Should international students be capped? Here’s what Canada’s provinces say – National

As Canada continues to grapple with a housing crisis, the conversation is increasingly turning to international students coming into the country.

But multiple provinces are pushing back on federal suggestions that an international student cap could help solve the problem, and say they haven’t been consulted.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller, Housing Minister Sean Fraser and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc have all indicated that Ottawa is considering a cap on student intake.

Following their comments over the past two weeks, Global News reached out to provincial and territorial governments about how it would impact them and whether they would support any caps.

Three provinces, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, told Global News they had not been consulted on any proposed cap. Only the government of the Northwest Territories said it had been in contact with Ottawa about a proposed student cap.

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“The GNWT has been in discussions with the federal government regarding potential changes around international students and, while not the main focus, a proposed cap has been mentioned,” a spokesperson for the N.W.T. government said.

A B.C. government official on background said, “At this time, Provincial officials responsible for international education have not been contacted by IRCC or any other department with a proposal to cap international student enrolment. We will await and review any international student enrolment policy.”

Angela Picco, a spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education, said international students were a crucial part of the province’s strategy to address its demographic challenges.

“We are hopeful that we will have the opportunity for consultation before any cap is implemented to ensure that it does not disadvantage our province, given the demographic challenges facing our province and the role of post-secondary education in attracting newcomers to this province,” she said.

Picco added that the provincial government would support post-secondary institutions increasing their international student numbers.

Click to play video: 'International students want more help in finding affordable housing in N.S.'

International students want more help in finding affordable housing in N.S.

New Brunswick similarly said international students have been integral to the “province’s economy for a number of years and the attraction and retention of them is critical to our current and future workforce.”

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“We have seen the number of international students increase over the past few years and we hope this trend will continue,” Judy Désalliers, a spokesperson for the Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Ministry, said.

“The federal government, through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, regularly meets with the provinces and territories but has not consulted with New Brunswick about a proposed cap on international students,” the statement added.

The government of Saskatchewan told Global News it thinks the province and its institutions are in the best position to determine the appropriate number of international students since education is an area of provincial jurisdiction.

“As such, we find no justification for implementing such a restriction in our province thanks to the hard work of our institutions ensuring housing and other needs of students are being met,” Sam Sasse, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education, said.

“Our government has confidence in the ability of Saskatchewan’s designated learning institutions to manage recruitment and support for both domestic and international students.”

What about Quebec and Ontario?

Quebec, too, said it is working to attract international students, particularly francophone students and those in “priority sectors.”

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The Quebec Ministry of Education also indicated it was concerned about the income of higher educational institutions.

“The ministry will closely follow federal government decisions that could have an impact on the income of higher education establishments in Quebec,” a spokesperson said, writing in French.

Ontario, which is home to nearly half of all international students in Canada, said in a statement that while the federal government was responsible for immigration policy, “all levels of government have a role to play in supporting the welcoming of international students.”

The Ontario government did not clearly state whether it would support any kind of a cap.

A Nova Scotia government spokesperson said while it would be premature to comment right now, “Nova Scotia would want to be given the opportunity to be consulted because international students make a positive impact on our province. We want to help them build a life and career here when they graduate.”

The role of international students in provincial labour markets was also raised by provinces and territories. The N.W.T. was among those, saying the region already caps international students at 30 per cent of an institution’s total population.

“It is important that any federal adjustments to the classes of immigrants which may be allowed into Canada each year, including international students, not negatively impact the NWT’s ability to attract and retain international students and talent, which are important to the territory’s labour market and economic development,” a spokesperson said.

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A spokesperson for P.E.I. said the province was looking forward to hearing the details of any proposed cap on international students, so it can better understand the implications for P.E.I.

A spokesperson for the Yukon said this was an “issue for some of the other jurisdictions in Canada,” since the territory only has Yukon University and three registered private training institutions.

Alberta, Manitoba and Nunavut did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Click to play video: 'International students’ success a positive for University of Regina and the province, school president says'

International students’ success a positive for University of Regina and the province, school president says

The growing focus on federal immigration and whether targets need to be reviewed comes as the country struggles to cope with a housing crisis.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Monday that it would be unfair to blame students.

“I want to be really clear on this. International students are not to be blamed for the housing crisis we’re in. Over the past decades, both Liberals and Conservatives have not built enough homes,” Singh said.

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Singh said the NDP, if elected in the next federal election, would require colleges and universities that have international student enrolment to prove that they can provide them housing.

“If you’re welcoming students in, you should be able to house them,” he said.

Singh said that while provinces had a “role to play” in easing the housing crisis for students, he was “not interested in playing a blame game.”

The NDP leader said student housing needed to be a part of any national housing strategy.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre last month called Canada’s immigration system “broken” and said, “I’ll make sure we have housing and health care so that when people come here they have a roof overhead and care when they need it.”

Click to play video: 'Canadians must be ‘very careful’ not to blame international students for housing crisis: Trudeau'

Canadians must be ‘very careful’ not to blame international students for housing crisis: Trudeau

After last month’s cabinet retreat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians should be “very careful” about blaming international students for the housing crisis.

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“We have to be very careful. Over the past years, we’ve seen a lot of different people and a lot of different groups blamed for the housing crisis. At one point it was foreign homebuyers. At another point it was developers being super aggressive. Another point, it was under-investments by various orders of government. Now it’s people saying, ‘Oh, it’s international students,’” Trudeau said.

Many of the provinces told Global News they were investing significantly in building student residences. At the same time, Fay Faraday, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and immigration law expert, said Canadian universities depend on international students for a large chunk of their revenue.

She said this is because of declining provincial support for post-secondary education over the last few years.

“The international student population is critical to the functioning of the university because the fees that they pay, which are significantly above domestic fees, fill the gap in the underfunding for the public education system and secondary public education system,” Faraday said.

Last month, Universities Canada also pushed back against a potential cap on international student intake.

“Recent comments conflating international students and the housing crisis are deeply concerning to Universities Canada and our members,” Lisa Wallace, a spokesperson for Universities Canada, said in a statement.

“International students bring important knowledge, diversity and skills to our campuses, communities and workforce. We must continue to welcome them to study at Canadian universities.”

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According to a recent survey by the Daily Bread food bank, which was released on Wednesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s estimated living expense used during the application process is nearly half of what a student in Toronto typically spends.

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