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Federal government announces cap on international study permits

Over the next two years, the number of approved study permits will reduce by 35 per cent. In 2024, approximately 360,000 study permits will be granted.

Over the next two years, the Government of Canada will cap the number of new study permits granted to international students, Marc Miller, minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, announced on January 22.

Compared to 2023, the federal government said it will reduce approved study permits by 35 per cent. In 2024, this decrease will result in the government granting approximately 360,000 study permits. At the end of 2024, the federal government will reassess how many study permit applications they will accept for 2025.

The cap only applies to new study permit applications, the federal government said. International students who currently hold or are seeking renewal for their study permits are not impacted by this cap. Additionally, the cap does not include international students in master’s, doctoral, elementary, and secondary education programs.

Federal government to assign portions of the cap to each province and territory

The federal government said they will assign portions of the cap to each province and territory based on population. As a result, provinces and territories that have seen the most “unsustainable growth” in international student populations will experience the most significant decreases. Provinces and territories are responsible for allotting their respective caps to their designated learning institutions, the Government of Canada said.

To begin implementing the cap, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is requiring that all study permit applications include attestation letters from a province or territory. Attestation letters certify that all the documents and signatures submitted are valid. By March 31, 2024, all provinces and territories have to establish a process to issue attestation letters to students.

The announcement included other changes to the international student program, as well. The eligibility criteria for the Post-Graduation Work Program changed to “better align” the program with the other announced measures. International students who enroll in a study program belonging to a curriculum licensing arrangement after September 1, 2024 will no longer qualify for a post-graduation work permit when they graduate. As well, international students pursuing graduate-level programs will be eligible to apply for a three-year work permit upon graduating.

These temporary measures “complement” previously announced reforms to the international student program, the federal government said.

An intake cap “may address certain challenges,” but federal government should consider other solutions, ISA co-vice-president external says

Through the cap, Canada aims to “stabilize the number of international students in Canada,” the announcement said. In turn, these measures will protect international students from “bad actors,” as well as support sustainable population growth.

Juhaina Nuhjat, co-vice-president external of the University of Alberta’s International Students Association (ISA), said that she appreciates the federal government’s goals. However, alternative solutions should be considered, she said.

“Limiting the rights of international students, as outlined in the temporary measures, may address certain challenges,” she said. “But, it is equally important to consider alternative solutions that don’t impede the genuine aspirations of students.”

She said that the federal government shouldn’t just rely on intake caps and eligibility changes. Instead, it should develop “robust infrastructure” concurrently, particularly in the housing and health care sectors. This way, the Canada can accommodate an increasing population without “compromising the educational experience of international students,” Nuhjat said.

Government of Alberta wants to make sure international students have a “high-quality educational experience,” minister of advanced education says

In a comment provided to The Gateway, provincial Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney said she is looking forward to meeting with Miller to discuss the impacts these measures will have on Alberta. And how to implement them while making sure the “needs of our economy, communities, students, and post-secondary institutions are met.”

“Students from all over the world help make Alberta’s post-secondary system vibrant and successful. They are an important part of Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs strategy,” Sawhney said. “We want to ensure that international students who choose to study in Alberta have a high-quality educational experience.”

Nuhjat said the ISA is planning on discussing these measures with the provincial government, specifically how the cap will be allocated at the U of A. While these conversations are happening, the provincial government should consider the “critical role” international students play, she said.

“The U of A’s global reputation, financial stability through international tuition fees, and the talent pool are all interconnected,” she said. “A reduction in international student numbers may have implications on these fronts.”

Government of Canada needs to focus on “rewarding good institutions and punishing bad ones,” UASU vice-president external says

U of A Students’ Union (UASU) Vice-president external Chris Beasley said the UASU wants to see a focus on “rewarding good institutions and punishing bad ones.”

Over the next two years, there will be a reckoning as to how public institutions, like the U of A, receive funding, Beasley said. Because of “critical year-over-year underfunding” from the provincial government, post-secondary institutions have been increasing international student enrolment and tuition, he said. Between 2020 and 2023, the Government of Alberta reduced the U of A’s provincial grant by $222 million. The U of A is proposing a tuition increase of 5 per cent for cohort-based international students, and 6.5 per cent for international students in undergraduate science programs in 2025-26.

“This announcement … throws into perspective how unsustainable the practice of using international students as unlimited revenue [sources is],” Beasley said.

Announcement not touching on affordability measures a “missed opportunity,” Beasley says

On January 22, the UASU released a press release in collaboration with other Albertan student associations. The press release called on the federal government to permanently lift the off-campus work hours cap placed on international students. On December 7, Miller announced a temporary waiver on the cap until April 30, 2024.

To cover the cost-of-living in Canada, international students may have to work up to 40 hours a week, Beasley said. However, without the ability to do legally, they may have to work “under the table.” He said that capping the hours international students are allowed to work “pushes [them] into exploitative jobs.”

Mariam Alozairi, co-vice-president external of the ISA, said that a cap on work hours may cause disadvantages for international students. As well, by not addressing affordability, Miller’s announcement was incomplete.

However, she said that the ISA will “continue to advocate for the well-being of international students,” especially as the deadline for the waiver approaches.

Beasley said it’s unclear how a study permit intake cap will impact Alberta, and the U of A specifically. However, these measures “do nothing” for international students in terms of affordability, which is a lost opportunity, he said.

“Making an announcement this large around the international student experience and not including the meaningful affordability mechanisms that help students lift themselves out of poverty … is a missed opportunity.” 

International students are essential members of university community, U of A says

International students are essential members of the community, the U of A said in a comment provided to The Gateway. The comment said that for international students, the U of A is an “institution of choice.”

“It is invaluable for the U of A to be able to continue welcoming high-achieving international students,” the comment said.

Katie Teeling

Katie Teeling is the 2023-24 Editor-in-Chief at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2022-23 Opinion Editor. She’s in her fifth year, studying anthropology and history. She is obsessed with all things horror, Adam Driver, and Lord of the Rings. When she isn’t crying in Tory about human evolution, Katie can be found drinking iced capps and reading romance novels.

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