01.12.2023 Author: Taut Bataut

Understanding Canada’s International Student Conundrum

Understanding Canada's International Student Conundrum

Canada’s education sector has become a focal point of debate due to the influx of international students. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has introduced new measures to address concerns that the surge in foreign students is exacerbating issues such as housing shortages and labor market pressures. While these concerns are valid, it is essential to examine the situation from a comprehensive perspective.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller unveiled a framework to elevate standards for services, support, and outcomes for international students in Canadian universities and colleges. This framework, set to begin in the fall of 2024, will prioritize institutions that meet these higher standards for student visa processing. Adequate housing is among the criteria for addressing the pressing issue of accommodation shortages.

Additionally, there will be a new requirement for institutions to verify every applicant’s acceptance letter directly with the Canadian government, aimed at curbing fraudulent admissions. This is in response to the alarming revelation that hundreds of Indian newcomers arrived in Canada with fake college admission letters. Miller’s department is also planning to review the post-graduate work permit program to better align it with the labor market’s needs.

The root of this dilemma lies in the increasing reliance of Canadian educational institutions on international students as a source of funding. International students, on average, pay about five times more in tuition than their Canadian counterparts. This significant difference in tuition fees has led to the establishment of colleges catering specifically to foreign students, often in makeshift or temporary facilities. It is crucial to understand that this situation is partly a result of consistent underfunding of post-secondary education, particularly at the provincial level. As provincial funding has decreased over the years, institutions have had to bridge the gap through opportunistic fees charged to international students. These fees, however, create an unnatural disparity that should not exist in a country like Canada.

Foreign students are instrumental in funding post-secondary education, and this dependence on their tuition fees has intensified over the years. In 2019–2020, international students covered 37% of tuition fees at Canadian universities. In 2021, this number will rise to an estimated 68% at Ontario’s colleges. This overwhelming reliance on international students as a source of revenue necessitates a reevaluation of the system.

Many international students see admission to Canadian colleges and universities as a pathway to gaining permanent residency in Canada. While there have been discussions about imposing a cap on international student visas to control the influx, this idea faces significant challenges. The number of foreign students in Canada has tripled in about a decade, exceeding 800,000 last year. The complexities of international students’ experiences are far-reaching, and it is important to recognize that the federal government cannot unilaterally solve these issues. The primary responsibility for accrediting learning institutions lies with the provinces. Instead of imposing a visa cap, the federal government is fostering collaboration with provincial and territorial partners to address the situation comprehensively.

International education significantly contributes to the Canadian economy, generating over $22 billion annually. This figure surpasses the economic impact of Canada’s exports of auto parts, lumber, or aircraft. Moreover, the sector supports more than 200,000 jobs. However, this surge in foreign students has exacerbated housing shortages, leaving many students without proper accommodation and saturating labor markets in regions where employment opportunities are limited.

The crackdown on foreign students has largely targeted private colleges and immigration consultants suspected of exploiting international students for profit. A government investigation revealed nearly 1,550 study permit applications connected to fraudulent acceptance letters. While many cases were detected and rejected, approximately 450 permits were issued. Further review found that some applicants were genuine students, while others were victims who unknowingly received fraudulent admission documents.

Blaming international students for the housing crisis and other issues is misguided. The rapid increase in the number of international students is a result of Canada’s policies and incentives created to attract these students. Post-secondary institutions have actively sought out international students as a lucrative source of revenue, charging them significantly higher tuition fees than Canadian students. It is crucial to recognize that international students are not responsible for the government’s past policies that have contributed to the current situation. Blaming these students is not only unfair, but also counterproductive. It distracts from the role of developers, municipal zoning laws, and government policies in perpetuating the housing crisis. International students are vulnerable due to their precarious legal status, making it challenging for them to speak out against the issues they face.

The crackdown on foreign students in Canada, while rooted in valid concerns, should not lead to the unjust scapegoating of international students. These students are not to blame for the housing crisis, labor market pressures, or the challenges facing the Canadian education sector. Rather than imposing a visa cap, comprehensive solutions should be sought through collaboration between federal and provincial governments, educational institutions, and other stakeholders. The issues at hand demand serious solutions, not finger-pointing and scapegoating. It is crucial to recognize the significant economic and societal contributions of international students and provide them with the support and respect they deserve.


Taut Bataut – is a researcher and writer that publishes on South Asian geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine  “New Eastern Outlook”.

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