Canada has announced a temporary cap on the number of international students who can enter the country for the next two years, citing concerns over housing and health care pressures. The decision has drawn mixed reactions from students, educators and experts, who say the system needs a comprehensive review.
Visa cap aims to target ‘bad actors’ and ease housing crunch
The federal government said it will approve about 360,000 undergraduate study permits for 2024, a 35 per cent reduction from 2023. Each province and territory will be allotted a portion of the total, based on population. The cap will be more severe in provinces where the international student population has grown rapidly in recent years.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the cap is meant to crack down on some private colleges that have exploited international students by offering low-quality programs, charging high fees and increasing their intake. He also said the cap will help ease the pressure on housing and health care systems, which have been strained by the influx of foreign students.
The cap will not affect current study permit holders or renewals, nor will it apply to master’s and doctoral students. Starting from today, every study permit application will also require an attestation letter from a province or territory, confirming that the institution and program meet the quality standards.
The cap will be in place for two years, and the number of permits for 2025 will be reassessed later this year.
Students express frustration and uncertainty over visa cap
The visa cap has caused frustration and uncertainty among many prospective and current international students, who fear they may not be able to pursue their education in Canada or stay after graduation.
Rajesh Kumar, a 21-year-old student from India, said he had applied for a study permit to attend a college in Toronto, but now he is worried that his application may be rejected or delayed. He said he had spent a lot of money and time preparing for his studies, and he does not have a backup plan.
“I feel cheated and betrayed by the Canadian government. They invited us to come and study here, and now they are closing the doors on us. How can they do this to us?” he said.
Kumar said he chose Canada over other countries because of its reputation for quality education, multiculturalism and immigration opportunities. He said he hopes to work and settle in Canada after completing his diploma in business administration.
“I have a dream to make a better life for myself and my family in Canada. I don’t want to go back to India, where there are no jobs and no future. I want to contribute to the Canadian economy and society. But now I don’t know what will happen to me,” he said.
Educators and experts call for a holistic approach to international education
While some educators and experts acknowledge the need to address the challenges posed by the rapid growth of international students in Canada, they also warn that the visa cap may have negative consequences for the sector and the country.
Dr. David Turpin, president of the University of Alberta, said the cap is a “short-sighted” and “arbitrary” measure that does not reflect the diversity and quality of institutions and programs in Canada. He said the cap may hurt the reputation and competitiveness of Canadian universities, which rely on international students for academic excellence, innovation and revenue.
“International students bring tremendous benefits to our campuses and communities. They enrich our learning environment, foster global connections and generate economic impact. They also help address the skills and labour shortages in Canada, especially in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math,” he said.
Turpin said he hopes the federal government will consult with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to develop a more holistic and strategic approach to international education, one that balances the needs and interests of all parties.
Dr. Rima Azar, a professor of psychology and health sciences at Mount Allison University, said the visa cap is a “band-aid” solution that does not address the root causes of the problems in the system. She said the system needs a comprehensive review that considers the quality, equity and sustainability of international education in Canada.
“We need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Why do we have international students in Canada? What are the goals and outcomes of international education? How do we ensure that international students have a positive and meaningful experience in Canada? How do we support their integration and well-being? How do we measure and evaluate the impact of international education on Canada and the world?” she said.
Azar said she hopes the federal government will engage in a dialogue with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to develop a long-term vision and plan for international education, one that aligns with Canada’s values and interests.