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Canada: language sector concern at visa proposals

Canadian language schools are facing uncertainty over new proposals to tighten up the student visa system, it was confirmed last week at the Languages Canada conference in Halifax.

“While Languages Canada tries to uphold national standards, each province has different standards"

Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) is mooting a range of reforms to the International Student Program (ISP) to tackle visa fraud and bogus colleges. Most will benefit schools, but Languages Canada, the peak body for language schools, is particularly concerned about a proposal that provinces should decide which educators can accept foreign students. It fears in a “worst case scenario” some language schools will be overlooked.

Another worry is the proposed abolition of work-study “co-op” programmes – an important segment of the language market.

“This is going to cause enormous ripples in our community and our sector”

On provincial approvals, Guillaum Dubreuil, manager of international affairs and marketing told The PIE News: “Putting the responsibility onto provinces as to which schools can and cannot receive international students is going to cause enormous ripples in our community and our sector.

“While we at Languages Canada try to uphold national standards, each province has different standards for now. Each is going to approach this in a different fashion… So we want to make sure our members are properly represented and none are left out in the cold.”

CIC put forward the idea to clamp down on bogus colleges, as Canada seeks to increase its international enrolments in all sectors. However, some fear provinces – which determine their own education policy – don’t have the expertise to approve language schools, or are not used to considering them at the same level as public schools (it is thought state language programmes will not be affected by the reform).

Languages Canada believes all 169 of its members, public and private, should be automatically approved.

Languages Canada believes the solution is for its members to be automatically approved

“For us it’s going to be critical in Ontario,” explained Shayne Gray of Embassy in Toronto. “Embassy schools in other provinces have already been approved, but no system even exists in Toronto to classify schools. We want to make sure we get on that list when they create it,” he said. 

Providers are also concerned about the abolition of co-op programmes, in which foreigners study a language, then work for an equivalent period for immersion (up to 12 months combined). Co-ops were originally intended for career schools, but language schools increasingly offer them.

The government is said to fear the courses are being abused as a route to work (although is yet to state so).

Gary Gervais is president at Heartland English school in Winnipeg, where 10% take co-op’s. “The argument Languages Canada is making is that the work students are doing after their language programmes is related to their study, because they are using their language in a real life setting,” he said.

“The work students are doing after their language programmes is related to their study”

Dubreuil says that other reforms are welcome. Notably, students would for the first time be able to change from one visa from within the country (currently most cross the border or return home). CIC will draw up a second draft of all the proposals in the next few months which will then need to be agreed by parliament.

According to research firm Student Marketing, language student weeks increased by 8% from 2009-2011, and growth continues steadily. Director Samuel Vetrak said: “Regulations are natural and wise with coming volume. However, it is important how sensitively they are done and communicated to the international market.

“Canada is seeing good momentum now as a study destination but there needs to be a balance if this is to continue at the same rate.”


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