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IRCC Announces Cap on International Student Permits

International students concerned about future

The federal government has recently implemented study permit restrictions that now affect international students. In a January 22 news release, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced “stabilizing” measures to cap the number of study permits offered to international students in 2024 to 360,000, a 35 per cent reduction from 2023.

Study permit caps will be distributed on a provincial level, weighted by population size. This means that provinces with a higher proportion of international students, such as Quebec, will experience a greater decline in international student enrollment. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marc Miller, justified this move by citing the exponential growth of students applying for study permits. In 2024, international students comprised 2.5 per cent of all residents in Canada, double the figure recorded 5 years ago, causing what Miller describes as “pressure on housing, health care and other services.” Miller justified these measures in order “to protect a system that has become so lucrative that it has opened a path for its abuse.”

Abuses and “unsavoury actors” have been prevailing reasons for introducing study permit caps. These include private colleges, which supposedly provide students with an unsatisfactory standard of living, including poor access to housing and other services. This leaves students unable to afford the cost of living in Canada. Additionally, fraud is mentioned as a major issue: in 2023, over 1,550 study permits were allegedly connected to the issuance of fraudulent acceptance letters.

This said, Miller’s definitions of these supposed ‘bad actors’ has led organizations such as the Migrant Workers Alliance to underline how “tens of thousands of students will be punished for failures of government policy.” The press release also cited a lack of “predictability and transparency” of government policy, largely tracing back to the Trudeau government’s ever-changing international student policies.

In an October 2023 interview with Global News, Miller mentioned proposed international student caps as akin to “doing surgery with a hammer,” whilst in January 2024 he endorsed the study caps for “ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.” These sudden changes in policy have caused concern for Master’s and PhD students, who are exempt from the caps but fearful of another sudden change. In an interview with the Daily, Annabel Ling, a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia, stated “how can I trust a government which is in a constant tug of war with their own policies,” adding that “it is an unsettling time for any academic in Canada.”

The Daily recently reached out to the IRCC to discuss these measures. Regarding how the federal government intends to regulate the caps applied by provinces on international students, the IRCC Media Relations Office stated how “Matching allocations with a provinces per capital share of the population is the prime consideration.” referring to the ratio of permanent residence to International students in a province.

The email further explained: “To ensure international students who arrive in Canada are set up for success, we must tackle issues that have made some students vulnerable,” when asked about the nature of the federal government sudden turnaround on international student regulation.

The IRCC’s new legislation presents an additional challenge for anglophone universities in Quebec such as McGill and Concordia. These universities are reeling from tuition amendments targeting out-of-province students, with 33 per cent increases in tuition being planned. Combined with the rise of $8,000 in the minimum tuition fees for international students in Quebec, this measure is predicted to cause a decrease in enrolment at the two anglophone universities. With applications for admission in Fall 2024 well underway, this announcement came at a shock for many applicants, including Ravi Rahman, a student from Hyderabad, India hoping to study at either the University of Toronto or McGill. He commented to the Daily: “I am just a bit confused as to why this announcement came so late” adding “Both my older brother and sister went to Canadian universities. I feel like I am being robbed of my education and to be honest I feel pretty upset.”

Other universities have had mixed responses. The University of Waterloo in Ontario outlined its support of the IRCC’s attempts to curb ‘bad actors,’ especially in the housing market, whilst the President Vivek Goel worried “we expect [the impact] will be a significant decline this fall in our international student population.” Meanwhile, the University of Saskatchewan could benefit from the caps if allocated three percent of study permits, which could increase their international student population by 11,000 a year if students decide to attend this institution. Concerns have since been raised about whether provinces which clearly attract greater populations of international students like Ontario and British Columbia should have the majority of the 360,000 study caps available in 2024.

International students have expressed feelings of remorse regarding the caps. Fred Azeredo, a Theology major from Brazil, mentioned “while the concerns about obscure private universities’ abuse of international visas are valid, extending the cap to all international students across Canada hammers in just how precarious our status is here.” Another international student, Ollie Saunders, stated how he is “very concerned about the future of international students at McGill, especially as I came here from the Philippines expecting to feel welcome, which is not the case.” Ollie added that he “worr[ies] about his younger siblings and their experience being damaged through this bill.” For many, this cap feels like an attack on international students as opposed to those “unsavoury actors” mentioned by Miller.

Students aren’t the only ones expressing concern about legislation impeding international students’ entry to Canada. Universities Canada, representing the voices of over 234 post-secondary institutions in Canada, including McGill, addressed a joint letter to Minister Miller expressing concern over the federal government’s motives. It mentions the collateral effects of the caps, “given that international students play a pivotal role in bolstering the economy by contributing $22 billion a year to our country.” This is particularly relevant to Quebec as Canada’s third most sought-after destination by international students, with 12 per cent of all international students ending up in Quebec and playing a major role in Quebec’s economy. However, the McGill Media Relations Office commented to the Daily that “Preliminary indications are that the cap on international student permit applications is not likely to affect McGill’s ability to welcome international students,” ensuring McGill will find ways through these stricter measures.