Canada’s Student Visa Program in Need of Reform

Canada’s student visa program is facing scrutiny due to its defects and unintended consequences, particularly in relation to housing prices. The number of visa students in Canada has surged to over 800,000 last year, compared to fewer than 200,000 fifteen years ago. This influx of students has led to a growing imbalance between housing demand and supply. However, the issues at stake go beyond housing.

The new federal immigration minister, Marc Miller, acknowledges that the international student recruitment system is “lucrative” but has resulted in fraudulent activities and abuse of the program. He emphasized the importance of preserving the integrity of the system. Canadians want an immigration system that benefits the country, but it is clear that the student visa program is no longer serving that purpose.

The Trudeau government contributed to the breakdown of the immigration system by allowing a large number of temporary foreign workers to enter Canada through student visas. Lobbying from private industry, profit-driven educational institutions, and provincial governments seeking budget cuts in higher education all played a part in this trend. Ontario, in particular, experienced a significant increase in the number of foreign students from 46,000 to 412,000 between 2000 and 2022.

Many of these students are enrolled in suburban strip-mall academies or private partnerships between public colleges and private operators. The focus of these arrangements is not always on providing high-quality education but on exploiting the pathway to working and eventually obtaining Canadian citizenship. These opportunities are being sold at a fraction of the cost, undermining the value of Canadian citizenship.

To address these issues, the government should implement reforms. First, there should be a cap on the number of student visas issued. This year’s estimate of 900,000 visas should be significantly lower. Second, a system should be implemented to prioritize the allocation of visas to high-quality educational institutions that offer valuable programs and outcomes. This would ensure that the student visa program focuses on attracting highly skilled and productive individuals.

Provinces, notably Ontario, may protest these changes as they heavily rely on foreign student tuition for funding. However, Ontario’s low tuition fees for foreign students can be adjusted to reflect the true cost of education. Additionally, the ability to work in Canada while studying should be restricted to high-wage employment to ensure that the main purpose of coming to Canada is education, not work.

Overall, the student visa program needs to be reformed to fulfill its original purpose of attracting high-skill, high-wage immigrants and minimizing the influx of low-skilled, low-wage workers. By implementing caps and prioritizing high-quality programs, Canada can restore the integrity of its immigration system.