, green card processing can take decades, leaving qualified Indians at the mercy of the stringent H-1B programme.
“I did consider alternative options briefly when the tensions first arose, but for now I'm sticking with my plan to study in Canada,” Aggarwal says. “The fact that my visa has already been approved is a relief. I believe in the long-term value of my chosen programme at the Schulich School of Business and I hope that the tensions will subside by the time I leave for Canada in January.”
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Do Indian students in Canada feel safe?
Twenty-five-year-old Pahul Kaur Chhabra, who hails from Punjab’s Jalandhar, recently graduated from Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. She points out that where separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 2023, there are safety concerns. “Students are scared to be residing around the region where the incident took place. Apart from those areas, the everyday situation is pretty much moderate,” she says.
Chhabra had plans to travel back home to India, but has changed her mind, fearing visa issues. “I think that Canada might make it harder for the existing students to get work permits and permanent residency. For prospective students, the government might stop issuing visas altogether,” she says.
On September 21, India's visa processing centre in Canada, BLS International, suspended services citing operational reasons. However, the Canadian authorities have not stopped issuing visas to Indian nationals looking to enter the country.
Another student who graduated in September from Lambton College in Toronto, Ontario, said the growing diplomatic row between the two countries has not affected his life or job. For 26-year-old Abhishek Dwivedi, a recent graduate seeking a work permit in Canada, his application has gone through normal channels, with no impact yet on processing times or requirements.
“On the ground, I've noticed that the protests and rallies organised by various groups have not caused any harm to the local public. While it's natural to be concerned about civil unrest, I've never felt threatened in my daily life. The authorities have effectively managed these events, ensuring that they remain peaceful and do not disrupt the city's overall peace and harmony,” he said.
Siddhanth Bakliwal, 22, who recently graduated from the University of Toronto, is currently looking for jobs in consulting and finance. While he has acquired his work permit and does not foresee any problems arising with it, he does worry that companies might be more reluctant to hire Indians amidst the row.
“My family back in India, and my friends’ families as well, are worried. My parents have asked me to come back to India if things get worse, and to avoid going out too much and instead meet at friends’ homes,” he says. “They’ve also advised me to stay away from Indian neighbourhoods until things tide over. However, on ground, life is pretty much the same as earlier.”
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The road ahead
Most study abroad consultants advise students against changing their plans, and continue to endorse Canada as a favourable option for Indian students.
“It is important to remember that the current political and diplomatic situation will alter in the future. However, investing in education is a long-term approach. Because of its excellent colleges and welcoming culture, Indian students increasingly select Canada as a study-abroad destination,” says Vibha Kagzi, founder and CEO of Reachivy.com, a study abroad consultancy.
“We have been engaging with 15 to 20 Canadian universities for the last 80 to 100 hours,” says Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and CEO of Leverage Edu, an AI-powered higher education platform. “They have, through informal channels, told us that visas for the upcoming intake is likely to be delayed, and they recommend some deferment to the next fall intake if that’s possible at the students’ end.”
“However, the universities have been proactive with their outreach, and I see this only strengthening. In the long term, things should be fine,” he adds. “A large part of the Canadian economy and private college infrastructure is run by Indian students opting to study there every year, and that is significant enough to warrant quick, structured resolution at the Canadian government’s end.”
Even so, some families have been spooked by the news and are actively considering alternatives, experts say.
For instance, Ashwin Tyagi, founder of Immigration Hotspot in Australia, says that many of the new inquiries his team has received in the past two weeks have “specifically stated that they don't want to have Canada as an option given the tension between two governments” and are looking at options in Australia instead.
The US and UK continue to be popular with students, adds Amit Singh, founder of UniScholars. But in the longer term, he foresees ‘minimal to no impact’ on the choices of Indian students opting to study in Canada.
“I’m attracted to Canada for its streamlined admission process,” says Ahmedabad’s Shukla. “Unlike India, they don’t provide reservation or scholarship on the basis of any caste, but base it on a student’s merit and financial condition. The universities provide a great atmosphere and amenities. For all these reasons, I don’t intend to change my plans yet,” he adds. “I believe that the issue will be momentary, and things will get better in the near future.”