New Report On How To Fix Canada’s International Student Program  

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Independent senators Sabi Marwah, Ratna Omidvar, Hassan Yussuff, and Yuen Pau Woo have released a report on how Canada can maintain the integrity of its international student program.

While they acknowledged international students as beneficial agents within the Canadian economic, financial, social, and cultural spheres, the senators – on addressing the issues within the international student system – recommended stronger policing of the educational sector by the Canada government, along with the development of a national policy to manage foreign student intake.

One of the primary costs of increasing international student enrolment, as per the report, is the disparity between domestic and international tuition, which has risen from double to five-fold as of 2022.

Nevertheless, the report read that “intrinsically, higher tuition for international students is not a problem,” as international students are still paying less than they would for a similar quality of education elsewhere in the world.

“What is a problem, however, is the inability of Canadian DLIs to cover their operational expenses without being so heavily reliant on international students.

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“This over-reliance creates a conflict of interest which negatively impacts not only international students, but potentially Canadian students as well.

“DLIs are incentivized to maximize international student enrollments, with little incentive to ensure international and Canadian students are provided with the best experience possible.”

This results in low admissions standards, after which DLIs discover that some students are “not academically proficient enough” to keep up with the rigour of Canadian post-secondary education.

“For example, in 2018, a DLI asked over 400 of their international students, who were struggling in their programs, to retake their English language tests to confirm they were up to standard.”

“These stories are not only concerning because they suggest international students who are not well-positioned to succeed in Canada’s economy and society are being admitted into the country, but also due to the probability these instances also undermine the quality of education DLIs are able to provide to Canadian students.”

There should be stricter criteria for designated learning institutions (DLIs) to host international students and stricter penalties for holding them accountable for the negligence of their recruitment agents.

The discussion paper was largely fueled by the 2023 report of nearly 700 international students from India facing possible deportation following Ottawa’s discovery of their college admissions having been forged by an unregulated Indian immigration consultant.

Education agents or “education consultants” are popular among international students and DLIs. For the former, they speak in their native tongue and help them with immigration procedures, while for the latter they reduce their marketing and recruitment expenditures and attract large numbers of international candidates.

Ethical Dilemmas

DLIs thus pay these professionals a 15-20% (and sometimes even 30%) commission on international students’ first year tuition. The average commission reaches $1,500 to $7,500 per student.

However, the paper is concerned with the ethical dilemmas surrounding such a system.

“Among the negative consequences of agent involvement is they may refer international students to programs that are ineligible for a PGWP, thereby denying international students the ability to work in Canada and immigrate following graduation.”

“While DLIs are eligible to host international students, not all programs they offer make international students eligible for a PGWP. Programs offered by public institutions must meet certain requirements for international students to be eligible for a PGWP, while programs solely offered by private institutions are ineligible for PGWPs altogether. International students who rely on agents are often not aware of such intricacies and discover the bad news when it is too late.”

‘Ghost Consultants’

A reason why it is not so easy to simply outlaw such a system is that agents usually have a commission structure with not just Canadian, but also Australian, UK, and American universities. If Canada were to outlaw the practice of DLIs paying commissions to agents, agents would simply refer international students to competitor nations.

The rise of “ghost consultants” has also put international students in jeopardy. These agents prey on the ignorance of foreign students by portraying themselves as licensed immigration consultants, even though they are underground.

They charge fees while providing the wrong service to international students, or in some cases – no service at all.

Private colleges operate along similar lines, wherein agents and colleges make empty promises to students regarding career prospects in Canada, about the PGWP and immigration eligibility, and about the colleges themselves.

Another major issue facing international students that was highlighted in the paper is the housing supply and affordability; while some have blamed them for raising rents and reducing housing availability, the paper emphasizes the need to recognize that international students are also victims of limited and unsuitable housing.

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“A June 2023 Statistics Canada report notes 40% of study permit holders live in unsuitable accommodation compared to 9% of the rest of Canada’s population,” reads the report.

“In April 2023, two York University professors summarized the litany of housing challenges issues that international students experience. These include discriminatory rental listings and treatment by landlords, including verbal sexual abuse, requests for exorbitant upfront deposits, unsafe accommodations, overcrowding, and a lack of suitable accommodation altogether. Stories abound of international students being forcefully and illegally removed from their accommodations.”

The Senate report thus proposes a few changes to the international student program to address the problems listed above.

It said that Ottawa should prioritize addressing the integrity of the program by conducting a national review to make sure that post-secondary education is sustainably funded; a shortfall in funding has led to over-recruitment of international students, which is avoidable if universities are not looking at them for financing their activities.

Greater oversight on DLIs – including private colleges – was also recommended to promote a more holistic international student experience.

Stricter Criteria

Stricter criteria were outlined for DLIs to continue welcoming international students. These could entail detailed plans by the DLIs on the likes of how they will:

a) Assist international students in finding housing

b) Educate international students about their legal rights in Canada on matters such as housing, employment, and criminal law (e.g., as a means to protect students from sexual abuse)

c) Help them find part- and full-time employment

d) Address mental health and other settlement supports that international students need

e) Perform “regular audits of private colleges” to make sure that they are not misleading international students, are financially stable, are meeting educational standards, and are facilitating the career aspirations of international students

The report also recommended communicating – directly through the Letter of Acceptance (LOA) – whether a program is ineligible for the PGWP, and have some documented evidence that said information was communicated by the DLI to the international student.

The report concluded on the note that Canada’s success has been the cause of its victimization. It needs to thus take a step back and evaluate its international student program to continue enjoying benefits from it.

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Colin Singer
Colin Singer is an international acclaimed Canadian immigration lawyer and founder of featured on Wikipedia. Colin Singer is also founding director of the Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Resource Center (CCIRC) Inc. He served as an Associate Editor of ‘Immigration Law Reporter’, the pre-eminent immigration law publication in Canada. He previously served as an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Quebec and National Immigration Law Sections and is currently a member of the Canadian Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Colin has twice appeared as an expert witness before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He is frequently recognized as a recommended authority at national conferences sponsored by government and non-government organizations on matters affecting Canada’s immigration and human resource industries. Since 2009, Colin has been a Governor of the Quebec Bar Foundation a non-profit organization committed to the advancement of the profession, and became a lifetime member in 2018.