The Party’s Over! Dramatic changes are brought in to curtail Canada’s International Student Program - Immigration Lawyer Vancouver, Canada | Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre

BlogInternational StudentsStudying in CanadaThe Party’s Over! Dramatic changes are brought in to curtail Canada’s International Student Program

20 February 2024

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On January 22, 2024, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Marc Miller made the seismic announcement that Canada will set caps to limit the number of new international students coming to Canada, with a goal to reduce overall levels by a whopping 35% over two years.  Minister Miller did not mince words during his January press conference when describing the institutional wrongs he intends to right, citing the existence of “diploma mills” whose sole purpose is to turn a profit from international students, rather than ensuring they receive a quality education and experience in Canada.  It has now been a month since Minister Miller’s announcement was made, and we are now seeing trickle down effects in the ways that provinces and territories are adapting to these changes.

When announcing the national cap on international students, Minister Miller indicated that some provinces would see a much more significant reduction in the inflow of international students because the cap would be allocated based on the population of each province and territory. It is well known that Ontario is the top destination for international students, with British Columbia in second place, and we now know that the new cap restrictions are expected to cut Ontario’s student intake by about half. Closer to home in British Columbia, the province has been given an allotment of 83,000 international student applications for 2024 with an expected approval of 50,000 applications, which still seems high given current estimates that there are about 175,000 international post-secondary students in the province.

In years past, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) never shied away from any opportunity to boast that international students create jobs and boost our economy. As recently as December 2023, IRCC stated that international education accounts for more than $22 billion in annual economic activity, which supports approximately 200,000 jobs annually in Canada. IRCC’s tone and rhetoric has now shifted since the announcement of the national cap, and local economies are already bracing for the impact.

For instance, the Vancouver Sun recently reported that BC universities are in the midst of cutting their budgets and laying off staff, citing the University of Victoria’s announcement that it would cut its operating budget by about $13 million due to lagging international student enrolment figures, a frequently changing geopolitical landscape, and uncertainty surrounding the Minister’s national cap.

We are also seeing a sea change in other areas of law. As a result of Minister Miller’s announcement, the BC Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills is now implementing widespread measures with the aim of improving the quality of education to students in the province. These include the following initiatives:

  • Establishing a moratorium on new educational institutions that want to host international students until February 2026.
  • Setting higher standards before approving new private degree programs: Historically, this has been an important topic for international students who could only qualify for a work permit after graduation if they attended a degree-granting program at a private educational institution.
  • Establishing new processes to increase tuition transparency for international students attending public post-secondary institutions.
  • Strengthening inspection, compliance and enforcement standards at private institutions.

The international student program has become the latest lightning rod in Canada’s immigration system. For years the level of international students coming to Canada continued to grow at unmeasured and unsustainable levels due to many factors, including educational agents who receive commissions for directing students to particular schools and programs while at the same time advising would-be international students that studying in Canada is a surefire way to acquiring Canadian permanent resident status, when that has no longer been the case for years.

The Minister’s January implementation of a cap on international students is just the beginning of a re-vamp of Canada’s temporary resident program. If there is one immutable truth about Canadian immigration law and policy, it is that change is inevitable.  It is crucial to stay updated on the latest news, trends and legislative changes.  Also, who you work with is of vital concern.  The plight of Canada’s international students has highlighted this reality.  Be sure to seek advice from qualified and licenced immigration professionals to fully understand your opportunities to work, study, or live permanently in Canada.

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