Canada is limiting the number of international student permits to approximately 360,000 in 2024, saying the move is to stabilize population growth and better ensure the integrity of the international student system.
The government says the cap will be implemented for two years; it will mark a decrease of 35% in international student permits issued and that number will be revisited before 2025.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Marc Miller announced the changes on Monday, roughly a month after announcing new financial requirements for any student coming to Canada for post-secondary school.
The permits will be distributed based on population, and the minister noted that Ontario could see close to 50% fewer visas issued.
The decision cited reasons such as the influx of international students causing added strain on already struggling services like housing and health care.
But Miller stated that the changes are ultimately being made to protect international students, and to ensure they’re receiving the services that they need and the quality of education that they expect.
“We have an obligation to ensure that they have access to the resources they need for an enriching academic experience,” Miller said.
“In Canada, today, this isn’t always the case. Today, we are announcing additional measures to protect a system that has become so lucrative that it has opened a path for its abuse.”
Many institutions in Canada, especially colleges, have become increasingly reliant on international student fees – with administrators further emphasizing their importance in the face of a continued tuition freeze in Ontario.
In 2022, international students made up nearly 50% of St. Lawrence College’s total enrolment, and in the face of massive cuts at Queen’s the university has pointed to targeting more international student enrolment as a way to help address a projected budget deficit.
Jaspreet Singh, vice president of the World Sikh Organization in Ontario, said that some of the changes are encouraging for the future education and prosperity of international students, but he feels when it comes to the housing crisis they are being used as a scapegoat.
“These were much needed, but on the other hand, the way the whole situation has been projected as some sort of solution to housing crisis, I think that’s just like using students as a scapegoat,” Singh said.
“If we’re talking about the basic integrity of the system, and then saving the students from the exploitation that was happening because of the cracks in the system, these are actually good steps.”
Singh said most of the students coming to Canada are struggling to pay their rent, let alone outbid other Canadians on houses in the market, and if anyone is looking at this as a solution to the housing crisis they’ll be disappointed.
Queen’s University, in a statement, said they’re concerned by the announcement, saying international students are integral to campus life and the much needed endeavour of increasing enrolment, but in general, universities are likely to feel much less of an impact by the changes than their college counterparts.
St. Lawrence College disappointed
St. Lawrence’s president Glenn Vollebregt said he’s disappointed and that the move lacks foresight.
“Quite honestly, it feels that the proposed reforms are very short-sighted,” Vollebregt said.
“Canada is a world leader in education and this is going to affect our reputation.”
In addition to the cap on permits, students who attend private colleges with curriculum licenses will no longer be eligible for post-graduation work permits, and with few if any domestic students attending these institutions, they could be rendered obsolete.
That means losing roughly 3500 international students Vollebregt says are at SLC’s affiliate Alpha College.
Miller previously referred to these private colleges as “the diploma equivalent of puppy mills”, and Vollebregt said it’s a shame that places like Alpha are being grouped in to that characterization.
“It’s very unfortunate that private colleges that have partnerships with 15 public colleges are being lumped into the same private college comments that were made by the minister,” Vollebregt said.
“Every student at Alpha is like a student at one of our Brockville, Cornwall, or Kingston campuses with the same access to quality programming and services that are provided… I’m concerned for our international students from all over the world.”
Alpha was involved an enrolment controversy in 2022 that Vollebregt says was a one off that was resolved in 48 hours and generally blown out of proportion.
He says that the key performance indicators at Alpha are no different than any SLC campus, but Singh said that most students he’s spoken to that attend colleges like Alpha end up working in a completely different field than what they studied in.
He says international students are often easier to lure to lower quality colleges.
“Majority of students graduating from these courses, they ended up working in some different field, but just not a field they are studying in,” Singh said.
“The thing is, the very reason why local Canadian students don’t go into these institutions or go there in very, very less numbers is just because of the quality of education. I mean, not just the quality, but the relevancy of the education.”
Singh says the struggle of finding a job in a person’s field isn’t unique to students at private colleges, many university and college student experience the same thing, but he says it’s almost impossible for people who go to private institutions.
He says many students are sold on the benefits of a school like St. Lawrence before arriving and realizing they’re actually going to an affiliate.
“Still in India, they don’t know even if they’re going into Alpha, they don’t know what Alpha is, they will still be looking at St. Lawrence,” Singh said.
“But when they come here, they figured out that their college is a two room college in a shopping plaza.”
Singh says the reactions are mixed from students, or prospective students, on the changes.
For those who are in the country, he says there is a general consensus that these are welcome steps, but he said for someone who has already paid their fees for a school in Canada or is looking at schooling in Canada as an option this is disturbing news.
He says for the latter, however, that he doesn’t think they really know the reality of what they would be encountering in Canada.
Singh says without forcing their hand, he doesn’t think post-secondary institutions would change the way they deal with international students, and exploitation would continue.
He says the consequences are being felt now due to years of ignoring the issues at hand.
“From a former student perspective, I didn’t see any change happening,” Singh said.
“Their whole survival depends upon international student population. But it was also up to them to make sure that students are getting what they are paying for in return for quality of education.”
Singh says he’s glad to see actual action being taken.
“I always felt like there’s a blame game. If you talk to federal, they will say, oh, this is a provincial issue, if you talk to province, they will be like, the city can do something more,” Singh said.
“And I think this is good to see that finally someone is taking strong action towards the solution.”