Canada is imposing a national cap on the intake of international students into the country, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced on Monday.
Miller announced a slew of other curbs while speaking at the Liberal cabinet retreat, which he said would reduce the intake by 35 per cent over the next two years. He said the measures were temporary and were going to stay in place for two years.
“In order to maintain a sustainable level of temporary residence in Canada, as well to ensure that there is no further growth in the number of international students in Canada for 2024, we are setting a national application intake cap for a period of two years for 2024,” he said.
Miller said for 2024, the cap is expected to result in approximately 364,000 approved study permits – a decrease of 35 per cent from 2023.
Miller said the cap will not apply to students at graduate levels of studies, including master’s and doctoral students. Those people were looking for study permit applications at the elementary and secondary school levels will also be exempt.
Several federal ministers including Miller, Housing Minister Sean Fraser and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc had indicated last summer that Ottawa was considering a cap on student intake. In October, however, Miller had told Global News that imposing a cap on student intake would be an extreme step akin to doing “surgery with a hammer,” though he did not rule out using that measure.
DIFFERENT CAPS FOR DIFFERENT PROVINCES
He added that while the cap is national, it will be applied differently in different provinces. For example, provinces that have seen “the most unsustainable growth” in international student intake will have to cut student intake more than other provinces.
“In the spirit of fairness, we are also allocating the cap space by province based on population,” Miller added, saying that “some provinces will see much more significant reductions.”
Miller said he has already had “productive discussions” with the governments of Ontario and British Columbia. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will allocate a portion of the cap to each province and territory, who will then distribute the allocation of permitted international students among designated learning institutions – a new term effectively meaning a college or university that meets a set of federal criteria, which were brought in to distinguish from colleges Miller has described as “puppy mills” in locations like strip malls.
Starting Monday, prospective students applying for a Canadian study permit will have to provide an attestation letter from the relevant province or territory. The federal government will require each of Canada’s provinces and territories establish a process for issuing attestation letters.
Miller told reporters on Monday that they would take into account each province and territory’s specific labour needs.
“You will hear from some provinces quite clearly that there are some trade schools that they will want to exempt or give post-grad joint work permits to, because that is where some of the needs are – whether it’s in nursing or health care or in construction. But what I say to them is we’ll work with them to get this done.”
WHAT HAPPENS TO WORK PERMITS?
The government on Monday also announced broad changes to the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, which is the program that allows international students to work in Canada upon the completion of their degree.
“As of Sept. 1, postgraduate work permits will no longer be available to public-private institution models,” Miler said.
He added that “in the coming weeks, we will be announcing that open work permits will only be allowed and be available to spouses of international students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs, as well as professional programs such as medicine and law.”
“Spouses of international students enrolled in other levels of study, including undergraduate and college programs, will no longer be eligible,” he said.
CAP FOLLOWS CURBS
The cap on student intake follows a slew of curbs announced by the federal government last month, which roughly doubled the amount of money international students need to prove they have in order to get a study permit.
Currently, an applicant to Canada needs to show at least $10,000 in their bank account to prove that they can keep up with the cost-of-living in Canada. In 2024, this amount will be raised to $20,635. This amount would be on top of the tuition that international students pay.
International students already in Canada, as well as applicants who have already submitted an application for a study permit as of Dec. 7, 2023, will be able to work off campus more than 20 hours per week until April 2024.
In November, a report by RBC economist Cynthia Leach said that while the labour market will not feel the pinch in the short term, the current rate of immigration to Canada is not sufficient for long-term growth.
“Canada needs immigrants over the long term. Even the annual immigrant intake of 1.3% of the population is not sufficient to stabilize the age structure of the population, which would require about 2.1%,” the report read.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser, who earlier held the immigration portfolio, said the federal government had been discussing options including a cap near the end of his tenure as immigration minister.
“It was our preference to see if we could actually work with the players who had the ability to address these challenges within their jurisdiction at the time,” he said.
However, he said levels of student intake have seen “growth beyond what certain communities could handle. And that’s what justified the decision to use this particular suite of measures (including a cap) that Mr. Miller announced today.”
HOW IS IT BEING RECEIVED?
Migrant Students United, an advocacy group representing the rights of international students, said the cap will not only fail to fix the system, it will put the undue pressure of family separation on migrant students.
“In addition to the two-year cap on international student permits, Minister Miller also announced that in the week ahead families of international students who are not in graduate level studies will be banned from being in the country – this is cruel mass family separation. It must be reversed,” Sarom Rho, an organizer with the group, said.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the cap is an admission by the federal government that the immigration system was broken.
“We had the most successful immigration system here in Canada. [Trudeau] and Sean Fraser granted tens of thousands of students to come and go to fake colleges that the Liberal government now admits were now —quote — puppy mills,” Poilievre said.
Universities Canada expressed concern over the cap.
“We are concerned that the cap per province is going to add stress on an already stressed system and until more information is provided as to how each province will be rolling out this new program, it is difficult to comment on its effect on Canada’s universities,” the group said in a statement.
They said the new process could mean prospective students choose other countries, aside from Canada, to pursue higher education.
“We anticipate the need for letters of attestation from each province could significantly affect processing times which could lead to students choosing to pursue post-secondary study in other countries,” the statement said.