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Canadian public schools say Bill C-35 unfair

Canadian public schools voiced their concerns about bill C-35 at this year’s Canadian Association Public Schools-International (CAPS-I) conference in Toronto, complaining that the reform was making them “jump through hoops” to recruit international K-12 students.

There were 37,000 foreign high school students in the country in 2011

The bill, which was enacted in March 2011, makes it an offence for anyone other than an “authorised representative” of the government to advise on a students’ visa application for a fee or other consideration. Those who contravene it can face fines and even imprisonment.

“We’re already held to a very high accord within our communities and yet we’re having to go through additional hoops”

The issue for public high schools is that their students need to renew their visas periodically, and as custodians of their students, teachers are regularly asked to help fill out visa application forms. As paid employees, however, they risk contravening the bill.

One educator said: “It’s a little bit frustrating. As pubic school administrators we’re already held to a very high accord within our communities and yet we’re having to go through additional hoops. On the one hand Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) says we should recruit more international students, on the other Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is making it harder for us to renew study permits.”

Some argued they had not been given enough information about the bill, or on where their responsibilities to students ended. Others said it was hard in more remote parts of Canada to find authorised representatives in good time – usually approved lawyers, paralegals or members of the Canadian Association of Immigration Representatives.

“I’m more than happy not to give advice on extension applications for students as long as they have somebody accessible to help them,” said one educator. “But that’s not always the case in a rural area like mine.”

In a diplomatic response, Martin Mündell, director of the temporary resident program delivery division at CIC, said the agency could not change the law but would work to explain it more clearly to educators. He said it remained illegal for teachers to give immigration advice which might turn out to be wrong.

CAPS-I represents some 90 schools boards across Canada, including around 500 high schools. The conference was its biggest yet, with 230 delegates and a range of seminars from the likes of DFAIT, Languages Canada and various school boards.

One of the most illuminating talks was by Calvin Zhang of the embassy of Canada to China in Beijing, who explained why Chinese parents were so willing to send their children abroad to study. Political instability, pollution, dwindling social security, and a willingness to invest deeply in their children’s futures were among the reasons.

Zhang added that Canadian education was viewed highly in China, presenting an opportunity for growth

Zhang added that Canadian education was viewed highly in China, presenting an opportunity for growth. However, to have more impact, schools needed to offer discounts and transparent fee structures as well as boost their presence in Chinese social media. “We are talking to sites such as Baidu and Weixen about ways of enabling Canadian schools to hold webinars with Chinese students and parents,” he told delegates.

New CIC data unveiled at the conference shows there were 37,000 foreign high school students in the country in 2011, up from 34,500 in 2007.

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