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Facing challenges

Immigration minister discusses International Student Visa program

  MINISTER MARC MILLER
   
“Canada needs more talent, workers” – Marc Miller Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 

On January 22, 2024, Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that Canada will approve about 360,000 undergraduate study permits for 2024 – a 35 per cent reduction from last year. And the limit on each province and territory will be based on population figures.

Minister Miller visited Winnipeg on February 22nd to expound on the government’s decision to cap the number of international students and other immigration updates.

Pilipino Express’ Lucille Nolasco-Garrido (PE) interviewed Minister Miller about these on his recent visit to Winnipeg.

PE: International students coming into Canada are facing different challenges like accommodation, part-time work, etc., how is the government responding to all these?

Minister Miller: When I became the Minister of Immigration, it quickly came to my attention the incredible challenges in the International Student Visa program, which is intended to bring in the brightest of youth, who can benefit from a world-class education system, and then go home and be themselves an ambassador of Canada to their home countries, using the expertise they learned in Canada, or after a few years become a permanent resident and help fill the labour market or even help grow Canada.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case. It’s been a program that has had some fraud with it, an ecosystem that has had some bad actors and their numbers have significantly grown in the last two years in particular. And that volume, in my mind, and in the minds of many, is not sustainable and is not indicative of a healthy program. So, my foremost concern is for the students who come here expecting to get the best education in the world and then don’t get it.

Or (those who) are attracted (to come) here, in the false hopes of becoming a permanent resident when that pathway is not necessarily automatically there.

So, the first challenge is to make sure that we are getting rid of fraud in the system, with false letters of application, student experiences and such. So that’s what the federal needs to do at the intake point.

And more recently, a more drastic change is putting a cap on the number of people who can benefit from this program and to distribute the number of visas across the provinces who have the primary role of regulating the post-secondary institutions under the Constitution.

There were a couple of provinces like Ontario and British Columbia that are a bit of a runaway train, and we need to get that under control. But it doesn’t mean that there are no challenges in other provinces because those also exist, but the idea behind the measures that we took in the fall and principally in January is so that we can get a bit of better control federally, of a system that is mostly regulated by provinces, although it’s the federal government that does regulate intake.

Another important measure that I took at the end of December was to make sure students have enough money to come to a country that is not cheap to live in and where we do have an affordability challenge. I know this measure has been described by economists as one of our most significant affordability measures that we have taken in the country. But it was first and foremost intended to make sure that we have a program that Canadians and students can be proud of, in terms of our post-secondary education system that really benefits from international students but shouldn’t be abusing international students.

PE: You mentioned about caps or limits, do you think limiting the numbers of international students will really erase or ease the challenges that students face when they come to Canada?

Minister Miller: Well, it isn’t the end of the story. It is really a first step in a system that has gotten out of control. I am prepared to take more steps with provinces that do not exercise jurisdiction in the way that they should, in making sure that the student experience that they have at university is one that is reflective of what they have been promised when they come from abroad. I know that one of the big source-countries where we get incredible talent from is the Philippines. I want to make sure that those students are getting the experience they were promised when they were applying to Canada. I’m sure they have other choices as to where they could go.

So, these measures I think would be an attempt to make sure the students have a better experience but there are (still) a lot of unanswered questions that we need to answer, and steps that we need to make, to make sure this is something that we Canadians can be proud of.

With regards to money, we know that students from abroad pay six to seven times more than what Canadian youth pay for education. But they are not getting the six to seven times (worth) of what they should be getting. It is where (some of) the institutions have taken the money and used it to fill their coffers … this is something that we can’t ignore. The provincial government makes money off this, the institutions themselves make money off this, the federal government doesn’t get a penny. But we do have a role and responsibility to make sure that people coming into the country on the back of an international visa student system are the ones the program are truly intended for in the first place. There will be some turbulence this year and the last thing I want to see is, students paying the price ... because they are entitled to get the best education they are promised. They are entitled to their dignity. They are vulnerable and we don’t want them to get exploited.

