International Students –From Heroes to Zeroes

Veteran Toronto Star reporter Nicholas Keung contacted me last week regarding a proposed “cap” on international students; the Federal Government has indicated that it may assess their intake given their (apparent) impact on the housing “crisis”.

My thoughts:

Fraser’s remarks also marked a change from when he was overseeing Immigration and staunchly defended the Liberals’ record immigration levels and strategy to stimulate economic recovery through immigration.

“I find this a little bit disingenuous,” said Calgary immigration lawyer Raj Sharma. “The minister who’s talking about capping international students is the same minister that eliminated the 20-hour limit of working in a week for the international students.”

“It’s very odd for Mr. Fraser to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.”

While concentration of international students in particular urban hot spots has contributed to the rising rental costs and strained housing supplies in the GTA, the Lower Mainland in B.C. and parts of Alberta and the Maritimes, Sharma said the housing challenges predated the influx.

International students have become such an integral part of the immigration system and the Canadian economy that it’s hard to just turn the tap on and off, he said.

“There’s a lot of stakeholders, a lot of vested interest in keeping international student intake high. These students are exploited from basically before they come to Canada and then after they come to Canada up until they become permanent residents,” said Sharma.

“So there’s employers that are using them as cheap labour. These international students are causing even concern among various diasporic communities that they’re driving down wages.”

Although education is a provincial jurisdiction and admissions are the responsibility of the schools, both Sharma and Griffith said the federal government does have the leverage to raise the bar for language proficiency and financial assets in granting visas to students as a control mechanism.

“If you increase the quality of the intake and necessarily that may result in a decrease in the hard numbers,” said Sharma. “But instead of capping it, I think it’s time for us to optimize it and ensure that we’re getting the best bang for our buck.”

I find that blaming international students or immigrants for housing is pretty rich considering the government made a conscious decision to radically increase numbers. Kind of like fixing the barn doors after the horse has bolted but where you’ve opened the door in the first place.

Finally, if the government does “cap” international student intake you could:

  1. Decrease eligible DLI (perhaps regionally?)
  2. Increase language proficiency requirements
  3. Increase financial thresholds
  4. 4. Favor post-grad over post-secondary

But let’s see what actually transpires. International students are a convenient and visible scapegoat for the chronic housing issues. But I have little doubt that changes are coming to the international student pathway/ecosystem.