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Century Initiative calls for long-term solutions to international student challenges

January 23, 2024

At Century Initiative, we know that international students contribute meaningfully to Canada’s economy, society and culture, while reflecting Canada’s global reputation as an educational leader. As highlighted in our National Scorecard, the transition of international students to permanent residents is a key indicator of our future prosperity. We share the concerns of many Canadians about the ability of post-secondary institutions and governments to adequately support the significant growth of international students, particularly with housing and employment needs.

The federal government’s decision to decrease the number of new international student permits to 360,000 for 2024 reflects these concerns, as do changes to post-graduate work permits, which will curtail post-secondary institutions that have attracted the most significant quality concerns. It has never been part of the successful Canadian immigration formula to recruit students without the proper supports they need or without the necessary infrastructure to accommodate growing student bodies. We understand the need for federal action. It is critical that this serves as a bridge for long-term thinking and planning to address systemic issues.

Governments at all levels have not adequately planned for the volume of international students coming to the country, contributing to housing pressures in surrounding communities and financial precarity for students. This presents an opportunity for a reset focused on addressing these issues, improving transitions to the labour market and permanent residence for international students. This will require collaboration from all levels of government and the post-secondary sector.     

The solutions proposed by Senators Sabi Marwah, Ratna Omidvar, Hassan Yussuff and Yuen Pau Woo in their recent report are a good place to start. As Canada benefits considerably from the influx of these students, there's an urgent need to end the chronic underfunding that has left universities and colleges over-reliant on international students, introduce stronger oversight of recruitment efforts, and place greater emphasis on the supply of affordable housing. We also wish to reiterate Century Initiative’s previous recommendation to integrate planning for international student admissions within Canada’s three-year immigration levels plans.  

None of these issues exist in a vacuum and must be addressed with proactive and long-term planning for Canada’s evolving housing, infrastructure, health, education and social security needs. As we continue to advocate for these improvements, it’s worth re-affirming our strong support for Canada’s ambitious targets for new permanent residents as part of a long-term plan to reach our prosperity goals. Our points-based immigration system will be instrumental to our future competitiveness and is in many ways tied to our quality of life– through the size and skill of our workforce, available tax dollars, and influence on a global scale.

Smart, long-term immigration planning needs to include international students. Addressing this issue swiftly and thoroughly will be critical to securing Canada’s international reputation and paving the way for continued benefits provided by international students.