The Government of Canada’s recent move to put a cap on international students’ study permits for two years has evoked diverse sentiments across Canada and around the world. While some view it as an anticipated and essential step, others argue that it may adversely impact businesses and the education sector, given the significant contribution of the international student community to their sustenance.
The announcement concerns potential fee increases for domestic students by some colleges striving to offset the impact on their operations. Changes like getting an attestation letter from the province are seen as an extra administrative hurdle. The government has also decided not to give postgraduate work permits to students who come for a diploma, certificate or undergraduate program.
Canada’s Immigration Minister, Marc Miller, Defended the cap as a necessary move because rapid increases in the number of international students have put pressure on housing, health care, and other services_ He also said the changes were necessary “to better protect international students from had actors and support. Sustainable population growth in Canada.”
Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre called the cap justified but said it would not control the damage already done. He blamed the government for unleashing the chaos in the system by inviting students without doing homework to ensure enough housing, Infrastructure, and credible education institutions.
Neera Agnihotri, a volunteer with One Voice Canada and an immigration consultant, highlighted the strain on major cities like Toronto. Vancouver. Quebec. and Calgary. She argued that the uncontrolled influx of international students coupled with rising immigration targets has jeopardized housing, healthcare, and infrastructure services, impacting students and compromising affordability for locals.
Brampton City Council unanimously passed a motion calling the federal government to require international student visas to include a housing address consistent with local by-laws as a component of the approval process.
KEY CHANGES AND IMPLICATIONS
The first change is the limit on study permits_ Canada is expected to approve approximately 360,000 study permits, reduced from nearly 560,000 issued in 2023, a decrease of 35%. This will directly impact the number of international students enrolling in education institutions. A group of 24 colleges in Ontario has also said in a statement that this rushed decision will create havoc for students, the labor market, and the reputation of good colleges. “The federal government failed to recognize that public colleges have a year-round intake of students, designed specifically to meet employer needs. Colleges work year-round, as the demand for more people in the labor market is year-round; that means there are students already well into the application process, ready to start in May in programs for key sectors of Ontario’s economy.” Indian students are poised to bear the impact as they constitute the largest cohort of international students in Canada in recent years. Media reports indicate that in 2022, more than 41%, totaling 225835 permits, were granted to Indian students.
NO WORK PERMIT FOR UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS
There will be a cap on the number of students coming to each province. IRCC will allocate a portion of the cap to each province and territory, who will then distribute the allocation among their designated learning institutions. To implement the cap as of January 22, 2024, every study permit application submitted to IRCC will also require an attestation letter from a province or territory. Provinces and territories are expected to establish a process for issuing attestation letters to students no later than March 31, 2024. The Ontario College group called it a new and unexpected administrative hurdle that is halting all student visa processing right now, “as the provincial government currently has no process for generating such letters.”
Also, starting September 1, 2024, International students who begin a study program that is part of a curriculum licensing arrangement will no longer be eligible for a postgraduate work permit upon graduation. Under curriculum licensing agreements, students physically attend a private college that has been licensed to deliver the curriculum of an associated public college. These programs have seen significant growth in attracting international students in recent years, though they have less oversight than public colleges and they act as a loophole with regards to postgraduate work permit eligibility.” the minister said.
Neera Agnihotri says that not giving work permits to undergraduate students will certainly limit the number of students coming to Canada. Gaining international experience is one of the important aspects of studying in a different country. “Students who have spent thousands of dollars to study and get work permits will not be eligible for it. Many would look to get LIMAs”. She warns students to be aware of exploitation since they might get lured to pay extra to get LMIA.
Ontario colleges in a statement have also expressed concerns about undergraduate students not able to work after diplomas or certificates. “College graduates full key needs across sectors that include advanced manufacturing, mining, the electric vehicle industry, early childhood, health care, housing construction, and others that our economy depends on.”
The exemptions for the students in master’s and Ph.D. programs don’t reflect the current and future demands in the Ontario labor market. For Example, 60 percent of the current vacancies in health care in Ontario are for college graduates. The colleges are proposing exemptions for students in high-demand programs – not just for masters and Ph.D. students.
NO WORK PERMIT FOR SPOUSES
The government has also announced that open work permits will only be available to spouses of international students in master’s and doctoral programs. The spouses of international students in other levels of studies, including undergraduate and college programs, will no longer be eligible.
THE GOOD NEWS
The cap announcement may have strangled the hopes of many students planning to study in Canada, but there is good news. First, these are all temporary measures that will be in place for two years. Also, the government has made it clear that with this announcement, study permit renewal will not be impacted. Those pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees and elementary and secondary education are not included in the cap. Current study permit holders will not be affected. The minister said, ” In the coming months, we will continue to work to provide clear pathways to permanent residence for students with in-demand skills and explore new measures to transition international students to the labor force better.”
As the nation adapts to these changes, the next two years will be crucial in assessing the effectiveness and consequences of this policy shift. In the end, it is important to note that the minister’s one-size-fits-all announcement should not become a blunt instrument to damage the good actors in college education and not do much to rein in the bad actors.