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International student cap could help clean up post-secondary 'mess,' say B.C. advocates

Immigration consultant Neera Agnihotri is pictured in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 29, 2024. She welcomes Ottawa's two-year cap on international student permits, saying 'just to clean up the mess, sometimes you need to take a step back.' (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Immigration consultant Neera Agnihotri is pictured in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 29, 2024. She welcomes Ottawa's two-year cap on international student permits, saying 'just to clean up the mess, sometimes you need to take a step back.' (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

When Dayzzel Dungo arrived in Canada from the Philippines in 2022, things did not get off to a smooth start.

After landing at Vancouver International Airport, she struggled to get her bearings and navigate public transit before eventually making it to her homestay.

"I don't know what to expect in Canada," Dungo recalled. "I don't have contact with the school ... my phone's not working properly because it's from the Philippines."

Dungo, 26, was admitted to Tamwood International College, a private school with campuses in Vancouver, Whistler and Toronto. When the school year started, there were more challenges.

"The school doesn't have support on how to get MSP [health-care coverage], they said just figure it out, there's Google," she said. "There was no support with how to get my SIN, which bank is beneficial for international students. I found those things along the way."

A sign promoting student visas is pictured in Surrey, British Columbia on Monday, January 29, 2024.
A sign promoting student visas is pictured in Surrey, British Columbia on Monday, January 29, 2024.

A sign promoting student visas is pictured in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, January 29, 2024. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The federal government recently announced it will cap the number of international student permits over the next two years. Ottawa says the measure is to stabilize the number of international students, who often arrive without "the proper supports they need to succeed."

After Ottawa announced a two-year cap on student permits, the British Columbia government said it is banning new post-secondary institutions from applying to enrol international students for the next two years.

The federal government has given B.C. an allotment of 83,000 applications in 2024. That could result in 50,000 approved study permits based on current approval rates, according to a statement from the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills.

Of the 175,000 international post-secondary students from more than 150 countries in B.C., about 54 per cent are enrolled in private institutions, the province says.

On Monday, Selina Robinson, the minister of Post-Secondary Education, said the province began looking into the system last March and found instances of "poor-quality education, a lack of instructors" and even the "scaring away" of students from lodging formal complaints by certain private institutions.

Dayzzel Dungo says she wants to help international students overcome the same challenges she faced when arriving in Canada.
Dayzzel Dungo says she wants to help international students overcome the same challenges she faced when arriving in Canada.

Dayzzel Dungo says she wants to help international students overcome the same challenges she faced when arriving in Canada. (G.P. Mendoza/CBC)

"They worry that if they complain, it will risk their student visa, and it will sacrifice all the effort their families have put into making sure they can get a quality education," Robinson said. "So they're less likely to complain."

Dungo says her experiences have been positive since the early challenges. She transferred to Pacific Link College in Surrey where she now works as a student ambassador to better support international students.

She also volunteers at Surrey's Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society, a non-profit that recently opened an international student union (ISU) to help recently-arrived students.

"We help students with their resumés, we help students get jobs, practise for their interviews," she said. "That makes me so happy, because I didn't have that access."

Private college challenges

Jashan Sidhu, a former international student from India who founded the ISU, recalls struggling to find work when he arrived. He was supported by a friend who let him stay in his basement.

"Every student should have someone here who can take care of them," Sidhu said.

Selina Robinson, Minister of Post-Secondary Education is pictured during a press conference regarding capping new post-secondary institutions for 2 years in Surrey, British Columbia on Monday, January 29, 2024.
Selina Robinson, Minister of Post-Secondary Education is pictured during a press conference regarding capping new post-secondary institutions for 2 years in Surrey, British Columbia on Monday, January 29, 2024.

B.C. Minister of Post-Secondary Education Selina Robinson is pictured during a press conference. The province is banning new post-secondary institutions from applying to enrol international students for the next two years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sidhu says predatory private schools have become a mounting issue in B.C. He supports Ottawa's move to limit the number of incoming students.

"If they can stay back home, that would be a much better place for them right now," he said.

"They are just greedy colleges getting more and more money. Once the system is back in running condition, we can accommodate more students."

CBC News has reported in the past about private post-secondary institutions misleading international students, and recruiters making dubious claims about jobs and residency and allegedly issuing fake documents for visa applications.

Proponents of the federal cap say the move is desperately needed to improve regulation of private schools, while critics say reputable schools could be in for a financial hit.

Jashan Sidhu is pictured inside the International Student Union office at PICS Society in Surrey, B.C.
Jashan Sidhu is pictured inside the International Student Union office at PICS Society in Surrey, B.C.

Jashan Sidhu is pictured inside the International Student Union office at PICS Society in Surrey, B.C. He says predatory private schools have become a mounting issue in B.C (G.P. Mendoza/CBC)

Opportunity to 'clean up the mess,' says advocate

Sidhu's sentiments are shared by longtime advocate and immigration consultant Neera Agnihotri.

"I was a little bit relieved, because things are not in control right now," she said. "Just to clean up the mess, sometimes you need to take a step back."

Agnihotri, who co-founded student support group One Voice Canada, says there's been a general lack of government oversight and regulation, and for years study permits have been issued for schools that are under-resourced and below standard.

She says overseas recruiters have also cashed in, collecting commissions on international student fees, even if the schools are sub-standard.

"This was so necessary if we want a fresh slate, and if we want to put some rules and regulations and policy into effect," she said.

"I don't know if two years is enough to fix all of this, but it's a start."

Agnihotri says there are signs that the policy already could be having an impact. She says a number of schools in Metro Vancouver have since gone up for sale.

"In the last week, in my email, I have about eight to 10 colleges that are now selling, private colleges that want to sell their practice because they were dependent on these fees coming in."

Changes to post-graduation work permit program

The federal government also announced changes to the post-graduation work permit program.

Starting in September, international students who begin a program that's part of a curriculum licensing arrangement (one where a private college has been licensed to deliver the curriculum of an associated public college) will no longer be eligible for a post-graduation work permit.

Agnihotri says the policy will have its downsides.

"There's some really good privates that are out there, but because now of the few bad ones, everybody is getting penalized," she said. "These schools are going to suffer."

Students like Dungo, who have spent much of their time working in the service industry since arriving to Canada, think the policy misses the mark, particularly when it comes to acknowledging the value that international students bring to the economy.

"Not all Canadians would take a nanny job, a labour job," she said. "International students will. International students are work hungry."