Protecting International Students

by Ronalee Carey Law

November 2023

Issues surrounding international students have been top news stories of late. They have been blamed for the housing crisis, credited for helping Ontario’s public colleges post record operating surpluses and turned away from food banks.

One reason for the media's attention to international students is their sheer number. In 2000, there were a little over 100,000 international students in Canada. That number has steadily increased, except for 2020, the year borders shut down due to COVID-19. (Those who couldn’t come here studied remotely from their countries of citizenship.) There are currently over 800,000 international students in Canada, which has led to calls to cap the number of new applicants or reduce interest by limiting international students’ ability to work off-campus.

With interest in studying in Canada at an all-time high, the opportunities for those who would exploit potential applicants have grown. A September 2023 report by four Canadian Senators identified a host of problems, including unregulated education agents steering students toward private colleges paying them the highest commissions, students living in inadequate and overcrowded housing, and sexual abuse.

The Senator’s report was released only a few months after Canada’s immigration minister had to issue special temporary resident permits to students whose offers of admission to Canadian post-secondary schools were found to be fake. In response to this incident, starting December 1st, the Canadian government will require all letters of admission to be confirmed by the school.

The reforms won’t stop there. IRCC is currently doing an extensive review of the international student program. So far, additional measures include plans to prioritize applications for intake for certain ‘recognized institutions’ for the fall 2024 intake. Though details have not yet been announced, schools that do more for students, including providing on-campus housing, will be favoured.

I represent many international students, including new applicants, those who need to renew their permits, recent graduates applying for post-graduate work permits, and former students who have gained skilled work experience and want to apply for permanent residence. I have seen all the ways students’ journeys in Canada can detour and even end. As such, when the Canadian International Lawyers Association (CILA) put out a call for input on a position statement, I gave my two cents. CILA’s report makes wide-ranging and comprehensive suggestions to IRCC, including better regulating designating learning institutions (DLIs) rather than just favouring a select few. After all, if Canadian post-secondary institutions are posting surpluses due to international student tuition, they should be at least getting what they paid for.