Douglas Todd: Indo-Canadians in uproar over surge of foreign students

Another interesting profile by Douglas Todd of some of the tensions and debates within one of the ethnic communities:

The Indo-Canadian community is in turmoil over a recent surge in foreign students from India, whose presence is feeding community tensions amid allegations of financial exploitation, an Indian brain drain, exam cheating, mistreatment of young women, employer abuse, drug dealing and the “stealing” of South Asians’ jobs.

The number of international students from India in Canada has jumped by roughly five times in the past few years, after the federal government in 2012 bucked the trend of other Western nations and made it easier for international students to work and to go to the front of the immigration queue.

In the past it was mostly well-off Indian families who sent their children to Canada to study. But now tens of thousands of low-income Indians, including farming families, are stretching their meagre finances to get their children into the Canadian education system, job market and family immigration stream.

South Asian media outlets in Canada and India are buzzing with articles and commentary on the changes, often revolving around debate on whether the 130,000 foreign students from India, mostly from the Punjab region, are being victimized by the system or exploiting it. Canada’s South Asian population numbers more than 500,000, mostly in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto.

Indian education officials, especially in the Punjab, are complaining about losing students to Canada. They’re also alleging many of the foreign students are being exploited by unscrupulous immigration agents and English-language trainers in India, as well as by money-hungry colleges and universities, landlords and South Asian business owners in Canada.

Meanwhile, Indo-Canadians concentrated in Greater Toronto and Metro Vancouver have been holding public meetings to complain about how many students from India are skipping classes to work longer hours in Canada than they are permitted, leading to the Times of India running the headline: “Indo-Canadians say international students ’stealing their jobs.’”

Desi Today, an Indo-Canadian magazine, said in an editorial “There has been a simmering reaction of anger and protest by the Indo-Canadian community, especially of Surrey, against these students.

“There are YouTube videos made by Indo-Canadians displaying the behaviour of the students (and) their unhygienic lifestyle, criticizing them for their focus on earning money instead of studies. A few are leaving studies altogether to enter into illicit activities, like drug trading,” said Desi Today.

Balraj Kahlon, of Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, a Surrey organization that helps low-income individuals, told Postmedia News his members were discovering that “many students from India are under financial stress and there is a problem of labour exploitation, and sexual exploitation of young women.” Some Indians students are alleged to be working 16 hours a day, when their Canadian study permit allows only 20 hours a week.

The number of Indian foreign students at Surrey’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University has skyrocketed in the past couple of years, while Langara College’s cohort of Indian foreign students has catapulted 40 times in just three years. Many students from India are also attending small private colleges in Canada, which some critics dismiss as “one-room” fake diploma-and-immigration factories.

Langara College sociology instructor Gagun Chhina said Canadian institutions can’t handle the extraordinary influx of foreign students, who are flocking here because of Ottawa’s simplified process for obtaining permanent resident status. Students from India make up the second largest cohort of international students in Canada, after those from China.

Chhina said Indian foreign students are struggling to balance study with long hours on their jobs, which many need to survive in costly Vancouver and Toronto. Some are sending money home to their Indian parents, many of whom hope their sons and daughters will sponsor them to come to Canada to work temporarily or immigrate.

Indian foreign students have unfortunately become big business in both India and Canada, say the critics, and some of those enterprises are illicit.

A radio station in the Punjab, SBS, reported that English-language schools have been fined for charging students $15,000 for phoney passing marks in English tests, so they can get into Canada. Punjabi officials have ordered a crackdown on immigration consultants, some of whom take large sums and make false promises to manoeuvre young people into Canadians schools. India’s Tribune newspaper also maintains Canada’s “relaxed immigration policy” is draining tens of thousands of young people and their low-income families’ hard-earned money out of the Punjab.

Things are so strained among some South Asians in Canada that fights have broken out between domestic and foreign students in Ontario colleges.

“This is the talk of the town in the Punjabi community. The newspapers and radio shows all talk about it,” Balraj Deol, editor of the Khabarnama Punjabi Weekly, told Postmedia.

While many Indo-Canadian landlords and business owners are financially exploiting and abusing foreign students from India, Deol said the other side of the phenomenon is that Indian foreign students who break the rules by working long hours are adding to large “underground” ethnic economies in Ontario and B.C.

Said Deol: “People are angry at this poor immigration policy in Canada.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Indo-Canadians in uproar over surge of foreign 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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