The crisis caused Canada to hold back the wave of international students

The sudden increase in the number of international students in recent years has exposed educational management flaws and caused housing costs in Canada’s major cities to increase.

Canada is one of the countries with the fastest population growth in the world due to the increase in the number of international students in recent years, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

But this causes serious problems. Housing costs and living expenses in many large cities have increased. Housing infrastructure also cannot keep up. Immigration Minister Marc Miller also warned that the increasing number of international students is pushing universities to develop uncontrollably, taking advantage of vulnerable young people with poor quality educational programs.

Much of the criticism was directed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The number of international students during Mr. Trudeau’s term has tripled to more than one million. Currently, one in every 40 Canadians is an international student.

The government is scaling back its immigration ambitions, admitting that a policy once seen as the country’s main economic growth driver is no longer effective.

Canada recently tightened the number of student visas granted, promising to have further measures soon. The goal is to tighten control over the number of incoming students and slow down tuition increases, forcing the industry to eliminate poor-quality educational programs.

People of Indian origin on the streets of Brampton, Canada, 2020. Photo: AFP

Canadian international students mainly come from India and other Asian countries. Students from these countries are attracted by the prospect of being able to settle in Canada based on their qualifications.

For the government, international students contribute more than 16 billion USD to the economy each year, contributing 218,000 jobs, becoming an important human resource in the context of the aging native workforce.

But the enrollment boom, especially in the country’s most populous region in southern Ontario, happened so suddenly that it exceeded the government’s ability to cope. This situation puts pressure on the cost of living in areas that are already among the most expensive in North America.

Adjusting policies to limit the flow of international students could harm the Canadian economy in the long run. But in the short term, it could help young immigrants avoid the same situation as Sai Reddy.

The student, from southern India, enrolled at Conestoga College in Ontario in 2023. Reddy was unable to find housing for months, ending up in a basement apartment, where he struggled to pay the rent while Still can’t find a part-time job.

“I had to completely cut down on expenses, only eating two meals a day. I didn’t even have enough money to buy warm winter clothes,” said Reddy.

The heat is hitting Brampton, Ontario province. This city has 650,000 residents, one of the cities with the highest immigrant density in the country, with more than half of its residents born abroad, most of them Indians. Malls are filled with Indian restaurants and grocery stores, where Punjabi, Gujarati and Hindi are spoken daily.

International students from India are by far the largest source of students driving Canada’s university boom. Universities see Brampton as fertile ground for revenue. There are currently more post-secondary educational institutions in this city than there are McDonald’s restaurants, while international students have to pay tuition five times higher than domestic students.

Education in Canada is therefore considered a steadily growing industry. Despite disruption during the Covid pandemic, the industry has since boomed. Sandeep Sighn, who runs an immigration consulting company in Brampton, said international students used to be a small group of customers, but this group now accounts for 90% of the company’s workload.

The increase in international students has caused rents for one-bedroom apartments in Brampton and the Toronto suburbs to increase 19 per cent in a year, to more than $1,500 per month.

Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Image: X/Conestoga College

Canada’s policy of tightening student visas will limit the number of foreign students coming to Ontario and British Columbia, the two leading provinces for international students. Not only that, the policy also targets a thriving special education subsector: private schools collaborating with public schools.

Public schools offer educational programs that help students obtain work permits after graduation. This is important for those who want to obtain a permanent residence permit in Canada after completing their studies.

By partnering with public schools, private schools can organize similar educational programs and both sides share revenue. In Brampton and many other areas, these affiliated schools look to office buildings and retail spaces in shopping malls to turn them into classrooms.

Not far from Brampton, Conestoga College in 2023 approved more than 30,000 study permits, the highest in Canadian history and 4 times higher than the University of Toronto. In response, the school built a temporary facility, called a “transitional classroom building,” in an on-campus parking lot, while also leasing most of the retail space in a shopping center and leasing some of the buildings. home.

