Halifax Saudi student ordered to leave Canada by the end of August

A Saudi university student in Halifax has received an official letter to leave Canada by Aug. 31, saying that he's upset to leave his friends and the program he worked so hard to get into.

'We never thought that this would actually escalate that far,' said the student

Roughly 835 Saudi Arabian students were registered in Nova Scotian universities last winter, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's website. Their government has told them to leave Canada.

A Saudi university student living in Halifax says he's devastated his country has ordered him to leave the city he loves and abandon his friends and the degree he's been pursuing.

He's one of 835 Saudi students enrolled in Nova Scotia's post-secondary institutions — and among 8,300 in Canada —who have been told to withdraw from their studies by the government and leave following a foreign policy spat between Ottawa and Riyadh.

The young man studying in Halifax has until Aug. 31 to leave, according to a letter he received from the Saudi Arabian government.

"I have a lot of mixed feelings; I'm a bit stressed and confused," said the student whose identity CBC agreed to withhold at his request. Given the geopolitical climate in Saudi Arabia, the student believes he could lose his scholarship or face other repercussions for speaking to the media.

Preparing to leave

The official letter he received states in Arabic that "all students or trainees on funded scholarships must leave Canada by the end of this month."

The letter also urged students to buy a plane ticket as soon as possible.

"We never thought that this would actually escalate that far," the Halifax student said. But it's become more real, he said, since receiving the letter. He said he's still getting information from the embassy about the logistics of transferring to a new school.

He's been told by the embassy to make a decision about which country he would like to move to in order to finish his degree. The student said he's been told to provide the embassy with his university transcripts so that a report can be prepared about his academic accomplishments while in Canada.

"It took me a lot of effort and time to get to this point so it is unfortunate to leave everything behind," he said. "I hope it won't all be for nothing once I transfer."

The impact of losing Saudi students

Saudi Arabians make up the second largest source for international students in Atlantic Canada.

"These students bring a lot of value to our campuses," said Peter Halpin, executive director for the Association of Atlantic Universities. "It's not just financial — it's cultural and the impact they've had on the internationalization of our campuses and communities."

But Nova Scotia can expect to feel a financial blow from the exodus. Nova Scotia universities are an industry — and they're the third largest export revenue-generating sector in the province, according to Halpin.  

"Most of that money is driven by our ability in attracting international students," he said.

'It's a real shame'

While the effect would be significant if Saudi Arabian students are withdrawn, Halpin says it's important not to overreact at this stage.

"I know that our colleagues at Universities Canada are doing a deeper analysis of the implications and I know that they are in conversation with our federal government," he said.

Students are still hoping that relations can be repaired.

The Saudi student had made friends from all over the world, saying that he has "built" his life here.

"It's a real shame that I have to leave now and I don't know if I'm going to see my friends again in the future, but I'll definitely stay in touch with them."

About the Author

Aya Al-Hakim

Reporter

Aya Al-Hakim is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at aya.al-hakim@cbc.ca.