India envoy says Canada must rebuild brand after international student deaths

By The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — India’s envoy to Ottawa says Canadians need to rebuild the country’s brand as a destination for bright minds, lamenting that a number of international students have died after being exploited.

High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that exploitation is undermining the role Indian students in Canada play in helping both countries advance their technological knowledge. 

Canada’s international student program has come under intense scrutiny after a sharp rise in study permits in recent years, leading the federal government to implement a two-year cap on foreign student admissions. 

Last year, there were more than one million international students in Canada.

India is the top source of those students, but Verma says there are bogus schools who have “duped” Indian families, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Verma says some students died after being exploited, though he did not specify whether he was referring to deaths by suicide.

He told the Tuesday afternoon forum that students often have a lot on the line. 

“Many of them come from a poor family; their parents would sell their lands and farm and animals for them to come here. And when they are duped by unethical … educational outlets, that creates quite a sensation in India,” Verma said.

“There was a time when we were sending one body bag of an Indian international student every 10 days. And as an ambassador, you can imagine what I would feel in my heart.”

Canadian universities and colleges have turned to international student recruitment to supplement shortfalls in provincial funding. 

However, that’s come at the expense of desperate students who often take out loans or rely heavily on their family to pay for their studies in Canada.

The Canadian Press reported last week that at Conestoga College, many international students are working full-time hours to make ends meet. 

Meanwhile, students who can’t find work are anxious about their financial situation. Some are even questioning their decision to come to Canada.

A Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C., reported earlier this year that it was aware of more than three dozen students from India who had died in Canada since 2021, the majority due to drug overdoses.

On Tuesday, Verma said that he has encouraged Indian students who have been living for a year or two in Canada to take to social media and explain the real challenges they face — and focus on how they overcame those problems.

“Those videos are doing rounds on various social media … and many of the Indian parents have learned from that,” he said.

Verma added that this outreach needs to be in multiple languages because parents “have got the key say (in) whether the student comes to Canada” and need a realistic sense of what their child will face.

“‘Brand Canada’ got a bad name in education,” he said, arguing Canadians need to restore their country’s reputation as a good place to study.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

— With files from Nojoud Al Mallees 

The Canadian Press

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