Overseas teens left vulnerable by lucrative Canadian student visa program, experts say

The chart below provides the breakdown by students by education level, showing a significant number of minors where these issues present themselves (about 18 percent in 2016 – haven’t updated with 2017 numbers yet):

…Hundreds of thousands of international students are here from around the world, many even younger than Tina, and largely fending for themselves in a new country without adequate support from school boards, provincial governments and the federal government, industry experts say. And now settlement agencies, student recruiters and host family companies are urging these bodies to regulate the industry.

Moy Wong-Tam, executive director of the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS) in Toronto said the unregulated industry leaves students vulnerable to scams and poor treatment at the hands of the people responsible for the kids’ well-being, she said.

“It’s concerning because we’re seeing many gaps,” Wong-Tam said. “The system is full of holes right now.”

Custodians and host families

When minors arrive in Canada, they have two main points of contact — a host family or homestay, and a custodian, who is a delegate appointed by the parents to check in on their children and help them in case of any emergencies.

But Wong-Tam, whose settlement agency provided services to 20,000 newcomers in 2016, about 300 of whom were international students, said the industry supporting temporary residents is largely unregulated. Furthermore, she told CBC News it’s unlikely homestay families and custodians can replace a student’s parents, particularly when there’s money to be made from the system.

The students’ families typically pay between $950 and $1,300 a month to the homestay family for meals and a place to live, and between $1,000 and $2,500 a year to the custodian, depending on the range of services he or she offers.

…School boards, firms have their own rules

Currently, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) requires parents of foreign students under 18 to sign a custodianship declaration form. The federal government’s only stipulation is “a custodian is a responsible adult (Canadian citizen or a permanent resident) who takes care of and supports the child.”

School boards or companies that help families find a custodian have their own rules, including criminal background checks and mandatory insurance. Some, like the York Catholic District School Board, require that the guardian sign an affidavit for his or her role in the student’s welfare and a separate agreement accepting responsibility for any “inappropriate behaviour” from the student.

Alex Mazzucco, program co-ordinator of international education at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said the students sometimes bring up issues to the board, which can get parents involved, but there’s no way to take a complaint further with the federal government.

“There’s no mechanisms with IRCC where you can file a complaint where they’ll respond,” he said. “We’ve filed complaints but have not received any response.”

Culturally, students often don’t report issues to the school board or even their parents, said Liu.

“Being polite, not speaking up, it’s part of Chinese culture,” he said. “They don’t want to fight with others. When something happens, they first think about themselves. ‘Did I do something wrong?'”

CBC News contacted both the public and Catholic school boards for Toronto, Peel and York Region. The York Region school boards and the Toronto District School Board did not respond to requests for an interview.

Filling the seats

CICS’s Wong-Tam said institutions have a moral obligation to care for the underage students, particularly since “classrooms need international students to fill the seats.”

An international high school student pays an average of $14,000 in tuition a year, according to Greater Toronto Area school boards’ websites. The latest federal government data shows spending associated with international students in 2014, including their visiting families and friends, amounted to $11.4 billion a year, contributed $9.3 billion to Canada’s GDP and helped sustain 123,000 jobs.

A 2015 Ontario report said international students contribute more than $4 billion to the province’s economy annually, generating more than 30,000 jobs.

With this much money coming in, Wong-Tam is calling on the institutions to have a dialogue.

“I know tragedies happen to all Canadians but international students are so much more vulnerable,” she said. “They need a little more help since they’re paying more tuition.”

In an email to CBC News, IRCC said: “Parents or legal guardians are ultimately best placed to select the custodian of their child and to determine whether the custodian is fulfilling the duties entrusted to them.”

Liu said there’s little the parents can do from so far away, so the institutions bringing them in should take more responsibility, including the provincial government, which oversees the school boards.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education told CBC News in a statement: “If a [school] board chooses to have homestay programs, they are responsible for monitoring homestay families’ compliance with applicable requirements (i.e. insurance, safety standards, etc.).”

Wong-Tam, Liu and another homestay company that CBC News interviewed said all the parties need to take responsibility.

Source: Overseas teens left vulnerable by lucrative Canadian student visa program, experts say

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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