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 is on pace to administer more than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, according to the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
One million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Alberta

Alberta hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 this week. As… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Interior work will start this year on Red Deer hospital project, says infrastructure minister

‘We are committed. This is a top priority,’ says Presad Panda

Even with recent restrictions due to rising COVID-19 variant case levels, about 95 per cent of businesses are open in Alberta, said Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Consistent pandemic policy has helped Alberta, premier says

Alberta fatality rate lower than Canadian average

Richie Laryea of Toronto FC, left, and Jean Meneses of Mexico's Leon battle for the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Leon, Mexico, in Leon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Toronto FC hosts Club Leon in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie holding a valuable away goal after a 1-1 draw last week in Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mario Armas
Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Winnipeg Jets' Dylan DeMelo (2) skates the puck around Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot (72) as he holds off Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarrell Brantley (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rick Bowmer
Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past banners for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Summer Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh speaks during a news conference in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter
‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

Most Read