Are international students not welcome in Canada anymore?

Published 2024-02-21 10:12:16
Toronto skyline, Ontario - Image by TravelScape on Freepik

Canada is slashing the number of new student visas by a whopping 34% this year. Government officials cite housing and healthcare crises for the shock move which will affect thousands of international students who flock to Canada.

Foreign students have thronged to the North American country over the last few years attracted by the wide choice of reputable tertiary institutions. But some of these  institutions have been charging exorbitantly high tuition fees and providing poor quality  education– so-called “diploma mills”. 

A new cap on the number of visas

International students are foreign nationals who apply for a study permit from the federal government to study at a Canadian educational institution. There are a few requirements to meet, like proof of financial support, a letter of acceptance and other personal documents.

Previously, there had been no limit to the number of study permits issued to foreign students provided they had an acceptance letter from a provincially-accredited school. Each province or territory is responsible for allocating which institutions within their jurisdiction will accept foreigners. 

The Canadian immigration minister, Marc Miller, recently announced the new, temporary national limit on the number of foreign students that will go into effect for new study permit applications in 2024.

“To ensure that there is no further growth in the number of [foreign] students in Canada in 2024, we are setting a national cap on applications for a period of two years” said Marc Miller.

This cap will be enforced for two years and will reduce the number of foreign students from over 800,000 in 2022 to only 364,000 in 2024.

For the academic year 2025, the total number of study visas approved will be reassessed

Study permits are usually granted for three years and this cap will not apply to students currently enrolled. The cap is only applicable to post-secondary undergraduate students and will not affect any applications for master's programs, doctoral degrees or school students. It will also not affect any visa renewals.

However, certain popular provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, which have many universities in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, are more affected by the cap than others. Out of the close to one million international students in Canada, the province of Ontario houses more than half of them.

This disproportionate number places the province under significant pressure to provide housing, healthcare and other services. Therefore, student permits will granted based on the population in each province.

A move to address the housing crisis

Provinces have been applying pressure on the federal government due to the high numbers of non-permanent residents creating a housing problem. The minister hopes this move addresses the housing crisis currently experienced in Canada.

The immigration minister stated that Canada values its international students as assets because they contribute greatly to the communities they live in. These foreign students enrich the communities by benefitting them culturally and socially but also through massive economic contributions.

Foreign students pay substantially higher tuition fees than local students. According to Statistics Canada, it is almost 429% more than what domestic students cough up for a tertiary education.

A hope to tackle poor quality of courses and high fees

It has been found that certain colleges and universities have substantially increased intake to up their revenue creating a scenario where more foreign students are arriving to Canada without the proper framework of support to be successful.

Additionally, the government hopes to focus on and weed out this growing number of institutions that charge excessively high tuition fees for foreign students while increasing the intake of international students.

The immigration minister believes that some private educational institutions have abused their position and taken advantage of international students by charging high tuition fees but delivering a sub-standard quality of courses.

“Private institutions have taken advantage of international students by operating under-resourced campuses and charging high tuition fees, while dramatically increasing the number of international students they enroll,” said Marc Miller          

He believes that certain tertiary institutions in many of the provinces are underfunded by the government prompting them to hike prices for international students as a means of generating a higher income since they are restricted from increasing tuition fees for local students. The stance of the government is to shut down these types of institutions.

He expects the newly installed cap to ensure the education international students receive is up to a high standard and not a way to punish international students in Canada.

Critics suggest a more targeted approach

Managers at many tertiary institutions have expressed dismay at the move to cap student visas. They believe this sweeping move will put some institutions in further financial peril.

Rather than an across-the-board move they suggest a more targeted approach be taken where institutions that rely heavily on international student revenue are not severely impacted. A more focused approach will also avoid negatively affecting the reputable institutions along with the “bad actors”.

In Ontario specifically, the provincial government has suspended any tuition increases. This has forced these schools to rely increasingly on their international student tuition revenue. In 2019 the Ontario government slashed tuition for domestic students by 10% and fees have been at this level ever since. 

The Council of Ontario Universities believes that already more than 10 Ontario universities are expecting operating deficits this year which is expected to multiply next year. The cap will only exacerbate the problem especially if there are no countermeasures applied.

An external report commissioned by the government in November last year advised an end to the tuition freeze and an increase in funding to Ontario’s tertiary institutions to save the province’s many at-risk schools. Many believe a cap on the foreign student visas at this point will financially incapacitate these institutions.  Sault College, for example, with multiple locations dotted over the province, is expecting a $40 million blow to its budget. There are many other institutions in the same boat.

The government is also looking at restricting eligibility to work after graduation for international students. This will curb enrollment numbers substantially.

It seems likely that the government will have to make further announcements to respond to the flurry of underfunded educational institutions left in the wake of the cap on international student visas.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

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