Some say the changes represent transparency, while others worry about reinforcing barriers
Canada’s immigration minister has announced an increased financial requirement for international students applying to study in Canada effective this year, as well as a cap on international students’ work hours, which will be reinstated in April.
Some praise these new regulations for being transparent about the cost of living in Canada, and/or measures against fraudulence. However, others are concerned that they will further marginalize middle class and existing international students at institutions like UVic, which are still working to recoup their international student populations to pre-COVID numbers.
As of Jan. 1, 2024, international students applying to study in Canada will need to prove access to $20 635 in addition to tuition and travel expenses to have their applications approved. Previously, the requirement was $10 000, which remained consistent for two decades. Now, the amount will be subject to annual change as the cost of living in Canada trends upward.
Additionally, a waiver dictating that international students were allowed to work for more than 20 hours per week while studying was supposed to end with the calendar year, but has been extended until April 30, 2024 for current students. After then, the 20 hours per week cap for international students will be reimposed.
A UVic spokesperson says anecdotally they have heard that international students at UVic welcome this extension.
According to Immigration Minister Marc Miller, the Canadian government is open to further extending this cap, but resists facilitating 40-hour work weeks for international students because it would discourage them from focusing on their studies. Miller also highlights another concern: some colleges or institutions provide prospective students with opportunities to procure jobs with a student visa, while they barely scrape by in their studies, for the promise of eventual immigration. A 20 hours per week cap on work hours prevents this kind of exploitation.
About the combined effect of these regulations, the UVic spokesperson says, “It is too soon to draw any conclusions about how this might impact UVic students.”
On the contrary, Scott Watson, associate professor of international relations at UVic, says that some of the effects of this policy will be obvious.
“The goal of raising the amount of money that students [need access to] will further prioritize … privileged international students,” he says. “International student mobility [is] not going to the most disadvantaged, who have a difficult time already accessing international student experiences.”
Tricia Best, director of the International Centre for Students at UVic says that, on the other hand, these measures represent a step toward transparency about the cost of living and studying in Canada.
“It is very important that prospective international students have a realistic idea of the cost of living in Canada before they arrive,” she writes in an email to the Martlet. “The new financial requirement for study permit applications, $20 635, is a realistic estimate of what students will need for one year of living expenses.”
Watson agrees that the number of students who experience serious financial constraints upon arrival to Canada because of already sky-high international tuition and living costs may lessen with this new regulation.
“One would hope maybe it leads to fewer international students facing challenges finding places to live, having to rely on food banks, and other forms of vulnerability.”
However, according to Watson, the regulations still discourage international students who might have otherwise attended post-secondary institutions and relied on working while they study as their main source of income.
In fact, international students who are already studying in Canada will face a double-barreled threat to their ability to live and study here as the cost of living increases when the 20-hour per week work hour cap is reinstated in April.
For international students at UVic, says Watson, “It means that they may not be able to finance their education, or they may live in a very precarious situation as food and housing prices go up.”
For applicants, he explains that the cumulative effect of these two regulations will mean that prospective international students from middle class backgrounds who might have otherwise had access to an international study experience will be “squeezed out.”
“It’s either going to make students more vulnerable or it’s going to discourage students who don’t have the financial means to finance their entire university education,” explains Watson.
Maria Vasquez, an international student from Mexico, says that international tuition alone, which is significantly more expensive than domestic tuition, is a financial burden, never mind added living costs.
“I know that a lot of international students work to pay for their expenses. Now that it’s hard[er] for them, maybe some students might just have to go back [home],” she says.
As these federal regulations change, UVic is continuing to enhance its recruitment strategies and expand certain programs that the university “can deliver better than other institutions,” in hopes of seeing its international student body increase in size and return to its pre-COVID normal. These include health programs, professional programs, micro-credentials, and short-term graduate credentials.
Watson says that while diversifying the student body is undoubtedly important to universities, as institutions, one of their main interests is their finances.
“The amount that the government has been contributing to post-secondary education has been stagnant,” he explains. “Domestic tuition fees have not risen all that significantly, and so really the only way that universities can increase their sources of funding is either to find additional external donors or to bring in more international students.”