Douglas Todd: Who cares for Canada’s 71,000 minor international students?

Looks like some opportunity for a more systematic study and evaluation to guide current and future policy. Potential for abuse clearly present:

The client strode into George Lee’s office believing the veteran immigration lawyer would automatically notarize the federal government document that would confirm the client was the legal “custodian” of 10 international students who are minors.

But Lee wouldn’t approve the client’s business plan. The Burnaby immigration specialist knows the intense pressure and loneliness experienced by many young foreign students, who tend to come to Canada from the ages of 12 to 15. Since they’re vulnerable to isolation, depression and suicide, he realizes many need real care.

“I asked the person who wanted to be custodian to 10 minor students: ‘Why do you do this for so many children? What are your responsibilities to them?’ In the end I refused to sign. I refused. I couldn’t do it. This is a burgeoning business in B.C.,” said Lee, who is concerned about the rapidly expanding cohort of early teens coming as foreign students to Canada.

The number of international students in Canada last year reached 500,000, with more than 71,000 being minors, double the total in 2009. B.C. has an out-sized proportion of those aged 17 or less — 24,000, according to the federal immigration department. That is more people than attend an average Whitecaps or Lions game at B.C. Place Stadium.

Since last year’s suicide in Richmond of 17-year-old foreign student Linhai Yu, a little more attention is being focused in B.C. on the thousands of minors trying to make a go of attending the country’s public and private elementary and high schools, while living thousands of kilometres away from their fathers and mothers.

With roughly one third of all foreign students in Canada (about 40 per cent of those in B.C.) hailing from China, the country’s consul general in Vancouver acknowledged more students are arriving before university and many have been involved in “incidents” in the past two years. An informal group led by SFU international student Jialin Guo, who himself came to Canada as a minor, has arisen to try to raise awareness of students who are struggling.

The federal government has few stipulations about who can become an official custodian of a minor foreign student, a service for which offshore parents pay roughly $2,000 to $4,000 a year. All the immigration department asks is that “a custodian is a responsible adult (a Canadian citizen or permanent resident) who takes care of and supports the child.”

There is no requirement the custodian resides with the minor, who normally ends up renting on their own or boarding with a host family. The custodian is supposed to be a kind of legal surrogate parent, meeting with school officials, paying school fees (which typically cost $10,000 to $18,000 per year), monitoring the students’ health and taking over in emergencies.

“There’s a lot of psychological issues with minor students. They have a lot of pressure. Loneliness,” said Lee, who travels frequently to China and generally wonders about the wisdom of children being separated from parents at a young age.

“They need love, devotion and attention from their parents, not to be sent away to a foreign country to reside mostly with strangers. Many foreign students from China know that, culturally, they cannot report negativity to their parents back home because they have spent a lot of money investing in them. If they report negativity, they can be scolded. Their parents generally think if other children can excel in a foreign land, why can’t you?”

Lee and Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland believe one of the latest migration trends in China and other countries is for parents to send their children to Canada, which has no cap on foreign students, to attend high school and even elementary school so they will be at a competitive advantage when later applying to immigrate.

“Since they are coming as young children,” said Lee, “their parents believe they will adapt much easier to Canadian culture and language and the workplace” and thus be ranked highly when they apply for permanent resident status. Most Chinese foreign students who are minors, Lee said, have the added pressure of knowing their parents, many of whom invest in property in Canada’s major cities, expect them to eventually sponsor them to immigrate.

Gary Liu, a scientist who tutors many minor-age foreign students in Coquitlam and Surrey, said there is a great deal of variation in how such students are faring with learning English, being largely unsupervised and adjusting to Canadian culture and people.

“The situation for each child can only be described as ‘case by case,’” Liu said. While some young students appear to get quite a bit of attention from various caregivers, he knows some adult custodians who are coordinating three or four different students, all of whom live separately.

“I’m not sure if ‘abuse’ is the right term for such situations,” Liu said, “but some of the (custodians) are definitely pushing the boundaries.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Who cares for Canada’s 71,000 minor international students?

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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