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Student moves from Jordan to N.B. for pilot program, then learns rules have changed

Omar Burqan's wife Razan and 3½-year-old son Awab joined him in Fredericton in the summer. (Submitted by Omar Burqan)

Omar Burqan's wife Razan and 3½-year-old son Awab joined him in Fredericton in the summer.

Photo: (Submitted by Omar Burqan)


'Rug was pulled out from under him,' says Green Leader David Coon

Omar Burqan moved his family more than 8,000 kilometres from Jordan to Fredericton based on a 2021 news release from the New Brunswick government about an immigration pilot program. 

The 29-year-old registered at an approved college for an approved program and began his studies in January at the Atlantic Business College. By the summer, his wife and 3½-year-old son joined him in Fredericton. 

But at the same time the family was reunited, the criteria for the pilot program changed and the Atlantic Business College was no longer included in the pilot. 

Burqan said he feels deceived. 

He said he would have never left Jordan if he had known the college wasn't still eligible. 

I came based on the first announcement, he said. The government should change this decision and turn it back to the original version.

I need these promises to be fulfilled.

The original announcement

In the original announcement of August 2021, the government said international students who graduate from one of four long-standing New Brunswick private career colleges, and who have studied in one of 19 identified occupations, will be able to apply to the Provincial Nominee Program, allowing them to work and live in the province while they wait for permanent residency.

Burqan saw that announcement in November 2021 while working as a teacher in Jordan.

He verified its authenticity and soon applied to Atlantic Business College, one of the four colleges specifically named in the release. Burqan was accepted into one of the 19 identified occupations listed by the program — educational assistant. 

The reason for choosing this major is that I have interests in education and have a plan to combine my original major in computer science with education science.

He waded through all of the red tape and provided all the documentation and proof that was required and was soon accepted into the program, which he began in January. 

In September, he was surprised to find out that the college was no longer included in the pilot program. 

He said he would have understood some changes to the criteria as the government tweaked the program, but it doesn't make sense for the New Brunswick government to change fundamental things like excluding some colleges. 

Burqan said the college has asked for the $7,400 he owes for tuition, but he said he would only pay if the college would follow through on the original promise for inclusion into the pilot program. 

I can't complete my tuition fees for nothing, he said. 

CBC News made several attempts by phone and email last week to speak with someone from Atlantic Business College, but no one was made available for an interview by publication time. 

The college is still advertising the pilot program on its website, touting, as one of the main benefits, the work permit, which will allow the students to work and live in the province while they wait for their permanent residency.

Government response

While the New Brunswick Immigration Department did confirm that Atlantic Business College was no longer included in the program, it did not explain why. 

In an emailed statement, David Kelly, a spokesperson for the department, wrote, It is important to note that the Atlantic Business College is still considered an accredited Designated Learning Institution, and therefore completion of studies will be recognized as a Canadian post-secondary diploma. Graduates of the institution may still be eligible for additional points toward their Permanent Residency applications.

He said there are other pathways for international students, including the Atlantic Immigration Program. 

Students with previous qualifying work experience and a job offer from an Atlantic Immigration Program designated employer may be eligible to apply when they complete their studies.

Kelly said changes to the pilot were made after talks with officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in the summer of 2022. 

The 2021 announcement, unfortunately, did not reflect the final, negotiated version of the pilot, wrote Kelly.

With a 3½-year-old and another child on the way, Burqan is worried about his ability to work while the government considers his application under other programs. Under the original announcement, applicants were allowed to work and live in the province while they wait for permanent residency.

My feeling after the second announcement of excluding the college is a feeling of great disappointment and even greater shock because I did not expect in any way that something like this would happen in Canada, said Burqan. 

The solution from my point of view is for the college and the government to fulfil their promises, or to compensate him for all his losses, including psychological. 

'Rug was pulled out'

Burqan reached out to Green Party Leader David Coon, who said he's asked questions about Burqan's situation and the program but hasn't received answers yet. 

I haven't been able to get to the bottom of it, Coon, when contacted by CBC News. 

The rug was pulled out from under him, there's no question about that. … The question is why, and we don't have an answer to that yet.

Second private college dropped

McKenzie College was also listed in the original announcement but dropped from the program a year later. 

Its president, Dale Ritchie, said McKenzie, which is predominantly an arts and design school, simply doesn't offer programs that would easily fit into the 19 identified occupations.

As a result, he doesn't believe any of his students were part of the pilot program, and he hasn't heard of anyone in the same position as Burqan. 

Ritchie said there are other programs available to international students, but he said they often vary drastically between public and private institutions. For example, an international student taking courses at a public college could stay and work after graduation, while a student taking a similar course at a private course would have to return home during the application process. 

Original announcement

When the announcement was made in August 2021, Arlene Dunn, the minister responsible for Opportunities New Brunswick, With the increased competition for skilled labour, the potential to transition international students into permanent residents is crucial.

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder said newcomers are key to the province's ability to address labour shortages.

By providing this additional immigration stream we are empowering more of our post-secondary institutions to develop the skilled workers that New Brunswick needs, he said.

The 19 targeted occupations for the pilot were listed as:

  • Social and community service workers
  • Early childhood educators and assistants
  • Educational assistants
  • Health-care aides
  • Home support workers
  • Licensed practical nurses
  • Paramedics and related occupations
  • Medical laboratory technologists
  • Medical laboratory technicians and pathologists' assistants
  • Medical administrative assistants
  • Computer programmers and interactive media developers
  • Web designers and developers
  • Computer network technicians
  • User support technicians
  • Accounting technicians and bookkeepers
  • Payroll clerks
  • Shippers and receivers
  • Supply chain and logistics supervisors
  • Production logistics co-ordinators

Mia Urquhart (new window) · CBC News