PE: Are there any restrictions or regulations as to how much a school or a university can charge an international student?

Minister Miller: Currently, no. Not (any that) the federal government has authority over as much as we may have an opinion. But there are some places where people are paying $30,000, $50,000 or even more, to go to a university and not getting what they were promised. The cost is something (where) the university and institutions have leverage. As opposed to domestic students, where those fees are heavily regulated in my own province of Quebec and across the country. So, that underfunding has had a repercussion and the institutions being smart have looked abroad and have seen this unlimited source of those (students) who will pay the price to come here and benefit from this education.

Definitely, there’s work to do within the next couple of years regarding the quality of the program that the federal government supports by issuing visas that is really up to the standards that we expect it to be.

PE: Regarding the ability of the international students to bring their families with them, like their spouses and children, have there been any changes regarding this?

Minister Miller: Based on the second pillar of what we announced about a month ago after the cap, was to limit that ability to bring your spouse to those people taking master’s and PhD programs and not to undergraduate cohort. We have seen a lot of abuse in the system, it is not saying that undergrads are not allowed to get married, but we do want to avoid a situation where that has become a norm and where there has been abuse. And we have seen in some areas, not legitimate marriages being leveraged, particularly in the undergraduate level.

And it’s something that I didn’t think made sense, and our analysis show it doesn’t really make sense.

Upgrades and modification for five-year super visa for parents and other immigration streams:

PE: How about the other federal immigration streams like the Express Entry, Business Immigration, Sponsorship – are there any updates or changes that we need to know?

Minister Miller: We are always looking to improve the system, like the ETA plus program that we recently put into place in the Philippines. That has been a really important measure for people to come to Canada in a more seamless fashion.

We’re looking at upgrades and modification for a five-year super visa for parents. I know there’s a lot of criticisms about the lottery that exists with respect to parents and grandparents. Part of alleviating that cap-system in that first-come-first served program is one where we can have a better super visa program for parents and grandparents to come here for a longer period of time.

Labour Market Impact Assessment – (LMIA) program:

PE: I think there was a bit of confusion about the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) program when the government announced that tourists can apply for work while here in Canada. I know of a few who came here on a tourist visa, they came four, six months ago, but still are unable to get a job. What can you say about this?

Minister Miller: There are some actors who tell people – oh, come here and you can work. I would say it’s more than a confusion. I think there are some people who are deliberately abusing the fact, telling people that they can come here, and they can work. That is not the case. If you come here as a tourist you’re supposed to visit hopefully the beautiful parts of Canada, there are many. Not to work. There are legitimate streams that people can actually avail themselves of. But they do have to beware of some bad actors that make false promises about Canada and then lead people to a desperate situation when they come here.

Sometimes working as you know, under the table, or in desperate work conditions.

PE: Are you aware, sir, that there are employers asking these tourist-visa holders to pay say, $5,000 to $10,000 so they will hire them through the LMIA program?

Minister Miller: Yes, that is unlawful and should never be encouraged.

About immigration consultants:

PE: What about immigration consultants promising jobs through LMIA?

Minister Miller: About that, the regulation of immigration consultants is something that’s currently a field that has a lot of sharp individuals and bad actors. But immigration consultants are supposed to be consultants; they’re not supposed to be filling their pockets based on false hope or misinformation. It’s very hard to regulate actors that are outside the country. I think we have enough challenges regulating actors that are inside our country and are still prone to abuse. Again, this is something that we have to tackle as a government.

Canada needs more talent, workers:

PE: Anything else you would like to impart to our readers?

Minister Miller: Because we have so many shortages, with so many people aging out, we need talent, particularly workers. And it can’t be all homegrown. There are plenty of ways to come to Canada legitimately and perhaps get permanent residence. So, we encourage people to apply, if they have the skills and the will to come to Canada. They should also be wary of people entertaining false hopes. Canada is not a cheap place to live in, but it is a place that offers a lot of opportunities.

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For more information about immigrating, studying, or working in Canada, visit www.canada.ca.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.