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“Canada is open” despite study permit cap, say sector leaders

Although the short-term adjustments to Canada’s policy changes may be painful, sector leaders remain positive for the long-term positioning of the country as a welcoming destination for students and immigrants.

Stakeholders are calling for a "sector-wide" approach to dealing with the implications of the recently implemented cap on study permits.

Since the announcement, stakeholders have been involved in "unnecessary and inappropriate thrashing"

It’s no secret that Canada’s international student recruitment has seen exponential growth in recent years, causing various “challenges and growing pains”, explained Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of CBIE.

And although Bezo acknowledges the pain points needing to be addressed – unscrupulous actors for one – for her, the situation prior to the announcement of the student visa caps “wasn’t uncontrollable”.

She argued that these newly implemented “blunt measures” don’t directly get at the issue of bad actors, which she said most institutions are already doing their level best to contend with.

Speaking at a webinar organised by The PIE and Student VIP, Bezo, along with other sector leaders, discussed the federal government’s cap on study permits first announced in January, the implications, and what seemed to be a glaring lack of information surrounding specifications.

On February 21, some questions surrounding visit and exchange students and spousal work rights, among other previously unknown aspects, were answered in an IRCC town hall.

“This is not the way we would have chosen to go about addressing these issues of sustainability,” said Bezo.

“But if we look at this from 50,000 feet, what these policy measures do is afford us an opportunity to be more strategic and intentional to ensure a sustainable approach for the long term,” she continued.

CBIE is seeing this an opportunity to recalibrate in areas they need to, explained Bezo, and hopes to see a “whole-sector” approach.

For Gonzalo Peralta, executive director at Languages Canada, “things were out of control. Something needed to be done.”

However, he was left questioning “what happened” to the consultations that were being had across the sector with the likes of previous deputy minister Christiane Fox.

Peralta described “amazing conversations” being had, with the objective of unveiling a long-term immigration strategy for Canada.

“It’s not the what, it’s the how,” Peralta said, summing up his frustrations with the latest measures – which Languages Canada has been lobbying to change so that all language school students can be exempt.

What’s more, since the announcement, stakeholders have been involved in “unnecessary and inappropriate thrashing” – often public, he highlighted.

“There isn’t a true, collaborative approach. That’s what concerns me.

“All of this is happening and at the same time, we are here, our institutions are open and Canada is welcoming immigrants and students. None of that has stopped.”

It’s particularly true for the language sector, he claimed, highlighting the value in its reputation, diversity and richness of the student it brings.

Yet, Peralta argued that its true value isn’t yet understood – highlighting the high retention rates for language students going into post-secondary programs – a factor he wishes policy makers would consider when calculating caps.

IRCC did clarify that exchange students who were staying for six months or less could apply within Canada for a study permit for a longer period and be exempt from the cap.

“There isn’t a true, collaborative approach. That’s what concerns me”

“We appreciate IRCC’s efforts to achieve more sustainable growth and to address integrity of the programs,” said Alain Roy, vice president for international partnerships, Colleges and Institutes Canada.

“But we always advocated against a hard cap because of the complexities of implementing that.”

Thinking of the impact on students with their hearts set on Canada, applying for a spring or fall semester, Roy highlighted so many that have been forced to put their plans on hold until provinces work out what their allocation is.

It is implications like this that could lead to a “negative perception” of Canada by students, said Roy.

IRCC said immigration minister Marc Miller has now sent letters to each province and territory telling them their cap allocation.

However, Roy is confident that in the long-term, the sector will continue to be “resilient and agile”, citing its ability to bounce back from damage caused by provincial funding cuts and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ll overcome this as well,” he said, reminding audience members that a Canadian education is still an attractive offer, in terms of cost and quality – which has not changed.

The way in which the caps have been announced and implemented have not been “optimal”, said Roy, but the sector will be pushed towards innovation.

“I’m convinced we’ll come out of this with an even stronger offer that will set us up will to continue to be attractive internationally.”

“Canada remains open. We are not closed to international students. That’s the last message we want to be going out,” Bezo urged.

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