Visa Refusals for Researchers a Threat to Canada’s AI Industry

Roughly half of the researchers invited to a prestigious Montreal artificial intelligence (AI) conference will not attend due to denied or unprocessed visas, pointing to an uncertain future for AI and tech development in Canada. Future AI conferences may bypass Canada because of visa issues, raising doubts over the government’s goal of establishing Canada as leading destination in the tech industry.  

The conference, Black in AI, is taking place on December 7th, 2018, as part of the annual Neural Information Processing Systems Conference (NeurIPS). Black in AI is open to the entire AI community and will include presentations by distinguished researchers as well as networking opportunities aimed at increasing the participation of Black researchers in the field. Invitations were issued to 230 academics, many from Africa or of African descent. Of these, an estimated 55% were denied visas to Canada.

Graduate and PhD students at universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and MIT, found their Canadian visas rejected for reasons including concern that they “would not leave Canada”. University professors and directors of university programs were told their “jobs are not stable” enough to enter Canada. Some were accused of holding fake invitations to the conference.


Jeff Dean, the chief of AI at Google, summed up the absurdity of these assertions, tweeting at Prime Minister Trudeau: “It seems pretty unlikely that a graduate student in machine learning studying in the U.S.  won’t go back to the U.S. after attending @NipsConference for a week in Montreal”.

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