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Canada to Implement Stricter Controls on International Student Study Permits: Internal Memo

International Student Study Permits

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Starting later this year, the federal government plans to implement a controlled allocation of international study permits to each province, according to a memo from Universities Canada obtained by the Star. This memo provides insight into the extent of cuts Ottawa is aiming for in international enrolment.

Under the proposed plan, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will assign quotas of study permits to provinces. Each province will then decide how to distribute these permits among authorized post-secondary institutions within their jurisdictions.

Although the specific number of study permits is yet to be determined, IRCC aims to revert to more sustainable levels, potentially rolling back international student numbers to those of at least two years ago, as indicated in the internal letter from Universities Canada.

The memo, obtained by the Star, was sent to the 96 members of Universities Canada. The federal Immigration Department, when asked about the leaked plan, stated that it had no information to share at the moment.

The letter outlines the allotment system as a “two-year stopgap measure” until the federal government can fully implement the new “recognized” institution regime. Once in place, the cap on study permits will no longer be necessary.

Previously, immigration officials mentioned that the recognized institution scheme would begin in the upcoming fall semester, vetting colleges and universities based on criteria yet to be revealed. This system aims to expedite the processing of study-permit applications from trusted institutions.

From January to November 2023, Canada issued 579,075 new international study permits, with approximately 900,000 international students in the country. To roll back the numbers to those of two years ago, the annual number of new study permits issued would need to decrease by 23%, reaching the 2021 level of 443,715, when the country had 617,250 study permit holders.

A university president, who chose not to disclose their identity publicly while speaking with the Star, emphasized the importance of the federal government making a distinction between publicly assisted and private institutions if caps are to be introduced.

Private post-secondary institutions, particularly colleges, operate without a cap on international student admissions and lack the same level of student and housing support as public institutions, according to the president. The president stressed the importance of considering these disparities when distributing available spots.

Reflecting on the details in the memo, the university president noted that returning to enrollment numbers from two years ago, during the initial recovery from the COVID travel shutdown, could pose challenges for some universities.

Another post-secondary president, who chose to remain unidentified, expressed that capping the number of student visas is a major concern for families from various countries. The veteran educator hoped that the government would approach the issue with nuance, recognizing genuine opportunities for Canada rather than focusing solely on potential abuses.

The president also highlighted the financial aspect, noting that private schools charge higher tuition to international students to supplement their budgets. The president emphasized that colleges and universities have turned to international students as a result of the financial strain on the education system.

A recent blue-ribbon panel recommended a 10 percent increase in government funding to schools this fall, along with a five percent tuition hike for in-province students in 2024-25.

Facing public pushback on immigration levels and criticism of their impact on affordable housing, Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller considered reducing the number of temporary residents and introduced changes to the international student program. While these changes aim to decrease international student numbers, Miller has not publicly committed to imposing a hard cap.

However, Miller criticized provincial counterparts for not adequately monitoring the quality of institutions authorized to admit international students. He warned that if provinces and territories don’t take action, federal authorities may intervene with less flexible measures.

According to information from Universities Canada, immigration officials are contemplating a model similar to Quebec’s, where provincial governments must provide a supporting letter for each study permit application. However, master’s and PhD program applicants may be exempt from the cap.

Federal authorities also hinted at updating the postgraduate work permit duration to align with the years spent studying in Canada, providing additional years for graduates of master’s and PhD programs.

The one-page document from Universities Canada stated that regional association heads have been informed of these developments, and efforts will be made to work closely with international liaison officers to address these measures and influence Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) judiciously. Universities Canada is in constant contact with IRCC and commits to keeping stakeholders informed of any updates. As of press time, Universities Canada could not be reached for comment.

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