Canada is closely examining measures to safeguard its international student population from financial and labour exploitation.
Table of Contents
Misleading Guidance in Indian Education Consultants
In India, education consultants failed to inform Maninderjeet Kaur, a student heading to Canada, about the exact location of the college she had enrolled in. After an exhaustive Uber journey costing her 800 Canadian dollars and lasting eight hours, she found herself in Timmins, Ontario—a place she had never heard of before. However, as Norimitsu Onishi shared, obtaining a degree in this distant city might be a unique experience. Northern College in Timmins has 82% international students, with many hailing from India.
Attractiveness of Canadian Institutions
According to census data, Canadian institutions have always found it appealing to recruit foreign students willing to pay nearly five times more tuition fees than their local counterparts. This has also become crucial for the federal government, aiming to attract 1.45 million immigrants between 2023 and 2025. In a bid to alleviate the national labor shortage, Canada signaled a deviation from many Western governments imposing restrictions on immigration.
Concerns Over Foreign Student Exploitation
The rising number of foreign students in Canada has heightened concerns about adequately hosting university and college communities without exploiting their labor and finances. Minister Mark Miller recently announced several measures benefiting these students. For the first time since the 2000s, the government increased the savings threshold for obtaining a study permit by nearly 10,000 Canadian dollars, effective until at least April. They also reintroduced a policy allowing international students to work more than 20 hours per week.
Ensuring Adequate Support for Foreign Students
Without providing specifics, Miller’s ministry stated they are also focusing on ensuring that colleges and universities, which are provincially regulated, only admit as many students as they can assist in finding accommodation. Miller emphasized that by September 2024, they aim to ensure that designated educational institutions provide adequate support, including significantly restricting visas. He criticized some institutions for operating “diploma mills” that have left international students vulnerable to external challenges and regional government interventions. He concluded, “Enough is enough. If provinces and territories can’t step up, we will, and they won’t like the tools we have at our disposal.”
Surge in International Students in Canada
The number of international students in Canada has skyrocketed in the past three years, with a 60% increase in study permits issued by the Immigration Ministry. In 2023 alone, over ten lakh new study permit applications and extensions were processed, setting a record that surpassed 838,000 in 2022 and 560,000 in 2021. While there is no strict limit on study permits, they adhere to an annual quota for permanent residency. In 2022, Canada welcomed approximately 432,000 permanent residents, of which 95,000 were former international students. A September 2023 report from four Canadian senators urged the government to address “program integrity issues,” suggesting a growing belief that obtaining a Canadian degree is a direct pathway to citizenship.
Challenges for Immigrant Workers in Toronto
“This is not a pathway; it’s a minefield,” said Syed Hassan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a prominent organization in Toronto. He described the changes as minor “tweaks” to a system that perhaps needs a complete overhaul. Hassan highlighted ongoing challenges, including high tuition fees, difficulties in obtaining permanent resident status, and issues of exploitation by employers and landlords.
Navigating Immigration Policies
Anna Trayandafilidis, a migration researcher and professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, argued that imposing strict limits on student permits isn’t a solution. However, she emphasized that the government needs to better regulate immigrant flows to ensure that staying doesn’t foster “cutthroat” competition. “Otherwise, you create a significant barrier where you’re admitting 600,000 international students, but they have to compete with the remaining 450,000 for permanent residency permits,” she said.
Two-Step Integration Process
Professor Trayandafilidis informed me that spending some time in the country before becoming a permanent resident is becoming increasingly common, a process known as two-step integration, which is often viewed as a barrier in Canada. Canada needs to recognize that it has “a two-step system and just make sure it works correctly,” she said.