Canada’s federal government has said it is capping the number of international student visas for a period of two years beginning with the coming academic session. Fewer visas will mean fewer Indian students will be able to travel to Canada for a college degree.
Marc Miller, the Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced on Monday that for the academic session beginning September 1, 2024, the number of new international student permits would be cut by 35% from the 2023 number.
“This is expected to result in approximately 360,000 approved study permits this year, and will be allocated to provinces and territories to distribute among their DLIs” (Designated Learning Institutions), Miller said in a thread posted on his official X (Twitter) handle.
“Provinces must issue letters of attestation for the students they accept, and as such, the current intake of study permit applications will be paused until March 31st as provinces implement their systems,” he posted.
The situation will be assessed at the end of this year to decide on the number of study permits for 2025. The cap on permits is not permanent, Miller said.
Miller, who spoke at a three-day retreat in Montreal for Ministers of the ruling Liberal Party ahead of an upcoming sitting of Parliament, also announced changes to the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP), which allows international students to work in Canada after they have completed their studies.
“Starting in September (2024), we will no longer issue PGWPs to students studying under curriculum licensing arrangements” (that is, public-private institution models), Miller said.
Also, “in the coming weeks, we will no longer issue work permits to spouses of international students, apart from those in masters and doctoral programs. We will work towards exempting those pursuing professional programs, such as medicine and law.”
Why has Canada taken these steps to curb the influx of international students?
Canadian media quoted Miller as saying the intake of international students needed to be capped so that “a sustainable level of temporary residence” in Canada could be maintained. Canada has an obligation to ensure international students “have access to the resources they need to succeed” in the country, the Minister said on X.
Last month, the Canadian government said that from 2024, international students would have to show that they have more than $20,000 — double the existing funds requirement — in addition to tuition fees to be eligible for a study permit.
Sean Fraser, who had been Immigration Minister earlier, told Canadian media that student intake had grown “beyond what certain communities could handle” — which was the reason for the decisions announced by Miller.
Also, “unscrupulous actors” had been “taking advantage of international students, rendering them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation”, Miller said on X. The new measures would “ensure system integrity and sustainable growth”, he said.
On the decision to exclude public-private institutions from the PGWP program, the Minister said “these programs are notorious for lacking oversight and do not provide the quality academic experience that Canada is renowned for.”
Mandeep, convener of the Montreal Youth Students Organisation told The Indian Express: “There is a housing crisis in Canada currently. Rentals and the cost of living have increased a lot, while jobs are not that abundant. Also, some students have complained that private institutions were charging high tuition fees and offering poor quality education.”
Who specifically will be impacted by the decisions? Will there be implications for Indians?
The two-year cap on student permits is only for undergraduate courses. Masters and PhD programs, as well as elementary and secondary school-level courses are exempt.
The curbs will apply to only new applicants — international students who are already studying in Canada, whether in undergraduate or any other courses, are not impacted.
The visa cap will hit Indian students. According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the largest numbers of student visas are given to applicants from Asia, and India is on top of the list (followed by China).
Canada is a favourite destination for students from Punjab. Often, students are joined by their spouses on spouse visas within months of their beginning studies or getting a temporary job. Under the new rules, open work permits will be given to spouses only if they are enrolled in a postgraduate or doctoral program.
According to IRCC data, the population of international students rose from around 3.26 lakh in 2014 to more than 8 lakh in 2022. Last week, The Globe and Mail reported that at the end of December 2023, the number of study permit holders had crossed a million — 1,028,850, according to IRCC data quoted in the report — with more than half of them living in Ontario. The number of work permit holders was estimated at 1.4 million.