MONTREAL — Saudi students in Canadian universities have been given four weeks to pack their bags and leave the country, two senior university officials said Tuesday.
Universities across the country were scrambling to get information after Saudi Arabia suspended scholarships to Canada and planned to relocate its students already here.
University of Toronto vice-provost Joseph Wong said Saudi students have received notification telling them they have a month to finish their studies and leave Canada.
"I understand this is what is being circulated to students," Wong told The Canadian Press. "I'm hearing from other universities in Canada that their students have been (receiving notices).
"I have never heard of anything like this before."
Media reports suggested Saudi Arabia would cancel scholarships for more than 15,000 students currently attending school in Canada.
Wong pointed out that Universities Canada, a consortium of the country's universities and colleges, has expressed its concerns to Ottawa about the future of Saudi students.
His university has 77 undergraduate and graduate students from Saudi Arabia, both new and returning, for the 2018-2019 school year.
It also has 216 medical residents and fellows from Saudi Arabia who are being trained in hospitals affiliated with the university under a long-standing program.
In Saskatchewan, another university official also mentioned the four-week deadline that more than 150 Saudi students at the University of Regina are facing.
"The students have been asked by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to continue their studies if they are currently registered in the spring and summer session, but to deregister or cancel their registration for the fall of 2018 and to leave Canada within four weeks of the departure of the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh," said Livia Castellanos, the university's associate vice-president (international).
Castellanos has worked in Canadian universities for 20 years and also said she "has never seen something like this."
"I'm very surprised that this decision has been made so quickly, especially because many of them have not concluded their studies," she said. "They will not be travelling home with a degree, or with a master's degree or a PhD."
Castellanos said the university found out from students who are being sponsored by their families that they also are being asked to leave Canada.
"I think the students are in shock right now. . .they haven't really understood what will happen and what their next steps are," she added.
Montreal's McGill University said it is actively working with its partners to gather information and assess the impact of the move on institutions and individual students alike.
It said it had 327 students from Saudi Arabia during the 2017-2018 academic year.
The University of British Columbia said its president, Santa J. Ono, was also working to clarify the situation and determine how many current and incoming UBC students might be affected.
"We will provide those students with appropriate support as needed," he stated in an email.
York University, meanwhile, said 115 Saudi students are currently enrolled at the Toronto university and that it is also awaiting further information.
It added that the university's immediate focus will be to support its students, adding it will be reaching out to them over the next few days.
Also on Tuesday, the gulf between Ottawa and Saudi Arabia widened to encompass travel as the Middle Eastern country's state airline announced it was suspending operations in Canada.
A tweet from Saudia announced its routes operating between the two countries would cease to function in a matter of days, marking the latest escalation in the spat that erupted over the weekend.
"All Saudia flights from/to Toronto, Canada will be suspended starting from 13 Aug 2018," the airline wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.
Castellanos said that would make it even more difficult for the students to leave.
"I think it's going to be difficult for everybody who is either vacationing, studying, leaving or commuting from Canada to Saudi Arabia," she added.
The airline currently operates at least two routes flying out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport — one to the Saudi capital city of Riyadh, the other to the city of Jeddah.
Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect name for the state airline