British Columbia advocates for international student exemptions from federal cap while tightening regulations

Premier David Eby and Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson announced this dual message addressing the issue from both Ottawa and Surrey.

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British Columbia is advocating for exemptions to the upcoming cap on the number of international students allowed to study in British Columbia, while simultaneously tightening regulations for post-secondary institutions.

Dual announcement

Premier David Eby and Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson announced this dual message on Jan. 29, addressing the issue from both Ottawa and Surrey.

The federal government declared on Jan. 22 its decision to limit the intake of new international students for 2024 to approximately 360,000, marking a 35 percent reduction compared to the existing numbers. Additionally, Ottawa revealed that it would distribute the permits to provinces and territories based on a per-capita formula.

However, the specific allocation of these permits to British Columbia remains uncertain.

Present numbers

The province boasts the second-highest count of international students in Canada, totaling around 175,000. These students contribute significantly to post-secondary institutions in B.C., constituting approximately 32 percent of all post-secondary students in the province and generating substantial revenue due to their payment of higher tuition fees compared to domestic students.

Approximately 82,000 international students are enrolled in public institutions, while around 94,000 attend private institutions, with many of these schools specializing in training students for in-demand professions. However, certain private schools have faced criticism for charging high fees while providing subpar education.

While the exact allocation of future international students to British Columbia is uncertain, Eby and Robinson view it as an initial point for discussions and negotiations with the federal government.

Seeking exemptions on skilled professions

During their announcements on Jan. 29, Eby indicated that British Columbia might seek exemptions in specific areas such as nursing, childcare, and truck driving, among other skilled professions.

Robinson echoed Eby, emphasizing the need for stricter measures to protect international students from exploitative practices and enhance the quality of post-secondary education for students from abroad.

“So while they may given us a number, I’m not sure that’s the final number,” Robinson said.

Robinson stressed the importance of engaging in conversations with the federal government to address the skill gap needs and ensure that the international education framework contributes to securing skilled individuals necessary for sustaining the economy and delivering essential services.

Eby acknowledged that Ottawa holds more leverage on this matter, highlighting that the issuance of international study permits ultimately falls under the federal government’s jurisdiction.

Speaking to CBC television on Jan. 28, Eby disclosed that the provincial government had received preliminary figures from the federal government on the night of Jan. 27. However, he didn’t specify the exact numbers.

“Obviously, this is early-day stuff,” he added. 

Eby said they are carefully reviewing the information received, focusing on essential areas where they intend to introduce specific exemptions. He wants to ensure an adequate supply of healthcare professionals to run hospitals and meet the healthcare needs of the growing population in British Columbia.

The premier stated on Jan. 29 that the government would disclose the numbers to reporters. However, Robinson mentioned earlier on the same day, before Eby’s statement, that she had not seen the figures yet and hadn’t discussed with her team what the implications might be.

The measures, unveiled by Robinson in Surrey on Jan. 29, aim to safeguard international students from exploitation and revoke the permission of private institutions to enroll international students if they fail to meet provincial standards.

2-year moratorium in British Columbia

One of the most noteworthy measures is a two-year moratorium on approving new institutions that provide international education.

“We need to press pause, while we strengthen the policies and regulations that protect students and ensure that we have a system to enforce these new regulations,” said Robinson.

These fresh regulations encompass, among other things, elevated standards for private degree programs, updated language requirements for private institutions, and enhanced tuition transparency. 

Providing better support for students

Robinson also revealed that the government would conduct more inspections of private post-secondary institutions to ensure they adhere to the new and improved quality standards, providing proper support to students, especially in areas such as housing.

According to Eby, international students have contributed positively to British Columbia. He said the presence of international students has been a foundation for the province’s development. He also stressed the importance of treating these students fairly during their time in British Columbia.

The Manitoba government and its affiliated post-secondary institutions are uncertain following Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s recent announcement of a new cap on international student admissions. 

Concerns in Manitoba

During a press conference, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew expressed his concerns, highlighting the lack of specific details about how this cap will be distributed across provinces and territories. Kinew stressed the need for clarity to ensure that Manitoba can provide adequate housing and quality education programs for incoming international students. He also noted the potential for increased tuition fees due to reduced numbers of international students.

“We have asked, but they don’t have answers for us yet,” Kinew said. 

“Of course, we need to be able to house and have the right programs and ensure a quality education for these folks coming to Manitoba. But if there’s a reduction … potentially, it’s going to put an upward pressure on tuition here,” he said.

Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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