TORONTO—A South Sudanese student accused of passing himself off as a teenager so he could attend high school on a basketball scholarship likely will face a hearing on whether he should be kicked out of Canada, immigration officials said yesterday.
For the time being, however, Jonathan Nicola will remain behind bars after an immigration official ruled he cannot be trusted.
“I am not a liar person,” Nicola recently told an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing via videoconference.
“I did not come here to harm any people or do something bad.”
Nicola arrived in Canada on Nov. 23, 2015 and was issued a study permit to attend Catholic Central Secondary School in Windsor, Ont., which had offered him an athletic scholarship, according to board documents.
Both his passport and study-permit application state his date of birth as Nov. 25, 1998, meaning he would be 17 years old.
However, the fiction unravelled after he applied in December for an American visa so he could travel to the States to play basketball with his high school team, government lawyer Kelly Cutting told the April 19 detention review.
Information from U.S. authorities showed Nicola had applied unsuccessfully for refugee status in 2007 and had given his date of birth as Nov. 1, 1986, which would now make him 29 years old, not 17.
He also had applied for a U.S. student visa last April, where he hoped to go to become a student on a full scholarship and gave his date of birth as 1998, Cutting added.
After an interview at the Toronto consulate in January, U.S. authorities turned him down on the grounds he had lied about his age and that he was, in fact, trying to immigrate to the U.S. rather than visit.
Canada Border Services Agency officials arrested him quietly in the principal’s office at the end of the school day on April 15.
According to Cutting, agents asked him how old he was.
“Mr. Nicola stated he honestly does not know how old he is,” Cutting said.
“He admitted that he is older than 17 but that he does not really know.”
While some people born in undeveloped countries may not know their exact birth date, Cutting conceded, Nicola and his siblings were born in Saudi Arabia, where his father still works as a mechanical engineer and his mother lives, as well.
“As such, it is difficult to believe that they would not have more knowledge with respect to his actual date of birth,” Cutting said.
“It is also believed that Mr. Nicola would also know his date of birth.”