The future of hundreds of students from India remains uncertain after Quebec’s Superior court refused to order the federal and provincial immigration authorities to reconsider the previous refusal to grant them study permits.
Their applications for a student visa had been denied by the Canadian government, even though some hold valid Quebec study permits. They were all enrolled in private colleges that are currently under investigation by Quebec authorities for recruitment fraud.
The foreign students were required to pre-pay their first year’s tuition fees before arriving in Canada and paid about $15,000 each after the colleges sought creditor protection.
Three institutions owned by the Mastanatuono family under the umbrella group Rising Phoenix International filed for creditor protection in January. M College in Montreal, CDE College in Sherbrooke and CCSQ College in Longueuil have shut their doors, as RSI restructures.
Approximately 500 students are currently living in India and have been denied visas to study in Canada, despite having already paid their tuition fees. Initially, more than 2,000 students were affected, but the majority have been given an extension to their residency permits by Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada.
The law firm of McCarthy Tétrault LLP was appointed to represent the remaining students in the creditor protection process. Alain Tardif, a partner at the firm, has said that one of his priorities was to get refunds to the students who won’t be coming to Canada. In his interview with New Canadian Media, he said he was disappointed the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the case.
“We can appeal this decision in theory but not in practice. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to re-appeal,” said Tardif, a bankruptcy and insolvency expert.
In dismissing the case, Quebec’s Superior Court said it has no jurisdiction to order the federal immigration minister to extend the student visas since this prerogative is reserved exclusively for the Federal Court of Canada. The decision stated that while the court can order a minister to perform his or her duties, it cannot direct the public official toward a “particular outcome, since that would effectively substitute the court’s decision for that conferred by law on that public official.”
Instead, each student’s application for a visa renewal and study permit will have to be examined individually by federal and Quebec immigration officials.
“The shortcomings of both the federal and the provincial government of Quebec led to the mishap,” said Tardif.
Tardif says there were a few occasions where Quebec authorities were made aware of fraudulent activity and didn’t take any steps to remove these colleges from the provincial government’s approved list. Moreover, the federal government asked these students to provide evidence of paid fees to these colleges in order for them to process their visas more rapidly.
“This is despite the fact that it is against the law of Quebec to require the students to pay the fees before the beginning of the school year. The provincial laws were clearly not followed,” points out Tardif.
Seeking a political solution
Mani Rai is one of the hundreds of international students waiting in India for permits to come to Canada to continue his post-secondary education. Rai was supposed to start a Business Management program at M College in January 2021 and had paid his fees three months earlier.
“I am emotionally and physically drained of these constant fights for refunds. I must have paid over $7,000 CAD as interest alone,” said Rai, who is currently in Haryana, India trying to get a Canadian visa. Now that the courts have refused to intervene, Rai is hoping for a political solution.
“I have heard good tales of humanity in Canada — but this judgement has made me question my decision to come to Canada in the first place. We want to meet a representative of the federal government, the Quebec government or Jagmeet Singh. You simply can’t turn deaf ears to our pleas.”
After protests in Canada and India, a group of 50 students in Punjab state have received refunds from local immigration consultants such as CAN Immigration, but bigger players in the consulting industry such as IDP in India have yet to reimburse students.
New corporate owner
In March, Cestar International Education Group offered to buy the three Quebec colleges operated by the Mastanatuono family. Cestar said it will allow registered foreign students who have paid their tuition fees to graduate from the program.
According to Richter, an accounting firm that is overseeing the restructuring process, more than 2,000 students were affected by the proceedings. Most are from India. While there is a ray of relief for foreign students who are already in Quebec, at least 500 are still in India, but have been denied study permits by Canadian immigration officials.
The Quebec government is aiming to transfer the education permits to Cestar by June 30. Once the court approves its purchase of the colleges, Cestar has offered to allow the 740 registered students to graduate. The company says it will also accept the applications of those students presently in India who have paid their tuition, but first, they will need to obtain the necessary permits to come to Canada.
“We are looking at the other options now. These students are simply the unfortunate victims and they have been waiting for a long time. There is no ‘quick’ solution to this,” said Tardif.
This story has been produced under NCM’s mentoring program. Mentor: Judy Trinh