Canada has long recognized the immense value that international students bring to our communities, enriching our academic institutions and contributing to our cultural diversity. However, the dramatic increase in the number of international students has exposed certain challenges that need to be addressed. CILA is committed to advocating for a more sustainable and transparent international student system, one that benefits all stakeholders.
Develop a More Sustainable Funding Model for DLIs
Provinces must take on more responsibility for sustaining Canada’s educational institutions so that they are not dependent on foreign streams of income to survive. Similarly, educational institutions themselves must bring their international recruitment personnel inhouse so that responsibility for the recruitment practices of each institution rests solely with the institution in Canada and where the activities can be subject to regulation and enforcement.
Greater Regulation of DLI Status
Surveys by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) and others indicate most international students are motivated to pursue permanent residence following graduation in Canada. As such, it is worth considering revoking the DLI status of institutions that offer programs that do not make international students eligible for a PGWP. This would significantly reduce the odds of international students being misled by education agents and DLIs about their post-graduation immigration prospects in Canada.
In addition, there needs to be greater regulation of the DLIs to ensure they are supporting positive outcomes for international students during and after their studies in Canada. This includes aiding international students leading up to their arrival in key areas such as housing, cost of living and helping international students find gainful work opportunities following graduation. The Recognized Institution Framework is welcomed. Perhaps it can be expanded upon to operate in a similar manner as the “COVID Readiness Plan” that was required from DLIs during the pandemic to ensure they were equipped to host faculty, domestic, and international students. A similar approach, for instance, called a “DLI Readiness Plan”, could be employed so that DLIs take greater responsibility of housing, mental health, employment, and other supports that are vital to international student success.
Canada can also consider revisiting the current list of Designated Learning Institutions with a view to delisting some with the proper advance notice. Institutions with poor performance records and a history of well-documented recruitment practices that do not meet ethical standards could be the subject of this exercise.
More Transparency about PR Prospects
Although most international students’ express interest in obtaining PR, federal government data indicate the majority are unable to obtain it. This is due to the competitive nature of the economic class PR process, and that there simply aren’t enough PR spots available. Canada is set to host some 900,000 international students this year, but only about one-quarter of Canada’s annual immigration targets go to economic class principal applicants (most economic class admissions are the partners and children of principal applicants).
This lack of awareness among international students leads to significant integrity issues. For example, education consultants and DLIs can reap major financial rewards by selling international students on their permanent residence prospects, even if the prospects are feeble. It is challenging for governments to manage the messaging provided by consultants and DLIs, but the government can and must do a better job of providing more transparent messaging of its own. That is, informing international students well before they move to Canada about the PR realities they face. IRCC, for instance, can embark on a marketing campaign that studying in Canada does not guarantee PR. Moreover, IRCC can state clearly upon applying for a study permit that obtaining PR is not guaranteed, and similar messaging can be communicated when students receive their AOR, approvals, and when graduates apply for a PGWP. The department can also impose a requirement on DLIs that similar messaging be included in each LOA.
It is also crucial to underscore that IRCC ensure they can correspond with the international students directly. Often, an overseas education consultant is the one who submits the application on behalf of their client, which presents a conflict of interest since they are being paid a commission by the DLI and have a vested interest in withholding information from their client (i.e., that obtaining PR is not a foregone conclusion). This would entail IRCC officials directly communicating with the applicants themselves before applications are processed.
Greater Regulation of Education Agents
Overseas education agents must be regulated by provinces and Canadian colleges and universities must be held accountable for the activities they conduct outside of Canada on behalf of both Canadian public and private educational institutions. Canada’s educational institutions can no longer be permitted to engage in the wild west of overseas recruitment activities which are outside of the purview of federal or provincial laws and the enforcement thereof. Canadian educational institutions should only be permitted to employ education agents or consultants who are accountable to the institution itself and who may be governed by laws in Canada. This will force a shift in international recruitment practices and will drastically reduce the number of unscrupulous actors that exploit international students by way of current recruitment practices.
In addition, Canada must mandate that Canadian colleges and universities disclose the names, citizenship, and location of work of all education agents that they employ to recruit students overseas. All overseas agents must be employed directly by the Canadian institutions and have a nexus to Canada so that they may be held accountable for practices that do not meet ethical standards. Canadian post-secondary institutions employing unscrupulous actors and unregulated agents should be subject to a compliance regime. Penalties for non-compliance can include revocation of Designated Learning Institution (DLI) status. Another option would be to adopt a compliance regime like the one adopted for employers of foreign workers in Canada. Educational institutions could be found non-compliant and subject to administrative monetary penalties. A public list of non-compliant institutions could be publicized by Global Affairs Canada and IRCC, including a list of the types of non-compliant activities and the penalties assessed against each institution.
