In a press conference held on Thursday, Immigration Minister Marc Miller declared that the federal government is taking significant steps to address fraud and abuse within Canada’s international student program by imposing stricter limitations on study permits. Expressing a firm stance, Miller emphasized that “enough is enough.”

Effective January 1, 2024, the financial commitment expected from study permit applicants will experience a substantial increase from the current $10,000 to $20,635. This amount, in addition to their first-year tuition and travel costs, aims to better equip international students for life in Canada. Miller clarified that this financial threshold will be subject to annual adjustments, aligning with other immigration programs.

The motivation behind these measures, as outlined by Miller, is to curb what he describes as “puppy mills” within post-secondary education institutions that indiscriminately confer diplomas to graduates. The minister stressed the necessity of ending fraud and abuse within the system.

Over the past decade, the number of study permit holders in Canada has tripled from 300,000 in 2013 to 900,000 this year. Despite contributing $22 billion to the economy and supporting 200,000 jobs through spending and tuition, the surge in international students has raised concerns. The aggressive recruitment campaigns by post-secondary education institutions and unregulated foreign agents have drawn attention to the rapidly expanding international student program.

Notably, the increase in international students has been a lucrative revenue stream for Canadian schools, with employers relying on these students to fill positions in low-wage sectors such as fast-food joints, retail, warehouses, factories, and gig work.

Compounded by the current affordable housing crisis and rising cost of living, many international students find themselves struggling to secure employment and housing, leading some to turn to food banks for assistance.

The growth in international student numbers is primarily attributed to the affordability and shorter duration of programs offered by public and private colleges compared to universities. These programs still provide opportunities for students to stay and work in Canada, and in certain cases, qualify for permanent residence.

During the pandemic, the Immigration Department temporarily lifted the 20-hour weekly work limit for international students to alleviate financial pressure. However, Miller announced that starting May 1, the 20-hour limit will be reinstated as the winter semester concludes.

Additionally, new pilot programs will be introduced to encourage post-secondary education institutions to recruit international students from underrepresented countries. The latter is no doubt in response to the diplomatic spat between India and Canada, where a high percentage of international students come from. Focusing on other countries is a strategy designed to reduce Canada’s reliance on students from India, at least until the relationship between both countries improves.

Given the abuse within the study permit world, we welcome the Minister’s announcement as steps in the right direction.

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