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'Total chaos:' Ontario Colleges say cap on international student visas is causing upheaval


Ottawa’s decision this month to cap the number of study permits for international students has already created “total chaos” for those hoping to come to Canada to get a post-secondary education, Ontario’s public colleges say.

In a statement released Thursday, Ontario Colleges, which represents the province's 24 publicly funded colleges, accused the federal government of failing to consult with educational institutions on the recently implemented changes, which they called “rushed” and “damaging.”

“The federal government’s cap on study permits for international students is essentially a moratorium by stealth that is already causing significant and unnecessary upheaval for students, employers and communities,” the statement read.

Last week, Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced a two-year cap on the number of new student visas issued in the country for undergraduate and college students.

New visas will be capped at 364,000, a 35 per cent decrease from the nearly 560,000 issued in 2023.

Ottawa will also stop students in schools that follow a private-public model from accessing postgraduate work permits starting in September.

The new restrictions were in response to a recent spike in international students in the country and concerns that some schools are accepting these students in droves simply to boost revenues while failing to deliver on housing needs and a quality education. It also comes as the Liberals face increase pressure to do more to deal with the country’s already strained housing market.

“There are, in provinces, the diploma equivalent of puppy mills that are just churning out diplomas, and this is not a legitimate student experience,” Miller said at a news conference in December when he announced that Ottawa would be doubling the amount of money prospective students will need to prove they have access to in order to apply to study in Canada.

“There is fraud and abuse and it needs to end.”

But Ontario’s public colleges argue that capping the number of permits is a “blunt approach” that leaves thousands of students “in limbo with their hopes on hold.”

“Colleges work year-round, as the demand for more people in the labour market is year-round. That means there are students already well into the application process, ready to start in May in programs for key sectors of Ontario’s economy,” the statement continued.

“Students who had already been accepted into programs – and had paid their fees for those programs – are now having their applications for study permits returned to them. This is often without any explanation or way forward. This situation was entirely avoidable and is entirely arbitrary.”

The colleges also said a new requirement for a letter of attestation from the province has put student visa processing on hold, as the Ontario government “has no process for generating such letters.”

“This new and unexpected administrative hurdle has resulted in total chaos for students. The entire system for Ontario is frozen,” the statement continued.

Ontario Colleges noted that key sectors of Ontario’s labour market are filled by college graduates, including international students.

“The province of Ontario is predicting a shortage of 8,500 early childhood educators by 2025-26 and international students play a big part in filling this gap. Ontario public colleges currently enrol 4,500 international students in these programs, almost 50 per cent of the total enrolment,” the statement read.

“The exemptions for students in master’s and PhD programs don’t reflect the current and future demands in Ontario’s labour market.”

The response from Ontario Colleges comes just days after the Council of Ontario Universities spoke out about the cap, indicating that the new rules unfairly punish responsible institutions.

“We think a more refined, targeted approach would be better policy and not impact the good performers that rely on that funding or revenue from international students to operate,” said Steve Orsini, the president and CEO of the organization.

“The federal government needs to go back to the drawing board to better target their measures to go after the (institutions) that they should be going after.”

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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