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India-Canada tensions raise concerns for Indian students

NEW DELHI: Diplomatic tensions between New Delhi and Ottawa threaten the future prospects of Indian students aspiring to pursue higher education in Canada.

The government of India issued a statement warning Indian students in Canada about “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence.”

The statement urged students and other Indian nationals to exercise caution but did not recommend against travel to Canada entirely. However, it warned students of a “deteriorating security environment” and advised against visiting regions or venues targeted by those with what it called an “anti-India agenda.”

There is some concern that the Indian government could continue to stir fears about conditions in Canada, which might diminish demand for Canadian higher education.

India issued a similar warning for students in Canada last year, however, and it had little, if any, impact. At the time Canadian police services could not point to any rise in anti-Indian violence.

Students from India make up about 40 percent of the more than 800,000 international students in Canada, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

They are by far the largest single group at Canadian schools, followed by China at about 12 percent and the Philippines at 4 percent. At least six Ontario colleges have more students from India than from Canada.

India is the largest source of international students in Canada, their numbers jumping 47% last year to 320,000. International student tuition, which is several times higher than for Canadian students, has become essential to the finances of many postsecondary schools.

In the Indian state of Punjab, some Sikhs fear both a backlash from India’s Hindu-nationalist government and a threat to their prospects for a better life in North America.

Sikhs make up just 2% of India’s 1.4 billion people but they are a majority in Punjab, a state of 30 million where their religion was born 500 years ago. Outside of Punjab, the greatest number of Sikhs live in Canada, the site of many protests that have irked India

Jaspreet Singh, founder of the International Sikh Students Association, said he doesn’t think the political tensions will affect Sikh international students in Canada.

He said India is unlikely to shut off a migration path that offers an opportunity to young people who might otherwise have difficulty finding work or a spot in a university. “If they tried to do something like this, there would be a huge backlash,” he said.

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