Manitoba faces challenges as Ottawa cap on international student admissions sparks tension

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew saw the need for clarity to ensure Manitoba can provide adequate housing and quality education programs for incoming international students.

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

On Jan. 22, Minister Miller declared a significant reduction in the approval of undergraduate study permits for Canada in 2024, setting the number at approximately 360,000, a substantial 35 percent decrease compared to the previous year. This unexpected move has left educational and governmental bodies in Manitoba unclear about the implications for the province’s academic sector, particularly regarding international student enrollment and the associated financial and cultural impacts.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew expressed his concerns during a press conference, highlighting the lack of specific details about how this cap will be distributed across provinces and territories. Kinew emphasized 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 as a consequence of reduced international student numbers.

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

“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.

The Federal Government’s statement indicated that more details on the allocation model will be shared post consultations with provinces and territories. The statement also showed the need to address vulnerabilities faced by some students and to penalize those exploiting the system.

“We must tackle issues that have made some students vulnerable and have challenged the integrity of the international student program. This includes making sure we can manage the number of international students sustainably coming to Canada while punishing any bad actors who pose a threat to the system,” the statement explained.

Growing concerns

This decision arises amid growing concerns about the impact of a high number of immigrants, including international students, on housing prices. Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser suggested that the cap could alleviate pressure in communities heavily populated by international students.

Manitoba has seen a steady increase in international student numbers over the past decade, with a notable jump from 7,955 in 2012 to 22,060 in 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Institutions like the University of Manitoba, which currently hosts 7,000 international students, and Red River College Polytechnic, have stated that it is too soon to predict the impact of the cap on their operations. These institutions highlight the significant contributions of international students to Manitoba’s culture, knowledge base, and labor market.

Mark Frison, President of Assiniboine Community College, expressed concern about the cap’s potential negative effects on the province’s population goals and the financial health of educational institutions. The college, which expects around 2,000 international students this year, sees this move as a step back from its progress.

Alexandra Humphries, President of the Manitoba Council for International Education, pointed out that the housing and healthcare challenges attributed to international students are more pronounced in other provinces. She pointed to the substantial economic contribution of these students to Manitoba, with an estimated half a billion dollars annually and support for 40,000 full-time jobs.

“International students bring half a billion dollars into our province every year and directly support 40,000 full-time jobs,” she said.

Mixed feelings

In response to the cap, international students at the University of Winnipeg expressed mixed feelings. Tomiris Kaliyeva, from Kazakhstan and President of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, voiced her frustration over international students being blamed for broader societal issues like the housing crisis. 

“It’s upsetting because sometimes we’re used as cash cows where we’re welcomed and we’re here to stay, and where everyone’s happy to see us. Then the other times, we are paying for the housing crisis or we are blamed for the rising cost of living,” she said. 

Christine Quiah, vice-president of Student Affairs at the association, highlighted the contradiction between the provincial government’s desire to attract more international students and the federal government’s restrictive measures. 

“I’m here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the government wants more international students and they want us to stay, whereas the federal government right now, they’re doing their best to limit us,” said Quiah.

Conversely, Dhrue Kasodariya, an Indian biology student, sees the cap as a fair approach to fostering competition. The University of Winnipeg, which currently has 1,600 international students, is in the process of reviewing the implications of the federal announcement.

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