“They are basically kicking me out for being sick,” says international student
“I fell in love with Concordia,” Hani Hallal said. “I fell in love with Montreal. I was really happy to be studying at Concordia.” He had begun studying engineering at the university in September 2014, before switching to marketing the following semester.
In June 2017, Hallal became seriously ill while visiting his uncle in Windsor, Ontario. He immediately flew to Lebanon to see a doctor and to see his family for support. Two months after he started treatment, he flew back to Montreal for further treatment.
Three doctors — one in Lebanon and two in Montreal — advised him to take a break from university for a semester due to the severity of his condition. Hallal’s Montreal doctor advised him to stay with his parents in Windsor, where they had recently moved. His condition did not improve after one semester and he was forced to take a full year off of school.
After making a full recovery by May 2018, Hallal returned to Concordia for a summer course and began his Certificate of Acceptance to Quebec (CAQ) renewal process. “I started the renewal process very early because I heard other students had troubles with it,” he said.
On June 5, Hallal received a letter of intention for refusal on four counts: Insufficient proof that he was able to pay for tuition and accommodations, abandoning certain courses without officially discontinuing them, failure to provide additional proof of his condition and its hindrance of his studies, and failure to have insurance while he was ill.
After consulting an advisor at the ISO, Hallal wrote four letters and had medical documents signed and dated by his doctors. The letters needed to explain why his studies were not his priority during his year off, how his family would support him financially, and the importance of continuing his studies. He also needed a letter from his parents and himself expressing the importance of his education.
On July 6, Hallal received an official denial statement from Immigration Quebec. The denial stated that studying should have been his priority, despite his illness, and that he should have had medical insurance for the year he was away from school. However, he says he was under his parents’ medical insurance plan in Ontario during this time.
“It’s very frustrating because I hadn’t failed a single course, I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Hallal told The Concordian. “I did not leave university for no valid reason. I was a full-time student the entire time.”
“Either they’re not happy that I was sick, [or] they’re not happy I was not studying because I was sick,” Hallal said. “I didn’t understand. That’s the thing that really stressed me out. They are basically kicking me out for being sick. That’s how I personally feel. That’s my take on all of this.”
Hallal spoke to an advisor at the International Students Office (ISO) but he found them unhelpful. “I don’t know if he didn’t want to help me or didn’t know how to help me,” Hallal said. He then contacted every advisor at the ISO and Immigration Quebec. The advisors told him that if he had stayed in Lebanon for his medical treatment, there wouldn’t have been an issue with the renewal.
Immigration Quebec did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“I have nothing but love for Concordia. It was the best experience that happened to me. I wish to continue studying there,” Hallal told The Concordian.
Hallal said that now he has no choice but to study elsewhere. He is currently visiting universities in Ottawa to see if they can admit him to either the fall or winter term. So far, none of them have the marketing program he wants. He could potentially re-apply for the CAQ, but he would need to leave the country for six months in order to do so. He is unable to return to Lebanon due to bomb threats and political conflicts.
Hallal said he still hasn’t given up. He has contacted the CSU’s legal clinic, Immigration Canada and an immigration office in Ottawa; none were able to help him. “I have exhausted every single option I have been suggested,” he said.
Initially, Hallal did not want to make his story public. “If it is the way to get my education back, then I have no choice really,” he said. “I don’t want to say to myself that I don’t want to make it public and then regret it a few years later.”
Graphic by Wednesday Laplante.