But schools do not consider housing issues for students. Akash Patel, who had to borrow money to pay for his studies, sleeps in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment that sleeps six people and travels an hour by two bus routes to class.

Before Sai Reddy found a shared room in the basement near the school in November 2023, he had to stay at an acquaintance’s house about 48 km from the school.

Reddy currently lives in Kitchener but has not yet found a part-time job. He has $530 monthly to cover rent, cell phone bill, bus tickets and food. “I’m in a financial crisis right now,” he said.

Immigration Secretary Miller is trying to stop, or at least slow down, this trend with the new policy. As of May, students enrolled in the above-mentioned joint programs will no longer be eligible to receive a work permit after completing their studies.

Mr. Miller said the problem lies in the quality of teaching. Many affiliated schools only focus on how to get more students to study these programs, while only teaching easy or too general subjects, with only 2-3 classes per week. These programs are designed to help students spend dozens of hours working part-time each week.

More than 80% of international students in Canada work more than 20 hours per week. The new policy will limit overtime hours to less than 40 hours, but will remain above the 20 hour mark, because the student force is very important for sectors that depend on cheap labor such as restaurants and retail.

But Mr. Miller emphasized that this is not in accordance with the spirit of education. “These quick degrees are meaningless in the spirit of education,” he said. “Education is not trying to get a worthless degree, just to show off in empty massage parlors or work as an Uber driver.”

A Canadian study abroad consulting fair in Beijing, China, 2017. Photo: AFP

Historically, many former international students in Canada have become talented people. Support for Canada’s immigration system has long been relatively high, with little backlash compared to the United States or Europe, where immigration management has become a key issue in politics. .

But the Environics Institute’s 2023 survey shows that 44% of Canadians think there are too many people immigrating to the country, up 17 percentage points from 2022 and the largest increase since the institute began surveying. year 1977.

“What needs to be done is not to blame international students, but to look at the system that leads to this situation. Students are both exploited and abused, while not receiving the promised education. This tarnishes the national reputation while Canada needs immigrants,” commented Ratna Omidvar, a Canadian senator of Indian origin.

A core cause of the international student boom is the network of study abroad consulting agents that profit from commissions, trying to attract as many students as possible.

Gautham Kolluri, owner of education consulting company CIP Study Abroad, with offices in many countries including India, noticed a change in study abroad consulting strategies nearly a decade ago. He said universities have begun to rely on consulting companies to “seduce” students, and thousands of consultants have not yet visited these universities.

“This has become a student ‘trafficking’ problem, to the point where students no longer really care what program they will study, while the Canadian government is unprepared to deal with the infrastructure and housing crisis.” in tow,” Mr. Kolluri said.

Even in remote areas of Canada, where there are fewer international students, student growth sometimes exceeds local capacity.

The city of Sydney in the easternmost province of Nova Scotia in North America, has a traditional industry of coal mining and steel production that has been in decline for decades. Currently, Cape Breton University is the main source of growth for the city.

Sydney has become an attractive destination for international students because Cape Breton tuition is relatively affordable and the cost of living in Sydney is also lower than in major cities.

At the beginning of the semester, many international students come to the city center looking for part-time jobs to cover tuition and living expenses. Some businesses receive so many job applications that they have to put up a sign announcing a recruitment stop.

Every time new retailers and restaurants open, hundreds of students come to apply for jobs. The local Hallmark supermarket receives 10-15 job applications from students every day.

“Yesterday morning at least 12 students came to the supermarket looking for literally anything. They said just give them 3-5 hours a week and they’ll clean the toilets. The students really desperate at this time,” the supermarket manager said.

Ravneet Sigh, a Cape Breton student from Punjab, India, said living conditions in his home country are even better, but he cannot give up his goal of settling in Canada because it costs too much money.

“Costs are getting higher and higher, everything is getting more expensive and confusing. If I had known this reality, I would not have come here,” this student expressed.

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