International students have mixed feelings about visa cap, say system needs review

Mixed feelings on visa cap

At a bustling college campus west of Toronto, several students had been thinking about recently announced changes to the international student program that brought them to the post-secondary institution.

Some were sympathizing with friends back home whose dreams of studying in Canada were suddenly in jeopardy as Ottawa has moved to cap the number of study permits for international undergraduate students over the next two years. Others called it a sensible move as Canada aims to get a handle on the ballooning international student program.

There was a general consensus, however, that the program needs to be reviewed.

For Gayathri Jayachandrakurup Sreeja, who came to Ontario from India just last month to begin a marketing program, the changes had her thinking of those she knew with similar aspirations of a Canadian education.

"They are pretty much sad about it," she said while between classes at Sheridan College's campus in Mississauga, Ont.

"There are a lot of students who are willing to come here and study, set their future, so I think it's pretty bad for them."

Haritha Kaladharan, another international student from India who is studying business and process management, agreed that the changes were disappointing many she knew back home.

But she said it was important for Canada to address problems associated with the program.

"People in the other country may feel very sad because Canada has (become) more strict," Kaladharan said while studying for an exam on campus. "But they don't know the struggle we face after coming here."

International students face challenges securing housing and finding part-time jobs, she said, all while paying far higher tuition rates than their domestic counterparts.

"If (Canada is) inviting more immigrants to the country, they should have some plans, like whether we can give jobs. Most of the people find very hard to get an accommodation," Kaladharan said.

"The immigrants here ... let them get settled, let them get jobs, after that once they get settled, they can invite more immigrants."

Manmohidpreet Singh, a 20-year-old marketing student at Sheridan College, said the latest cap is necessary.

"They don't understand that they need lots of money to survive here," he said of those abroad thinking of coming to Canada for post-secondary education.

"If you want to come here, be prepared."

More than 900,000 foreign students had visas to study in Canada last year and more than half of them had newly issued permits. That's more than three times the number 10 years ago.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced this week that new visas for international students will be slashed by more than one-third this year so Ottawa can slow a rapid increase in temporary residents that has put immense pressure on the housing system.

He said the two-year cap will also give governments time to tackle problems in the system that have allowed some bad actors to take advantage of high international student tuition while providing a poor education.

Some provinces will be more affected than others. Ontario, which has seen a larger share of growth in international students, will see its allotment of new visas cut in half.

"In recent years, the integrity of the international student system has been threatened," Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada wrote in a statement.

"Rapid increases in the number of international students arriving in Canada also puts pressure on housing, health care and other services."

Ottawa has said Peel Region – where Mississauga is located – is one of the areas hit hardest by an influx of international students.

Colleges Ontario has said Ottawa's move is already creating havoc as colleges have a year-round intake of students and many international students already accepted into programs are now having their applications for study permits returned to them.

Universities have also come out against the international student cap. The Council of Ontario Universities has said at least 10 Ontario universities were already forecasting a combined operating deficit of $175 million this year, growing to $273 million next year.

In 2022, a report from Ontario's auditor general said the province's schools had become dependent on tuition fees from international students, particularly after the province forced public universities and colleges to cut and then freeze tuition for Canadian students in 2019.

On Friday, the Ontario government announced that all colleges and universities in the province will be required to guarantee housing for incoming international students.

It also said it would review post-secondary institutions with a "sizable" number of international students and introduce a moratorium on new public college and private institution partnerships.

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