Toronto’s international student community divided over 2-year cap on permits

Contrastingly, a segment of the international student population in Toronto has expressed support for the cap.

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Toronto’s international student community has become a focal point of a contentious debate following the Canadian federal government’s decision to implement a two-year cap on international student permits.

The decision is poised to result in a 35 percent reduction in approvals, a move that has elicited a range of reactions from students and educational stakeholders alike.

Concerns for the future

Kewal Shah, an Indian student pursuing his studies at a public university in Toronto, epitomizes the concerns of many in his position. Shah, who is set to complete his current program this winter and had plans to enroll in a private college in the fall, finds his future uncertain. The new regulations not only affect his eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, crucial for his plans to work and live in Canada, but also impact the prospects of his wife joining him.

These changes specifically target the issuance of work permits to graduates of private colleges that offer programs licensed by associated public colleges. Furthermore, spouses of students enrolled in these private college programs will no longer be eligible for work permits. For Shah and others like him, these alterations pose significant financial and personal challenges, complicating their plans which were made under different policy conditions.

“This will bring a lot of financial burden on people like us who have planned things in advance. It will be more chaotic for people who are already under stress,” Shah said.

Support for the restrictions

Contrastingly, a segment of the international student population in Toronto has expressed support for the cap. Students such as Abil Shaji and Sugam Khatra recount difficulties in securing employment and housing in the city. Their experiences underline the challenges faced by many international students, who often find themselves in precarious situations due to a lack of job opportunities and affordable housing.

He said: “Students coming to Canada, they become like in a trap. They get no job, they have to make more than what they expected.”

“If I knew that early, I (would) never come here. I (would have) just stayed in my home country,” said Khatra.  

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has criticized the provincial government for underfunding post-secondary education, leading to an over-reliance on fees from international students. A report by Higher Education Strategy Associates highlights that international students from India contribute significantly to Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, even surpassing provincial funding in some instances.

Amidst these discussions, questions arise regarding the impact of this decision on Canada’s ongoing housing crisis. Immigration Minister Marc Miller has pointed to certain private colleges exploiting international students through high tuition fees and inadequate resources. Housing Minister Sean Fraser hopes that the cap will alleviate some housing pressures in communities with large student populations.

However, Jaspreet Singh, president of the International Sikh Student Association, argues that international students are also victims of the housing crisis, facing skyrocketing rents and financial hardships. 

“The student who used to pay $500 or $600 per month for an apartment, they’re paying more than $1,000 per month. A thousand dollars for someone who’s jobless, who has already spent the lifetime savings of their parents on their education, is a lot of money,” Singh said.

This sentiment is echoed by Steve Pomeroy, a professor and member of the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative, who supports the cap as a sensible temporary measure. Pomeroy emphasizes the inability to provide immediate housing solutions for the influx of students each academic year.

“As much as the rhetoric has been: ‘We need more supply.’ Students get on a plane in September and arrive the next day. We can’t build them a house for two years,” Pomeroy said.

While a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Remi Lariviere acknowledged that international students are not the primary cause of the housing shortage, they do contribute to the increased demand for housing and other services.

“But the growth in the arrival of international students adds significant demand for housing and other services that all Canadians must be able to access,” Lariviere said.

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