International students turning away from Canada: Survey - New Canadian Media
YouTube screen grab of Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, the target of an assassination plot allegedly orchestrated by an Indian government agent.

International students turning away from Canada: Survey

The U.S. criminal indictment sheds light on India’s alleged targeting of Sikhs in Canada, fuelling students' fears.

Ottawa’s diplomatic spat with New Delhi over the assassination of a Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C. is having a negative impact on the number of Indian international students wanting to come to Canada, a new survey suggests.

The survey of 1,000 international education agents in six countries also comes in the wake of an unsealed U.S. criminal indictment that details an alleged plot linking the Indian government to multiple assassinations in North America, including three in Canada.

Conducted through November 2023 by Academica and Worldwide Educonnect, the survey found “Canada’s brand position in India is weakening, which may be ominous given that many Canadian institutions are heavily reliant on this key sending market.”

The survey involved education agents in six countries: India, Nigeria, Ghana, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, according to the ICEF Monitor, a market intelligence resource for the international education industry.

Asked to what extent the deterioration in relations between India and Canada would affect their referrals to Canada this year, 61 per cent of the responding Indian agents said it would have a “slightly negative impact” and another 30 per dent anticipated a “significant negative impact.” 

Nearly four in ten (37 per cent) said they expected to see a moderate or significant impact for the January 2024 intake, and 30 per cent expected at least some negative impact for the September 2024 semester.

Academica president Rod Skinkle shared the survey results at the Canadian Bureau for International Education conference in Vancouver this week. He said more than a third of the Indian agents felt there had been a significant shift in students’ preference for Canada as a result of the current diplomatic crisis, with most reporting that student demand was shifting in favour of Australia and the United Kingdom.

According to Germany-based International Consultants for Education and Fairs, there are close to two million Indians in Canada, representing 80 per cent of Canada’s South Asian population, and close to 6 per cent of the total Canadian population. 

Indians are the top source of immigration for Canada, with 118,095 immigrating in 2022 alone. By contrast, the second largest source is Chinese students (31,815).

Many Indians in Canada are international students: There were 320,000 Indian students with active study permits at the end of December last year, up 47 per cent from 2021. Indian students accounted for nearly four out of every ten foreign students in Canada at the end of 2022.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau charged in September that India was behind the June 18 killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and a leader in the separatist Khalistan movement. India has rejected the accusation. 

The explosive allegations made in Parliament resulted in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats in both countries and has strained the relationship between Canada and India.  

No charges have yet been laid in the Nijjar killing.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department said it has charged Nikhil Gupta, 52, an Indian national, in relation to a plot to assassinate a New York City-based lawyer who advocated for a Sikh sovereign state in northern India. Gupta allegedly worked alongside an Indian agent in the plot to target Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an immigration attorney wanted in India for advocating the formation of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan. 

The unnamed Indian government agency employee was described in the U.S. indictment as a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence.” He allegedly directed the assassination plot from India. He was to be paid $100,000 for the killing.

Gupta, allegedly involved in international drug and weapons trafficking, was arrested on June 30 in the Czech Republic and is being extradited to the U.S. 

According to the indictment, Gupta told an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent, the day after Nijjar’s murder, that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets.”


Pannun, the assassination target, is the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, which is outlawed in India for its “support for extremist and secessionist activities.”

Said James Smith, FBI Assistant Director in Charge: “Murder for hire is a crime out of a movie, but the plot in this case was all too real. The excellent teamwork of the law enforcement partners in this case exposed this brazen conspiracy and is why Nikhil Gupta finds himself in jail waiting to answer to these charges.”

Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that the news coming out of the U.S. “underscores what we’ve been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously.

“The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we’re getting to the bottom of this. This is not something that anyone can take lightly.”

India said it has set up a high-level inquiry into all aspects of the matter, following Gupta’s arrest.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) said the unsealed U.S. indictment contains many explosive revelations about the operations of the Government of India in the U.S. and reveals connections to India’s operations in Canada and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. 

“The Government of India is using criminal elements to target Sikhs in Canada and the U.S. and providing them with directions, logistics and money,” said WSO President Danish Singh in a statement.

While Nikhil Gupta has been arrested, the full extent of the network that worked with him, including those in India, remains to be revealed. It is clear that this network has ties to the Nijjar case. We call on Canadian authorities and law enforcement to bring those responsible for Nijjar’s assassination to justice as soon as possible and to clearly identify those involved in the plot in India and elsewhere.”

The Indian government responded to the U.S. allegations that an Indian agent attempted to assassinate a Sikh separatist on U.S. soil, stating that such a crime would be “contrary to government policy.”

Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs said: “The nexus between organized crime, trafficking, gun running, and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for the law enforcement agencies and organizations to consider, and it is for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will be guided by its results.”

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A multiple-award winning journalist, Fabian Dawson is an internationally acclaimed author, filmmaker and media expert. His work over the last four decades spans the globe and he also serves as a consultant/strategic advisor to a variety of international companies. As deputy editor-in-chief of The Province, part of the Postmedia chain, Dawson led initiatives within a special publications group to provide directed content for a variety of organisations. He was named the 2019 recipient of the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at Jack Webster Awards. Dawson has been invited by the governments of India, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and the United States to act as a media observer/advisor on a variety of Asian-Canada issues. Dawson, now operates FD Media, which specializes in harnessing editorial assets to revenue generating opportunities.

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