As Liberia passed more than one month having been declared free of Ebola transmission by the World Health Organization (WHO), journalist Gboko J. Stewart was confident that the Canadian Embassy in Accra, Ghana would finally see reason to grant him a visa to be able to enroll at Quest University this September.
His first attempt at a Canadian visa was made earlier this year when he contacted the embassy to inquire as to whether he could go to Accra to submit his visa application. It was then that he was initially informed that due to the Ebola outbreak, Canada had a freeze on visa applications from all Ebola-affected countries, including Liberia.
By then, Liberia had been recording a steady decline in the number of new Ebola infections, well on its way to becoming the first member of the 3 affected Mano River Union countries to be declared Ebola-free by the WHO.
The May 9 declaration by WHO that Liberia was finally Ebola-free prompted the Canadian government to lift the restriction on visa applicants from Liberia, only days later. However, No sooner was the restriction lifted that Stewart’s application was denied on June 25.
Stewart says he stayed in Accra for about a month during the visa application process.
“I’m just so disappointed they have all these hurdles to keep someone at bay so their dreams can’t be pursued,” Stewart told the Squamish Chief, a Canadian newspaper, in an interview from his home in Liberia. “I’m not giving up, but there’s nothing more I can do – maybe some things are just not meant to be.”
According to Stewart, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) claimed he was a risk of not returning to his home country.
“I’ve been to Europe and back on time with no intention on staying there,” he said. “The same would have applied to Canada.”
Stewart said he “found it incredulous that they arrived at that decision, including travel history, because I was never granted an interview.”
Gboko John Stewart was accepted to enroll at Quest in the fall semester of 2014, with a scholarship to study liberal arts and science. The scholarship is renewable every year upon reapplication and good grades. Quest has stood with Stewart throughout his ordeal with a promise to keep his acceptance (and scholarship) at the university open, should the Canadian government finally decide grant him the visa.
“Gboko displayed tremendous perseverance throughout the visa ban on Ebola-affected countries, but the study permit application process is ultimately a matter between the applicant and Citizenship and Immigration Canada in which universities cannot intervene,” said Quest University’s Bradley Klees, senior admissions counselor, who added that Stewart’s acceptance at the university will be honored if the visa is eventually granted.
“It is up to the applicant to satisfy the visa officer that they are coming to Canada on a temporary basis and that they are admissible. Visa applications are considered on a case-by-case basis on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case,” read the statement from Nancy Caron, CIC spokesperson, who said the total number of Liberians granted visas since May is not available to the public.