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Canada: homestay shortage hitting enrolments

A shortage of host families in Canada has forced some international education programs to put out a “no vacancy” sign and stop accepting new students who need homestay.

One homestay provider has doubled its referral fee for existing hosts who recruit hosts in some areas of Ontario. Photo: pexels

Some overseas agents are reporting that they could not send students to Canada because there was no housing available

“About a quarter of our member programs are now full for students who require homestay for September for the start of the fall term,” said Bonnie McKie, executive director with the Canadian Association of Public Schools – International. CAPS-I represents 128 international education programs in public school districts across Canada.

Some K-12 programs hit capacity in February for the fall. “They seem to be simply closing registration for September and continuing to work behind the scenes to attract new interest in hosting in their respective communities to increase their capacity in the future,” McKie explained.

Host shortages extend beyond the K-12 sector. The Canada Homestay Network, the nation’s largest homestay agency, recently doubled the referral fee it pays to existing hosts who recruit a friend or relative to host in Kingston, Ontario. CHN has been providing a $100 bonus as it looks for hosts for groups of Japanese young adults arriving in July.

Samuel Vetrak of the market research company BONARD told the Languages Canada conference last month that language programs were also being hit by the dearth of hosts. Some overseas agents are reporting that they could not send students to Canada because there was no housing available.

The shortage is driving up the fees that programs must pay to hosts, with BONARD indicating that they are around 8% higher than last year. Concerns were also raised earlier this year around inflation pushing prices up.

“Agents are reporting that some groups have had to cancel or postpone their trips to Canada due to a lack of hosts,” said Ivana Slobodnikova, head of International Education at BONARD.

While she said that BONARD did not have data on the shortage, agents and Canadian international education programs are reporting that there is a problem. Slobodnikova said there were three main causes.

“It’s going to be challenging for Canadian programs in 2022”

Firstly, many hosts had to convert a student bedroom into a home office for remote work during the pandemic.

Older hosts may have become ill with Covid, leaving them unable to take students. Those with underlying health conditions are reluctant to take the risk of hosting. And finally, hosts don’t want to wade into the controversy about vaccinations and masking, although she indicated that these fears are easing this year.

It’s left international education programs struggling to find accommodations for incoming students. Some programs that serve adults have set up apartments and dorms, often working with property developers to erect new buildings or renovate existing ones. With K-12 students needing more supervision than young adults, it’s trickier to find appropriate alternatives to homestay.

“It’s going to be challenging for Canadian programs in 2022 and they will need to make greater efforts to find new hosts,” Slobodnikova added.

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