Canada unveils new restrictions on work permits for international students, spouses

Posted on January 22, 2024 in Policy Context

Source: — Authors: , , – News/Canada
January 22, 2024.   By Nicolas Keung, Kristin Rushowy, Alex Ballingall


The federal government has announced new measures to limit and curb the abuse of the international student program.

The federal government will restrict access to work permits for foreign students and their spouses as part of new measures meant to limit and curb the abuse of Canada’s international education program.

The measures were announced Monday, along with confirmation that Canada will implement a two-year cap on international study permits — news first reported by the Star on Friday — with an aim of reducing the number issued by 35 per cent from 2023’s level, to 364,000.

While critics say this is a step in the right direction to clean up a system that even Immigration Minister Marc Miller had said “has lost its integrity,” questions are raised about the reduced enrollments’ economic impacts on the postsecondary education sector amid provincial funding shortfalls and on labour market that has increasingly relied on these students to fill low-skilled, low-wage part-time jobs.

Starting on Sept. 1, the federal government will stop issuing postgraduate work permits to international students who graduate from programs provided under so-called Public College-Private Partnerships, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Monday.

Furthermore, for most of the international students who are not studying in graduate schools or in a professional program such as medicine or law, their spouses will no longer receive the benefit of having a work permit to work in Canada during their studies.

“It is not the intention of this program to have sham commerce degrees and business degrees that are sitting on top of a massage parlour,” Miller told reporters. “This is something we need to rein in … Those institutions need to be shut down.”

Each province will be assigned a fixed number of study permits that’s proportional to its population in Canada, and will have to decide how it divvies them up among the schools authorized to take in international students.

Ontario and British Columbia will be most affected by those rules as the majority of study permit holders go to schools in those provinces, with them being home to 51 per cent and 20 per cent of international students respectively.

The fast-growing international student program has been in the spotlight amid aggressive recruiting campaigns by the post-secondary education sector, and by unregulated foreign agents. Migrants increasingly look at studying in Canada as a backdoor to working and earn permanent residence here.

The current affordable-housing crisis and rising cost of living have seen many international students struggling to seek employment and secure shelter and has led to some turning to food banks.

With dwindling provincial funding, post-secondary education institutions have turned to international students as a revenue source. Employers have grown used to the ceaseless supply of students to fill low-wage jobs in fast-food joints, retail, warehouses, factories and gig work.

“These measures are not against individual international students,” said Miller. “They are to ensure that as future students arrive in Canada, they receive the quality of education that they signed up for and the hope that they were provided in the home countries.

“Some provinces will actually have some room to go up if they so choose. But the provinces that have been heavily affected will have to decrease, decrease by about 50 per cent and perhaps even more than 50 per cent when it comes to new incoming people. 

According to Ontario’s Public Accounts, revenue from fees paid to the province’s public colleges grew more than $1 billion last year, from $3.4 billion in 2022 to $4.4 billion in 2023. The province’s auditor general has also warned that the freeze and reduction in tuition paid by Canadians at Ontario post-secondary institutions “appears to have contributed to universities becoming financially dependent on international student enrolment.”

A Star investigation found the growth of international student enrolment in recent years is primarily at public colleges because they offer shorter programs and cost less than universities but, unlike private colleges, still provide access to coveted postgraduate work permits.

At some Ontario public colleges, there are more international students than domestic students through so-called Public College-Private Partnerships authorized by the province, where taxpayer-funded colleges provide curriculum at a fee to their private career college partners, which hire their own instructors to deliver the academic programs.

Graduates from the private colleges then receive a public college credential, which makes them eligible for postgraduate work permits as a pathway for permanent residence. At least 11 of the 24 Ontario public colleges are partnered with for-profit private career colleges located in the GTA, and those enrolled are almost exclusively international students.

“This has been very, very lucrative, and it is certainly something that private colleges have made a lot of money out of,” said Miller at Monday’s news conference. “I’m not the minister of post-secondary education underfunding. I’m the minister of immigration. Clearly in the last decade or so or even longer, post-secondary institutions in Canada have been underfunded by provinces.”

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