Students affected by travel ban look to Canada

Canadian universities are experiencing a ‘surge’ in applications post-Trump

Students relax on the lawn next to a football field on the McGill University Campus. This part of the campus is known as "the beach" because of its exposure to the sun. Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

Students relax on the lawn next to a football field on the McGill University Campus.
Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

VANCOUVER – Mahdi Ebrahimi Kahou was awarded a full scholarship last year to complete his PhD in economics at the University of Minnesota, a top-five U.S. school in his field.

But last Friday, the Iranian citizen said he watched his dream evaporate with a stroke of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pen.

“I don’t know how to explain the feeling, to be honest,” he said. “I can’t do anything. I can’t concentrate. I can’t study. Everything is hectic.”

Ebrahimi Kahou is now part of what Universities Canada calls a “surge” in applications to Canadian institutions by U.S. students, in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning entry of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

Some schools have moved quickly to extend application deadlines for foreign students, including McGill University’s graduate law department and Brock University. Others said late applications from qualified applicants will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Ebrahimi Kahou, 29, holds a graduate degree from the University of Calgary, and his common-law wife and five-year-old stepdaughter live in Alberta. Trump’s order means the man can’t leave Minneapolis to visit his loved ones for at least the next three months.

Shortly after the order came into effect, Ebrahimi Kahou contacted Kevin Bryan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management who had published a blog post offering to help economics or strategy students affected by the travel ban.

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Bryan responded to him immediately, said Ebrahimi Kahou, and put him in touch with schools. Since then, McGill University and the University of British Columbia have both advised they will extend application deadlines in his case.

“That is very Canadian,” Ebrahimi Kahou said with a laugh. “It’s a miracle.”

Mujan Kia, a 24-year-old Iranian who has lived in the U.S. for six years, is in her final semester in her master of public health degree at Johns Hopkins University. She had been hoping to work for a year before applying to American medical schools.

“Now I don’t know if I will even have a future in the U.S.,” she said. “I’m thinking about whether it’s even worth it to stay here and continue my education, or is it better to come to a country that actually wants me?”

Her new plan, she said, is to apply for jobs and to medical schools north of the border, ideally in Vancouver, where her parents live. The only problem is that Canada doesn’t have as many opportunities for the research that she wants to do, she said.

But she said she hopes Canada becomes a research hub now that the U.S. has shut its doors to so many scholarly minds.

“I think Canada should take advantage of the situation and attract some of these potential talents,” she said.

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McGill University’s law faculty has reached out to international students impacted by the order. The graduate law department announced earlier this week that it would indefinitely reopen its application period – which originally closed Dec. 15 – and help prospective students quickly get their documents before the admissions committee.

So far, the department has received 11 inquiries, with six continuing to the application stage, said associate dean Richard Gold.

“I think there’s a particular obligation on the legal community to uphold certain fundamental standards and to be suspicious of very vague laws,” he said.

The overall economic impact from foreign students, including their much-higher tuition fees, was estimated at $11.4 billion in 2014, according to a 2016 study prepared for the federal government.

However, Gold said McGill’s funding formula with the Quebec government meant it received roughly the same amount for foreign and domestic students.

Both UBC and the University of Toronto said while application deadlines have not been formally extended, they always consider late applications from qualified students.

Richard Levin, director of enrolment services at the University of Toronto, said the institution’s website has seen increased traffic from the affected countries, especially Iran, since the executive order was announced.

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