Canada denies numerous visas for AI conference attendees for second year

Canada has for a second year denied visas to numerous researchers hoping to attend an artificial intelligence conference in Vancouver, but has reversed some of those denials after coming under pressure to review them.

Black in AI, a group promoting black representation in the field, started to publicly raise concerns recently after about a third of researchers set to attend its Dec. 8 workshop at the NeurIPS conference were denied visas, a similar level to those denied for last year’s event in Montreal.

The group, along with other prominent AI researchers and conference organizers, put pressure on government officials to review those denials.

“To have to go through this again, and to basically do a protest online to get these researchers to Canada, is very frustrating,” said Victor Silva, one of the workshop chairs at Black in AI and a researcher at the University of Alberta.

He said it was crucial that AI development have a diversity of views to avoid biased learnings and skewed outcomes, and since NeurIPS is the largest AI conference in the world it was an important place for experts to share their research.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has now reversed 15 visa denials after further review, said Katherine Heller, an AI researcher and co-chair of diversity and inclusion at the NeurIPS conference.

Fifteen researchers, however, have had their denials upheld after further review, while 20 are still waiting for a response, and 86 researchers set to attend the Black in AI workshop have had their visas approved.

“Once we got a reasonable amount of government attention, they’ve been quite responsive. It took us a while to get that amount of attention,” said Heller.

She said it was important to have a wide variety of views represented, and that visa barriers could impact Canada’s ability to be a hub for these conferences in the future.

“I’m very worried in general that it influences Canada’s ability to host machine learning conferences or AI conferences going forward.”

Tejumade Afonja, an AI researcher from Nigeria, posted a visa denial letter to Twitter from the Canadian Embassy in Vienna saying it was not satisfied that she would leave Canada, marking the second year she was denied a visa to the conference. She said she wouldn’t try and appeal the denial.

“I do not have the time, nor energy nor money to waste on Canada anymore.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesman Remi Lariviere said the government has been working with conference organizers to facilitate the visa reviews but that all applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.

“We understand the disappointment of those whose visa applications were refused,” said Lariviere by email.

“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”

Silva said he’s still concerned about potential bias in the evaluation process, and would like to see more clarity from the government on the process, but welcomed the reviews of the denials.

“I’m happy that they’re interfering, but I expect more in the future.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced more than 1,500 active cases in Alberta Monday afternoon and five additional deaths. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New COVID rules coming

Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

(Black Press file photo.)
Rocky police charge three suspects after pellet gun shootings

Three incidents results in several injuries

Red Deer city council gave final approval to a mask bylaw that will go into effect on Nov. 30. (Black Press file photo).
Red Deer city council approves mask bylaw that takes effect on Nov. 30

It could be ‘superceded’ by a provincial mask bylaw, if one is announced Tuesday

Lynn Van Laar, chair of this year’s Christmas Wish Breakfast, said the event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) knocks a pass away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood, left, fights for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, N.J., on November 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Canada's head coach Dave Lowry during practice at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday, December 30, 2015. The Winnipeg Jets have hired Lowry as an assistant coach. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Felix Auger-Aliassime, of Canada, returns a shot to Dominic Thiem, of Austria, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships in New York on September 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Wenig
A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

Sacramento Kings' Alex Len (25) collects a rebound against Brooklyn Nets' Jarrett Allen (31) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ashley Landis
Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Canadian Joint Operations Commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau speaks during a news conference on the recent Canadian Forces helicopter crash, Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Ottawa. The Canadian Armed Forces is preparing to formally apologize to victims of sexual misconduct. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Alberta Liberal Party David Khan at a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 11, 2019. The Alberta Liberal Party says its leader, David Khan, is stepping down. A news release from the party on Sunday evening says Khan is accepting a new job in law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Most Read