Recently, the country’s new housing minister Sean Fraser suggested that Canada could consider a cap on international students as it battles a housing shortage, while the immigration minister has said that the “integrity of the system” is at risk due to fraud, as well as players “gaming the system”.
The news has been extensively covered in both national and international media.
Stakeholders largely consider a cap unlikely – universities in Québec have already said the proposals would do little to address the housing crunch, but would damage university research.
Immigration minister Marc Miller last week acknowledged that the housing crisis cannot be “pinned on any particular segment of the population”, with education professionals indicating the same.
Adel El Zaïm from the Université du Québec en Outaouais noted the lack of evidence showing that international students are contributing to the housing crisis, a problem several study destinations are facing.
“There is no data about the contribution of international students to the housing crisis,” he told The PIE, adding that accommodation is a top priority at several institutions.
“In Québec, there is a governmental program to subsidise affordable housing,” he said.
“Universities are eligible and some of them are already applying. At our university, our board approved a new residence project for about 150 rooms. We are a small university with only [around] 7,000 students.
“Another example is the willingness of our neighbourhood to make rooms available for hosting international students. We are located in a mainly residential area.”
Prime minister Justin Trideau has also noted that there are “a lot of different factors that go into this housing crisis”.
Other institutions have worked to ensure that undergraduate students have had guarantees of on-campus accommodation, other stakeholders have detailed.
The immigration minister also suggested that private colleges were those “gaming the system”, but he did not name which providers in particular. The comments are said to have irked some private providers.
A 2022 documentary named Alpha College as one provider that had deferred student start dates due to capacity constraints. Stakeholders at the time warned that Canadian colleges were being sold as migration pathways.
Students also lost their tuition fees after the closure of M College in Montreal, CDE College in Sherbrooke and CCSQ College in early 2022.
More recently, Ontario-based Northern College revoked over 500 acceptance letters it had sent to international students.
El Zaïm warned that the negative headlines “could harm the country reputation and may discourage some international students”.
“One case is enough to make the headlines”
“Some recruiters and HEIs have ‘abused’ the system, mainly at the college level, and especially by over recruiting young students with a promise of quick graduation and access to employment and permanent resident status,” he said, but added that there are “two sides to the medal”.
“One case is enough to make the headlines and to be recuperated by the political opposition,” he said, but maintained that the country’s higher education sector is strong and that interest will continue to grow.
A cap is unlikely, he indicated.
“Political pressure, the role of provincial governments in managing higher education and education in general and the real contribution of international students to the research ecosystem, to the survival of some programs and their contribution to the regional economy will prevent the federal government from such an approach,” he suggested.
“I am optimistic that no cap will be imposed. I am also optimistic that the processing of visa and study permit will be accelerated by IRCC as promised by the former minister of immigration,” he said.
Another stakeholder told The PIE that the “benefits of studying in Canada have been overshadowed by the recent negative news”.
“Canada is well-known for its strong emphasis on co-op programs, especially at the university level,” they explained. “Empowered with relevant professional skills, students can integrate their academic learning with practical paid work experience.”
“Canada is well-known for its strong emphasis on co-op programs”
A recent Royal Bank of Canada report notes that international students in the country are a rich source of skilled global talent and are twice as likely as domestic students to study engineering.
They are more than 2.5 times as likely to study math and computer sciences – two of the top areas projected to face labor shortages, they highlighted.
El Zaïm also concluded that Canada and its higher education institutions should celebrate the expected increase in international student numbers. The immigration minister has said 900,000 are expected to be enrolled in institutions this year.
“I would love to see the number of Canadian university professors and researchers who came to Canada first as international students, and who are now living and working in Canada,” he said.
“In a few words, Canada could do better in terms of understanding and valorising the impacts of international students in the social, economic and scientific fabrics of the country.”