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Whistler consultant claims immigration officers use 'institutional bias'

Students denied the ability to study French in Whistler



An immigration consultant who works in Whistler is seeking political help after student visa applicants were denied the chance to study French at a language school.

Paul Girodo, director of Whistler Immigration Ltd. and a director involved in the decision-making processes of the Sea to Sky International Language School (SSILS), said that some officers working for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) are levelling an "institutional bias" against student visa applicants who want to study French in Whistler.

"It's a bureaucratic process to frustrate the system and drive the program into the ground," he said, adding the language school owners wish to remain anonymous for this story.

Girodo has enlisted help from John Weston, the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, asking him to circulate a letter through relevant channels that would convince officials to allow people to study French in Whistler.

They had a meeting on August 12. Reached later, Weston said he's supportive of the idea of people studying French in Whistler but he's also waiting on more information before he takes any follow-up action.

"I'm waiting for Paul's letter to me and then I'll decide what I can best do to bring some clarity to the situation," he said. "When I get the letter and understand clearly what approaches he's made, I may be able to pursue the matter with the department and determine whether the obstacles he's facing are indeed justified."

Girodo became aware of the refusals in November 2009. At that time a group hoping to obtain one-year student visas with a one-year open co-op internship permit travelled to the Canadian consulate in Seattle.

Among the group were four UK residents, four Australians and an American. They were in Canada on visitor visas and people with such visas have to make application from outside Canada.

The group went down to Seattle, handing to consulate officials applications that included full acceptance letters from the Sea to Sky International Language School that showed the program's curriculum, a co-op internship component and reference letters.

All the applications were rejected, Girodo claimed, because CIC officials did not believe that Whistler would be an appropriate place to study French.

Girodo contacted Peter Lilius, the consul-general in Seattle, shortly after hearing of the refusals. Lilius said that the students would be allowed to apply again.

At Girodo's suggestion the group went to the consulate in Seattle a second time. They were refused again.

"When they tried to come up through the Canada-U.S. border, they were given a very difficult time," he said.

At the border, dealing with the Canadian Border Services Agency, Girodo said that he learned that an immigration officer had placed on an applicant's file that he was "disingenuous," "not a bona fide student" and questioned his reasons for being in Canada at all.

This was all around the time that the Olympics were coming up. Already in Canada on work permits, the students were able to find jobs during the Games so they put their plans for study on hold. When the Games were finished, some of them applied again. Some of this group got their permits and some were refused.

Officials with Citizenship and Immigration Canada have refused 200 students in total, Girodo said, estimating that $2.5 million has been lost to the community as a result. That estimate includes the tuition for each to partake in the program; the rent to live in Whistler; and any other money it takes to entertain oneself in the community.

"The officers in theory are supposed to issue the co-op permit," he said. "But now the officers are making it their duty to be the regulator of the language school and that's out of their jurisdiction."

A CIC spokesman said in an email that the onus is on an applicant to demonstrate to a Canadian visa officer that they meet the requirements for a temporary resident and study permit. Individual cases cannot be discussed for privacy reasons.

The immigration officer must be satisfied that the individual is in good health and does not pose a health risk; that they do not have a criminal record; that they have enough money to support themselves while in Canada; and that they have sufficient ties to indicate they will leave Canada when their visa expires.

According to documents provided by Girodo one applicant was denied, according to a case file, because he couldn't convince an officer he had sufficient ties to his home country. He said he had a job lined up with his father to set up a business in France, but he hadn't worked with his father before. He also indicated to the official that he eventually wanted to relocate to B.C.

Another applicant was denied study because an officer was not satisfied that the work component of the French program in Whistler would act as an "integral part of the study program," in that she wouldn't be able to learn sufficient French in a short time to work in a Francophone environment.



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