Canada’s immigration minister calls on provinces to “rein in” number of international students

Edana Robitaille
Published: January 17, 2024

Recent comments from Immigration Minister Marc Miller have highlighted the role of Canada’s provinces in the number of international students in the country.

The minister told CTV news that Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has some concerns about the volume of international students in Canada and said some provinces have not been doing their job in reining in that number to a more sustainable volume.

For example, in 2022 there were over 800,000 international students in Canada and last year the minister said he expected that number to rise to 900,000 by the end of 2023. This is more than triple the number of international students a decade ago (275,000 in 2012).

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Education in Canada, including post-secondary education, is a provincial responsibility. This means that it is up to provincial governments to decide which schools can accept international students as Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs).

The minister said that the DLI model in some provinces is a factor in the high number of international students and that “robust” discussion is needed between the provinces and DLIs, particularly those who are “profiting off the system”.

“There’s a challenge to the integrity of the system,” he said, “and it comes with institutions that have been leveraging the fact there has been this permissive Designated Learning Institution model and getting people outside the country paying a premium dollar to and not necessarily getting the education they were promised.”

When questioned about a potential cap on the number of study permits that IRCC issues each year, the minister said that IRCC was considering it if the provinces do not take appropriate action, but a cap would not be a “one-size-fits-all solution.”

Further, the minister has not confirmed any details surrounding the creation of a limit on the number of study permits issued and last October he told the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that he was not in favour of a cap as it punishes good actors within the system.

Designated Learning Institutions

If a post-secondary institution such as a college, university, or trade school, wishes to accept international students, they must meet provincial accreditation requirements to become a DLI. Each province’s requirements are different, and some are stricter than others.

According to the official list of DLIs in Canada, there are 529 DLIs in Ontario, the country’s most populous province. Quebec has 443 DLIs, British Columbia has 277 and Alberta has 158. All other provinces have less than 50.

Once a provincial government receives a DLI application and deems that an institution is eligible, the information is submitted to IRCC. The department then assigns the school a DLI number and adds it to the list of official DLIs.

High acceptance rates for international students

Once a school becomes a DLI it can begin issuing Letters of Acceptance (LOAs) to international students. An LOA is a key document in a student’s application for a study permit. The number of international students a DLI may accept is often based on an institution’s ability to provide adequate support.

However, some institutions have been found to issue LOAs to more students than they have the capacity for on the assumption that many international students will not accept or be successful in their application for a study permit. This was the case last year when Northern College in Timmins Ontario revoked admission for 504 previously accepted international students.

Latest international student program updates

Throughout the CTV interview, Minister Miller explained that IRCC has been working to “get our own house in order federally.” As part of this, throughout the second half of 2023, IRCC announced new measures to improve the integrity of the International Student program.

For example, DLIs are now required to verify an applicant’s LOA after they apply for a study permit. When an overseas international student submits their application for a study permit, the DLI will receive daily emails as a reminder to verify the applicant’s LOA in an online portal. The DLI must do so within 10 days or the student permit application will be cancelled and returned to the applicant, along with a refund of fees paid for processing costs.

This measure will help prevent international student fraud such as the case of when 700 international students from India were found to have been issued fake LOAs.

IRCC is also working to launch the Trusted Framework Agreement with DLIs. In September 2023, ICEF reported that under the agreement, institutions that demonstrate they are reliable partners in terms of sustainable intake, compliant with regulations and provide a supportive environment for international students will benefit from expedited permit processing.

IRCC’s proposal for the new Agreement shows that to be eligible to participate DLIs will need to provide data such as:

  • international student retention rate;
  • on-time program completion rate;
  • scholarships awarded to students from less-developed countries;
  • the percentage of revenue the institution receives from international students; and
  • the availability of DLI-administered housing for international students.

The proposal shows that the Agreement could come into effect as of Spring 2024 in time for the 2024 academic season.

Finally, in December the department announced that it would more than double the cost-of-living requirement for study permit applicants from $10,000 to $20,635. IRCC says this will help international students cope with the actual cost of living in Canada when they arrive.

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