Yet another option to ensure prospective applicants are not misled as to their prospects of transitioning to permanent residence, would be to restrict representation on study permit applications. The role of authorized representatives should be confined to advice regarding submitting a compliant study permit application only. Any representatives also acting as a paid education agent or education consultant should be prohibited from representing international students before IRCC as it creates a conflict of interest. Study permit applicants should be informed where an educational agent is being paid commissions by DLI’s. We also recommend that commissions be disclosed by educational institutions and their agents.
For comparison purposes, it should be noted that Canadian lawyers are not permitted to pay referral fees to third party agents. In Ontario for example, referral fees are restricted to fees paid to other Ontario lawyers and must be fully disclosed to a client. Moreover, lawyers cannot receive referral fees without disclosing to the client that they received a referral fee or commission. Study permit application forms could be amended to include questions on whether an education agent or consultant was a party to an application and paid a commission. This would allow for greater transparency and accountability in the application process.
Study Permit Criteria
Strengthening study permit criteria can help to reduce a variety of challenges, such as international students being taken advantage of by unscrupulous actors pre- (e.g., education agents) and post-arrival (e.g., landlords and employers). Currently, international students need to demonstrate they have an LOA and proof of financial support, among other criteria. Among the challenges here is it is typically very easy to obtain an LOA from one of the 1,500 or so DLIs across Canada, resulting in a race to the bottom. Barely passable English or French language skills is sufficient to obtain an LOA, which leaves such individuals vulnerable to abuse in Canada, and dim post-graduation immigration prospects. Moreover, the amount of funds an individual outside of Quebec needs per year is $10,000 CAD (on top of tuition). The reality is it is nearly impossible for anyone to live off $10,000 CAD, which means a student must either need access to a significantly higher amount or hold regular employment upon arrival. A challenge with the latter point, is it threatens to undermine the integrity of the student program, since those arriving may prioritize work over study, which goes against the spirit of their admission into Canada.
Hence, it is necessary to re-evaluate what a more realistic amount of financial support one requires to study in Canada. In addition, financial support figures should be regularly indexed to inflation, something which IRCC does regularly for its application fees, and for eligibility criteria in other lines of business such as the Parents and Grandparents Program.
It is also worth considering implementing higher language proficiency and financial support standards across the board for all international students. For instance, the Student Direct Stream has a higher language proficiency requirement and requires the purchase of a $10,000 CAD GIC in an eligible Canadian bank for the privilege of a faster service standard. Imposing such requirements across the board can be a means of better ensuring international student arrivals are well-positioned to settle and integrate in Canada.
The October 27, 2023, Announcement of changes to Canada’s International Student Program
CILA welcomes IRCC’s initiative to begin a series of improvements to support international students destined for Canada. CILA hopes that IRCC will continue stakeholder consultations to improve the integrity of the system.
IRCC’s recognition of the need to support international students with mental health challenges in Canada was of note. CILA calls on IRCC to also recognize the need for some leniency vis-à-vis the requirement to maintain a full-time course load where studies may be interrupted or scaled back because of circumstances that impact an international student’s mental health.
Regarding the Recognized Institution Framework, CILA believes this is the key to restoring the integrity to Canada’s international student program.
Regarding the review of the PGWP Program, CILA supports changes to the PGWP program that would fine tune eligibility with the level and duration of the post-secondary program. Similarly, an extended duration of the PGWP could be offered to international students that pursue programs of study that align with Canada’s labour shortages. Extending the PGWP to a duration of up to five years for international graduates in the fields of healthcare, STEM, trades and transportation would incentives international students to choose their programs of study judiciously at the front end. This would also restore integrity to the international student program by structuring long term avenues to remain in Canada that are connected to both the DLI and the education discipline. Curtailing access to the PGWP for programs that do not support labour gaps in the economy, such as general college programs and/or those for less than 18 months, could also result in educational institutions themselves revisiting the viability of offering such programs, thereby reducing intake of international students using the ISP as a perceived gateway to remain in Canada permanently.
CILA has been calling for a return of the post-PGWP Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) stream (at the entry level wage strata), a program that served as a stepping stone for international graduates to embark on a career in their chosen field. By bringing back the post-PGWP LMIA stream, IRCC could solve industry specific labour shortages with Canadian trained talent and offer added support for international graduates to find a pathway to permanent residence status.
Moving to restore and strengthen the integrity to Canada’s ISP is fundamental to sustaining Canada’s international student program without consideration of a hard cap on the number of international students welcomed annually. Canada needs to pivot to attract academically focused international students who can help support Canada’s labour market and economy. We urge IRCC and Global Affairs Canada to continue their dialogue with key stakeholders on how to support Canadian colleges and universities attract international students that will contribute to the academic life at our post-secondary institutions, advance research in Canada and generate the leaders of tomorrow.
CILA, through its membership, has a wealth of experience on the subject and stands ready to assist in providing feedback on ideas and proposals on how to adapt the ISP and PGWP programs to meet Canada’s evolving needs.