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Canada to reduce the number of international study permits by 35 per cent: Miller

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Canada will reduce the number of new international student permits by 35 per cent this year as part of a temporary two-year cap on foreign enrolment, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced Monday morning.

The cap is expected to result in 364,000 new approved permits in 2024. The 2025 limit on new applications will be reassessed at the end of this year. 

He said the move would allow them to address institutions and “bad actors” who are charging exorbitantly high tuition fees for international students, all while increasing the number of international students they are accepting.

Miller also vowed the measure would “maintain a sustainable level of temporary residence in Canada."

He added that they would be allocating cap space by province based on population, meaning some provinces will see a sharper reduction in the number of international students permitted.

While the reduction is 35 per cent overall in new study visas, some provinces such as Ontario could see reductions greater than 50 per cent. The cap will remain in place for two years.

Miller specified that provinces will be in charge of determining the distribution of the cap between schools in their region, and that the federal government would be working with provinces to refine the policy.

He said that he has already had “productive” conversations with British Columbia and Ontario, though he later noted that provinces, in general, have not moved as quickly in tackling this issue as the federal government would have liked.

Students applying to graduate level programs such as masters and PhD programs will be exempt from the cap.

“Those are the bright people we need to retain,” Miller said. Students at the elementary and secondary school level will also be exempt.

The federal government has faced pressure from provinces regarding the increasing numbers of non-permanent residents entering Canada while the country struggles with a housing crisis.

More than 800,000 international students were issued temporary study visas in 2022. Miller said last fall that 2023's numbers were on track to be more than triple the number accepted 10 years ago.

Study permits are granted on a three year basis. Miller clarified that the cap will not apply to anyone already studying in Canada who is seeking to complete or extend their schooling.

Miller stressed in his comments Monday that this cap is not intended to punish international students, but to ensure their experience and education is up to snuff.

“International students are a valuable asset to this country,” he said. “They are bright, young individuals that enrich our communities and bring significant social, cultural and economic benefits. They deserve the best. They deserve (the) world-class academic experiences that they sought out and hoped for. And Canada is renowned for that.”

“Sadly, this has not always been the case,” he added.

Miller said it is “unacceptable that some private institutions” have “taken advantage” of international students, claiming schools have jacked up tuition prices while, in some cases, offering poorer-quality education.

“Those institutions need to be shut down,” he said.

He added that post-secondary institutions have been “underfunded by our provinces” in many regions, potentially incentivizing institutions to charge higher tuition fees for international students since they have less leeway to increase tuition for domestic students.

Questions remain

Until we know more about how provinces will be rolling out the temporary cap, it’s hard to say how specific universities will be affected, according to a statement from Universities Canada.

The organization aims to provide a unified voice for university presidents across the country. It told CTVNews.ca in an email that they are “concerned that the cap per province is going to add stress on an already stressed system.”

The statement took issue with the new requirement for applicants to provide provincial attestation with their study permit application—which Miller said Monday would be “effective immediately.”

“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,” Universities Canada said in their statement.

Miller also announced Monday that post-graduate work permits will no longer be available to the public-private institution models as of Sept. 1, 2024.

It's a change that is being criticized by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which said in a statement Monday that “this does not fix the failures of the massive expansion of such get-rich institutions to which recruiters will continue to funnel vulnerable students.”

It suggested that there instead be “a single system in which schools that are eligible for study permits should also be eligible for post-graduate work permits.”

The National Association of Career Colleges, which represents privately-regulated career colleges (RCCs), accused policymakers of “scapegoating RCCs,” in a statement.

While it “supports the federal government’s efforts to bring stability to our international student system,” it is calling for the release of “more complete data” to create collaborative solutions, it said.

Colleges & Institutes Canada (CICan), a national association that aids the country's publicly supported post-secondary education, also noted that the cap will have "far-reaching consequences across the sector," which will "affect both Canadian and international student," it said in a statement.

Canada's reputation as a destination for international students seeking post-secondary education may be at risk with such measures, CICan said.

"It is, therefore, imperative that these changes be implemented with care, and in collaboration with provinces, their post-secondary institutions and their associations to avoid significant system disruption and negatively affecting – over the long-term – international students’ perceptions of Canada," CICan added.  

Miller also announced changes to work permits provided to international students’ spouses.

In the coming weeks, Miller promised to reveal more details regarding open work permits, which “will only be allowed and be available to spouses of international students enrolled in masters and doctoral programs, as well as professional programs such as medicine and law.”

“Spouses of international students enrolled in other levels of study,” he said. “Including undergraduate and college programs, will no longer be eligible.”

That was grounds for pause according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. In a statement, it called that shift “cruel.”

“Migrants are facing a roller-coaster of policy changes, with new announcements almost every day -- we need predictability and transparency,” it said.

Lawmakers have floated the idea of a cap on permits for international students for months. Miller has previously noted that a cap would not be a “one-size-fits-all solution” to housing shortages, as inflation, a lack of public housing and barriers to new construction are all factors impacting the shortage.

Immigration is also a key driver of Canada’s economy, accounting for almost 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth in recent years, according to the federal government.

WATCH: CTV's W5 investigates how Canadian universities are relying on the recruitment of international students to fill their coffers. 

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