Visa cuts cause concern, confusion and a bit of chaos for international students

Capping fee hikes is one easy fix, advocates say

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By ENZO GALLARDO and YASHVIKA GROVER

After the federal government cut the number of international student permits by more than a third, those arriving in Canada must come more prepared than ever.

In January, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced a new annual cap of 360,000 permits in each of the next two years, a cut of 35 per cent.

And that comes after the country saw a record number of international students – more than a million – studying here in 2023.

Students and their advocates say they are being unfairly targeted for political reasons. And they feel like they are being treated as cash cows, paying more than five times as much in tuition as domestic students.

Gurleen Kaur, an international student at Langara College, says that in comparison to domestic students, her tuition fee is much higher.

“I mean there are many pressures on international students being away from your family,” she told the Voice.

Kaur said she has part-time jobs to cover her school fees.

“I think it should be [equal] for both the students because they are also studying the same thing we are studying,” Kaur said.

Currently an international student attending UBC pays $51,377 per 30 credits. Domestic students only pay $8,727 for the same 30 credits. At Langara, the international cost of 30 credits is $19,137 versus $3,228.60 for domestic students.

While some educational institutions offer financial aid to international students, it is much lower than the benefits domestic students are eligible to receive.

And there are more restrictions.

For example, international students who apply for financial aid must be full-time students. They are more likely to be redirected to scholarship or awards. In contrast, even part-time domestic students can access loans.

In addition to the stark differences in financial aid, international students are often excluded from other skill enhancement programs available to domestic students. That has left many international students feeling exploited.

Federation urges limits on international student tuition fee hikes

Melissa Chirino, of the B.C. Federation of Students, said her organization wants the government to impose a two per cent limit on tuition fees for international students.

She said they lack safeguards, allowing post-secondary institutions to arbitrarily raise their fees when they need extra cash.

“We know that, leaving that up to institutions when they’re being underfunded doesn’t really help the case,” said Chirino.

She said the federation is also advocating for more funding for post-secondary education from the provincial government to prevent schools from having rely mainly on international student fees.

“We have to acknowledge that decades of systemic underfunding of the post-secondary sector has resulted in overreliance on international students,” Chirino said.

But immigration consultant Eddy Ramirez has a different perspective.

She said her Latino clients don’t feel exploited because they know before they come that colleges and universities here are costly.

“It’s not a secret for people to know that studying Canada is expensive. They apply for a visa and they should have had the financial capacity to cover for it.”

Ramirez said that most of her clients come to Canada for the security the country provides, but some are looking to gain a far better income than the one they would have in their home countries.

“If you want to come to Canada and make $100,000 a year, you have to understand that the money comes from somewhere,” Ramirez said.

Also in January, the B.C. government announced that new private post-secondary institutions would no longer be eligible to apply to enrol international students for two years.

Then post-secondary education minister Selina Robinson, who has since resigned, said some of the private schools had been offering sub-standard programs just to get the tuition cash.

“That’s why we’re introducing more stringent requirements for institutions and robust safeguards to protect international students against bad actors, provide them with a better path to success, and make sure B.C. continues to attract the talented students we need to fill significant gaps in the labour market and drive our economy forward,” Robinson said.

Chirino said her organization welcomes the policy change.

“We really do commend the provincial government for taking the first steps to stop the exploitation faced by international events at private and public. And I think the one announcement that really speaks to the public sector is introducing a new requirement to provide fee transparency. It is an acknowledgement that more oversight is needed for international students in B.C. and it’s actually the support that we’ve been asking for years.”

International applicants need more cash on hand in 2024

On top of the federal government’s international student cut is an increase in the amount each applicant has to have on hand in order to come to Canada.

The federal website says that starting this year, “a single applicant will need to show they have $20,635 … in addition to their first year of tuition and travel costs.” That’s up from just $10,000 in 2023.

That means more international students need to work in Canada in order to live and pay tuition.

Langara student Gurkirat Singh is one of them. He said most “international students rely on jobs to make their living and pay their tuition.”

Garibul Singh, who also studies at Langara, said the large numbers of international students in Vancouver has made it difficult to find a job. He thinks the new cap will help those already in B.C.

“I would say that gives out more and more opportunities to work because less immigrants coming in means people who are already in B.C. have open job opportunities.”

However, both think the new rules will impact students who had made plans to come to their families and relatives in Canada.

“Most of the students rely on their relatives to come to Canada, especially Punjabi students from India, they mostly rely on relatives to support them when they come to Canada so that is a no go for them,” said Gurkirat Singh.

Ramirez said despite the increased cash threshold, she has received more inquiries about study permits in Canada than she did last year.

“The harder it gets, the more, like, people want it,” Ramirez said.

Data from the “International Education in British Columbia: Keeping the Post-Secondary System Afloat” report by the B.C. Federation of Students.

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