The Canadian government is likely severely underestimating the cost of living for international students when weighing if they can support themselves financially, a new survey suggests.

According to a recent survey by the Daily Bread food bank, which was released on Wednesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s estimated living expense used during the application process is nearly half of what a student in Toronto typically spends.

When applying for a study permit, a prospective international student must show “proof of financial support.” This means they must be able to show they can support themselves in Canada.

Applicants currently must prove they have $10,000 to support themselves on top of their tuition fees, which amounts to $833 per month.

If an applicant intends to bring a family member with them, they must also show an additional $4,000, or $333 per month.

For every additional family member, they must show $3,000, or $255 per month.

Daily Bread surveyed 180 international students who frequent four major Toronto food banks and found those numbers don’t seem to reflect the realities students face.

“In contrast, when we asked survey respondents how much they were spending per month on living expenses, excluding tuition, they reported an average of $1,517, which is close to double what the Government of Canada advertised as the cost of living,” the survey report said.

It added, “When asked how their experience in Canada compared to what they were expecting, respondents noted that Canada was much more expensive than they thought it would be, particularly with respect to housing and food.”

The survey continued, noting: “This is not surprising, given that, in 2022, rents in Toronto increased by 29% for vacant units and food inflation was at 9.1% from June 2022 – June 2023.”

The report also suggested the government has not updated its estimated cost of living figure for international students since 2015.

An IRCC spokesperson told Global News, “The financial requirements for a study permit application are not based on one static figure. A student’s proof of financial support must take into account their specific tuition fees, return transportation for themselves and any family members who come with them to Canada, and living expenses for themselves and any family members who come with them to Canada.”


The spokesperson did not clarify when the proof of funds requirement was last updated to $10,000 for international students.

Talia Bronstein, vice president of research and advocacy at Daily Bread, said, We surveyed 180 food bank clients who are international students. And we found that there was a disconnect between what they had expected when they came to Canada and the reality of living in Canada.”

The report said while all students are at risk of food insecurity, the high cost of living and high tuition for international students makes them three times more likely than domestic students to be food insecure.

One survey respondent is quoted in the report as saying, “The cost of living and rent shot up too quick to be able to manage. I starve myself of healthy food and meat products because I cannot afford it after paying my monthly rent. I only survive on lentils and noodles. This is not what I expected. My health has deteriorated in the last two years greatly.”

Bronstein said, “We looked at external literature and found that there was clear evidence that international students are at a higher risk of being food insecure than domestic students. But we also know that all university students and post-secondary students are at higher risk of being food insecure than the general population.”

The average tuition fee for domestic undergraduate students in Ontario is $7,920, while for international students it is $40,525. While Ontario’s gulf is bigger than the national picture, the numbers are quite similar nationwide.

The average domestic undergraduate student in Canada paid $6,872 and the average international student paid $35,836.

Bronstein said while the survey respondents were from and around Toronto, the rising cost of living and high tuition costs across Canada indicates that this may be a nationwide problem.

The report also noted that students had a hard time finding a safe and affordable place to live.

“Landlords may be less willing to rent to international students because they do not have a Canadian credit score, or because there is discrimination against post-secondary students in general in the housing market,” the report said.

It added that many participants found it harder than anticipated to find a job. The majority of students, 61 per cent, earned between $15.50 (minimum wage) and $18.50 an hour. Around 17 per cent said they earned below minimum wage.

The report also makes recommendations to all three levels of government as well as to colleges and universities. It calls on Ottawa to review and update requirements for how much money students will need for monthly expenses and permanently increase the number of off-campus hours international students can work.

It called on universities and colleges to enhance support for on-campus housing and on-campus employment for international students. It even called on the City of Toronto to make public transit cheaper for students.

But Bronstein said the most important recommendation was for the province.

“The most important recommendation is for the government of Ontario to better fund colleges and universities,” she said.

“We have the lowest per capita domestic student funding from the government across the provinces, and I think that really speaks to the fact that universities are turning to international students to subsidize domestic students. And that’s not a fair way of running an institution.”

Bronstein said while food banks are fulfilling a key role in battling hunger, they cannot be a permanent solution.

“We need to look beyond food banks as a solution. We need to be looking at the public policy opportunities that there are to address it. The three areas we should focus on are income supports, affordable housing and decent work.”

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