Researchers Denied Canada Visa for AI Conference

Researchers Denied Canada Visa for AI Conference

Last week, a number of researchers seeking Canadian visas to attend an artificial intelligence conference which was held in Canada, could not get their visas in time. This incidence sparked questions from some executives who wanted to understand how the government intended to achieve its stated goal of coming into limelight and becoming the go-to-place for academics and world-leading tech companies, if it was going to keep denying the academia and researchers, visas.

The Canadian Government only issued visas to some researchers from Africa whose visas were being delayed after it got some heat from top artificial intelligence researchers and the media.

The last-minute visas were not good for a conference that started last week Sunday in Montreal. A Google AI researcher, Timnit Gebru, who also doubles as the CEO of Black, an AI firm, complained that her group had made efforts to book last-minute flights for the academics who got their visas late but that some of them had additional issues with connecting their flights through Europe.

The number of people affected by the visa problem is unknown but the story was circulated on social media by nothing less than a dozen researchers. According to Gebru’s estimate, there were approximately 230 academics that were to attend the conference and about 55% of them whose visas were either not processed in time for them to attend the conference or were denied visas outrightly.

Researchers from Africa were the most affected

Gebru confirmed that it was Africans — no matter where they lived — that were denied.

The co-founder of Advize, a startup in the tech industry Vancouver, Caleb Del Begin, took to Twitter to express his disappointment in the entire development. He disapproved the government’s actions saying that this was not the way Canada could attract world-class talents in AI.

In order to avoid future cases of visa denials in conferences like this, Yoshua Bengio, a prominent researcher who is into machine learning at the University of Montreal, revealed in a magazine interview recently, that another machine learning conference will be held in an African nation in 2020.

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