Recruiting and teaching international students in Canada is big business for private universities, and the federal government has backed a scheme that puts more cash in the pockets of university administrators and wreaks havoc with the Canadian job market.
In 2000, some 122,665 people held study permits in Canada. In 2018, that number reached 572,415. Citing positive effects on Canada’s economy, including an increase in exports of aircraft, lumber and car parts, the federal government has begun implementing a new “aligned” strategy designed to bring in even more international students.
President of Universities Canada, Paul Davidson, told the press he envisioned Canada becoming a key education destination for students from growing economies, including Colombia and Africa.
It appears the plan is well on track. The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development has estimated international students will comprise 20 per cent of all enrolments in that province’s universities by 2022.
In the 2019 federal budget, $148 million was set aside to achieve a similar goal.
Rather than being a truly effective way at boosting Canada’s economy and job market, however, it seems the plan might represent something more nefarious. At best, the plan could be seen as the exploitation of foreign students. At worst, it is a political diversity scheme that opens the door to thousands of people and their families from all over the developing world.
The system is not only extremely vulnerable to visa fraud, but students are telling the press that agents representing private colleges are using international recruits for financial gain. In some instances, international students report signing up for university courses they had no interest in, as it allowed them to gain a Canadian work permit upon entry.
The Canadian government has no system in place to monitor student visitors once they enter the country. And under the new proposals, students will find it much easier to gain permanent residence after completing their studies. A combination of lax enforcement, active encouragement by the federal government for more people to enter the country on student visas, and private universities proactively seeking high tuition fees from aspiring immigrants has exposed the aligned strategy as little more than a political and financial scheme.
A Globe and Mail investigation found recruiters taking large sums of money from international recruits, promising full work permits. Upon arrival, those recruits discover their permits allow only 20 hours of work per week. Recruits also reportedly said they struggled to find Canadian businesses willing to offer them jobs at the end of their studies.
So why is the government pushing for larger numbers of more diverse international students?
Perhaps it’s part of a strategy to improve access to cheap labour.
Measures put in place by the previous federal government to change residency requirements from three years to four are expected to be repealed. Universities will benefit from increased students and tuition fees.
A study by OneClass.com recently found that every one of Ontario’s 19 universities had become increasingly reliant on fees paid by foreign students. Analyzing data from 2006 to 2017, it found that the average international student pays roughly four times more in tuition than Canadian students. It also found that, should trends continue over the next 10 years, domestic students could lose places at university in favour of more profitable international students.
The universities clearly profit, as does the government through the appeasement of big business.
Much in the same way that the European Union’s free movement of people has fundamentally transformed the economies of major European countries, an influx of foreign students who quickly become permanent residents will serve as a pool of cheap labourers.
Meanwhile, Canadians will lose out on university places to new arrivals and struggle in a realigned job market that prioritizes those who compete for the lowest salaries.
Davidson might be right to cite the initial positive effect foreign students can have on businesses in Canada. But he fails to recognize the negative impact their presence will have on the average Canadian citizen.
Jack Buckby is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and a British author and researcher, with experience working in English, American, Canadian and Polish media. His latest book, Architects of Betrayal, explores the disastrous EU exit withdrawal negotiations under the leadership of prime minister Theresa May.