How provinces, schools, and others are responding to IRCC’s cap on international students

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: February 2, 2024

Following a major announcement by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on the 22nd of January, the Canadian government is instituting new limits on study permits for international students in 2024 and 2025.

While the new changes are designed to help maintain the integrity of the international student program, provinces and other key stakeholders in Canada have expressed mixed feelings regarding these changes. While some have welcomed the study permit cap as necessary, others have found the policy harsh towards provinces, and harmful to the country’s post-secondary institutions.

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Provinces

British Columbia

British Columbia’s response to the recent news has been one of the most proactive among Canada’s provinces , thus far. The provincial government has acted largely in favor of the new measures and supported their intended purpose. British Columbia publicly restated its commitment to providing adequate support for international students and has already instituted new policies to further protect students and maintain the integrity of its international student program. Measures instituted by the province include a two-year freeze on new schools receiving Designated Learning Institution (DLI) status, enhanced compliance measures for public education institutions, new standards for private degree programs, greater tuition transparency, and more.

Ontario

Ontario has largely acted in accordance with the policy changes from IRCC. Similar to British Columbia, the province has been proactive in instituting new measures to safeguard international students, including adding more oversight to admissions approval processes, requiring all institutions to provide housing to international students, and renewing investigations into private career colleges. In addition, the provincial government has also announced a moratorium on new public-private college partnerships, which include curriculum licensing agreements wherein public institutions license their curriculum to private colleges.

Manitoba

Manitoba has expressed concerns over the new student cap. The province’s premier, Wab Kinew, has expressed support for the underlying concerns for the new policy, stating that it was incumbent on politicians across Canada to ensure a sustainable number of arrivals of international students, while punishing bad actors who would exploit these students. Kinew also voiced concerns over possible rising tuition costs and a lack of guidance from the federal government on these new policies.

New Brunswick

Provincial representatives from New Brunswick have a largely negative view of the changes. Arlene Dunn, minister of post-secondary education, and the minister responsible for immigration, voiced her concerns on the matter—stating that IRCC’s new policy “unfairly targets all provincial jurisdictions when not all are experiencing the same problems." In the minister’s view, New Brunswick is now unfairly facing consequences from failings in other parts of the country.

Several educational institutions in the province, including the University of New Brunswick, have also expressed concern over the lack of further information from the federal government, and the lack of clarity around how this policy may impact admissions for the coming year.

Schools

Canada’s schools have had mixed reactions to IRCC’s new announcement.

In a statement to CIC News, the University of Waterloo noted its approval of IRCC measures to curb the exploitation of bad actors within the international student space—specifically around “institutions with curriculum-licensing arrangements”. The university, however, further expressed concern over the “implications of this decision at the undergraduate level, especially in light of the current financial challenges that our institution and our sector are facing.”

Already in compliance with Ontario’s new housing guarantee for international students in their first year, the University of Waterloo’s concerns are centered around the reality that many post-secondary institutions will be severely impacted by IRCC’s new student cap.

According to Steve Orsini, president of the Council of Ontario Universities, the new changes come at a precarious time for Ontario’s post-secondary institutions. At least 10 of the province’s universities are expected to run financial deficits this year, which they attribute to a four-year provincially imposed tuition freeze and low levels of operating grants from the Ontario government.

In another statement to CIC News, Mathew Ramsey, Director of University Affairs at the University of British Columbia (UBC), said that they would be working with both the provincial government, and IRCC, on an implementation process for the new policy changes.

“UBC values international students and their important contributions to UBC’s academic and research mission.... Canada is competing globally for this talent, and we need to ensure that international students continue to consider Canada as a destination of choice.” he said.

“It’s too early to speculate on any potential impacts at UBC.... We are in active discussion with the province to ensure that the importance of international students at provincial public post-secondary institutions is recognised and that the highest quality standards are maintained here in B.C.”

UBC has maintained its commitment to international student support, including a mandatory first-year housing guarantee, health services, international student and academic advising guarantees, and more.

Other stakeholders

In an official statement, the CEO and President of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), Steve Orsini, expressed disappointment with the federal government’s announcement of a study permit cap, pointing to possible “unintended consequences” for the sector and for international students.

Some student groups have also expressed doubts regarding IRCC’s new study permit cap. University of Toronto Students’ Union VP Public and University Affairs Aidan Thompson criticised the policy change as a “short-term” fix on the government's part—specifically citing the chronic need for workers in critical sectors of the Canadian labour market, and that international students provide a key talent pool to fill these gaps.

On January 30th , Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada (two membership organisations for post-secondary institutions in Canada, representing a cumulative 234 post-secondary schools) wrote an open letter to immigration minister Mark Miller, voicing concerns over potential economic and labour market effects that could stem from the reduction of international student enrolment.

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