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Canada international student cap “challenge” for regions

A cap on the number of international students allowed into Canada would harm the country’s reputation and create a “challenge” for remote regions in need of international talent, say education professionals. 

Lighthouse in Nova Scotia.Photo: Unsplash.

The government faces increasing pressure to act on housing shortages. 

The country hosted over 800,000 international students in 2022 but the government is under increasing pressure to limit immigration as the demand for housing outstrips supply and affordability worsens. 

Speaking on CTV News on Sunday, immigration minister Marc Miller said he would look at a cap on international students over the next few months as the government faces increasing pressure to act on housing shortages. 

“That volume is disconcerting,” he said, blaming provinces for failing to “rein in” numbers. 

Miller repeated criticisms of “diploma puppy mills” in Ontario’s Brampton, which is home to multiple career colleges that focus on recruiting international students, and suggested the federal government may have to step in where the provincial government hasn’t.  

“We don’t have the same set of tools jurisdictionally that provinces have, they’re best suited to take those measures, but we can take some very hard measures.”

The impact would be felt across the country, according to those working in international education at provincial level. 

“If implemented, a cap like this could create a challenge to some of the work being done to attract and retain international talent in Nova Scotia to support the government’s efforts to double the province’s population by 2060,” said Shawna Garrett, CEO of EduNova Co-operative, which focuses on recruiting international students to Nova Scotia.

“I am unsure if rushing to apply caps on international students in all regions is the best-fit solution for the long-term sustainability of our institutions, regions, provinces and communities.”

Randall Martin, executive director at the British Columbia Council for International Education, said, “The sector is assuming something is going to happen but is trying to read tea leaves in order to understand what that might be.”

It is unclear how the government would calculate an appropriate cap, but Martin speculated that criteria could include: chosen study programs and their relation to labour market needs, source countries of students, the intended institution of study (“one that is ‘trusted’ or perhaps not quite fully trusted”), and the region of Canada students plan to study in and housing levels there.

Both Garrett and Martin worry that a cap could harm the country’s global reputation.

“The degree and direction of imminent federal action will necessarily affect the global profile of Canada as an appealing international study destination,” said Martin. “You are welcome Australia.”

Garrett added, “Concerns about Canada’s reputation in the global education market are top of the mind for most, if not all, international education professionals these days.” 

But the effects will be felt most at “institutional level”, said Martin. Colleges and universities across the country are already grappling with the issue of financial sustainability, with many relying on international students for revenue.  

Miller previously rejected the idea of capping student numbers, describing the proposal as “doing surgery with a hammer”. 

However, in an interview on Sunday, he said the system “has gotten out of control” with “people outside the country paying a premium dollar to come to Canada and not necessarily getting the education that they were promised”.

During his tenure as immigration minister, Miller has introduced several measures aimed at reducing fraud and abuse in the international student program, including a new verification system for acceptance letters, doubling the amount of money a student must have in their bank account to study in Canada and preparing to launch a new recognised institution framework

“The steps that I announced in the fall were very much preliminary, making sure the federal government was doing its job, and now it’s time for us to have a conversation about [student] volumes and the impact that is having in certain areas, for example on housing,” said Miller. 

Martin agreed that housing is an issue, but argued that international students are also “victims” of this and should not be blamed for the crisis. 

“With over 100,000 international students in Metro Vancouver, it would be ludicrous to argue that their presence has no effect on housing availability and cost, in one of the most expensive ‘housing’ cities in the world,” said Martin, adding that the federal government is “doing little” to support new housing. 

“What we are seeing is the result of a wide-ranging systematic failure”

Garrett said, “What we are seeing is the result of a wide-ranging systematic failure that has been in the making for decades, but does not fall at the feet of international students.”

A spokesperson for IRCC confirmed that the option of a cap is “being assessed” and that any new developments will be shared publicly. 

“IRCC acknowledges the pressures that our International Student Program is facing,” the spokesperson said.

“The department is undertaking a review of the program to examine how we can support international students in Canada. 

“We are working closely with our federal counterparts, as well as national educational institutions to address ongoing challenges such as housing. 

“IRCC is currently looking at a number options and will continue to work closely with provinces and territories, educational institutions and other key partners to address the ongoing challenges faced by International students.”

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