Canada's goal to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve immigration efficiency and be viewed as a desirable technology hub for foreign workers hit a very public roadblock this week when several international experts on AI who planned to attend a conference in Canada were denied visas due to a backlog.
Prominent international scientists and AI researchers who wanted to attend the NeurIPS conference in Montreal on December 2, 2018, did not have the visas processed on time or were denied visas. As reported by The Star, most of those whose temporary visas had been denied or not yet process were African researchers and Easter Europeans, living in multiple countries.
The visa issues were widely reported on social media by both researchers who were unable to obtain visas, and by Canadian AI experts and conference organizers who were frustrated that as many as 55% of the 230 academics scheduled to attend had their visa either denied or not processed in time. Twitter had many posts on Canada's visa issues, with one computer scientist appealing directly to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian government was able to expedite and approve some of the visas, but not in time for all of the researchers to make new travel plans to Montreal in time for the conference.
Organizers reported that research organizations Black in AI and SOCML have l0st participants due to visa issues, and Canada may lose future conferences.
Calgary immigration lawyer Evelyn Ackah has been a vocal advocate for the Canadian government to streamline the visa bureaucratic maze while maintaining immigration standards, and says we need to closely monitor the government's AI immigration pilot program:
Canada enjoys the benefits of a world-class tech community, many of them foreign workers and highly skilled and educated technology ex[erts who moved to Canada. I have seen life-altering application mistakes happen time and again, and it's time to change the bureaucratic maze. Plus, new research says the use of AI - artificial intelligence - may in fact discriminate against immigrants.
The Montreal Gazette reports that conference organizers fear that the visa issues experienced by these prominent researchers and scientists may push AI conferences to avoid Canada.