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Immigration Minister Sean Fraser during in an interview in his office in Ottawa on Nov. 25. Twenty-seven professors, scholars, academics, researchers and graduate students from universities across Canada signed a letter sent to Mr. Fraser this week, urging him to probe the declining number of Nigerian study permit approvals.Justin Tang/The Globe and Mail

A group of academics of Nigerian descent are calling on the Immigration Minister to investigate the declining number of study permit approvals for applicants from Nigeria, arguing that the English proficiency test is discriminatory and that racism within the department is affecting applications.

Twenty-seven professors, scholars, academics, researchers and graduate students from universities across Canada signed a letter sent to Sean Fraser this week, pointing out that English is the primary language of instruction at all levels of formal education in Nigeria and that institutions of higher education in Canada exempt applicants from Nigeria from English-language tests. Meanwhile, they wrote, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) requires applicants to take an expensive test to expedite their applications.

The letter says Canadian university admission committees are better positioned to assess an applicant’s language proficiency, so when that determination is made, the visa office should not require the test, even to expedite the application. It also points out that the English test is no way necessary to expedite the processing of study permits.

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“In fact, we believe that the requirement exudes stereotype and racism to the extent that it makes Nigerian study permit applicants feel that their English language skills, which they have acquired during their education in Nigeria, are inferior,” the letter says.

The letter references a report, the “IRCC Anti-Racism Employee Focus Groups,” that specifically mentions the stereotyping of Nigerians. The report says that inside IRCC there are “widespread internal references to certain African nations as ‘the dirty 30’” and to “Nigerians as particularly corrupt or untrustworthy.”

Jeffrey MacDonald, an IRCC spokesperson, said language testing is generally not a requirement for a study permit, but some visa offices may require them, even from applicants from English-speaking countries. He said Nigeria has not been singled out.

Mr. MacDonald said there is zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind at IRCC. “True and lasting change begins with acknowledging the difficult reality that racism exists all around us, including in the public service. We have an obligation to our employees, and to all Canadians, to do better – and we will,” he said.

“We welcome the feedback from the professors and thank them for their insights.”

Gideon Christian, the president of the African Scholars Initiative, an assistant law professor at the University of Calgary and a signatory to the letter, said the English proficiency test is a significant financial barrier and has racist implications because it sends the message that Nigerian students’ English is inferior.

“The Nigerian community, here in Canada and in Nigeria, have always had that strong belief the IRCC treatment of the application is biased, racist and discriminatory – this is kind of the feeling you have based on experience,” he said, adding that it was corroborated by the IRCC report.

Prof. Christian said most of the 27 signatories are university professors who came to Canada as international students.

“I definitely do not consider these individuals dirty,” he said. “They’re coming here, working hard. They contribute to the Canadian economy.

“They used that term because the colour of my skin is not as light as theirs. I think that is abhorrent and that is really something the Immigration Minister should look into.”

The letter concludes by requesting a meeting with Mr. Fraser.

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