Canada’s exploitation of Punjabi international students is history repeating itself

Governments should crack down on private college student international student recruitment given a number of articles and investigations highlighting the exploitation and abuse, and the minimum benefit to the economy and society:

Canada has a decades-old tradition of exploiting Punjab’s working class. The latest example of this comes by way of international students.

Canadian schools, partnering with a shady recruitment industry, allure youth from working-class farming families. Demand has been cultivated by urban centres and television littered with advertisements to go abroad via a study visa.

As a community volunteer, I have seen the result of such perverse marketing where many come to Canada with no understanding of what awaits and hope it will work out. Sadly, many face grave hardships and encounter shameless people aiming to exploit their vulnerability.

The problems include an unscrupulous and untrustworthy private college industry swindling foreign students across Canada. Rampant labour exploitation of international students. Sex traffickers preying on female international students aware they are financially vulnerable. A concerning number of international student suicides with deaths occurring monthly. Finally, a Statistics Canada studyfound international student graduates have relatively worse economic outcomes.

While volunteers try to help as much as possible, we cannot match the volume of students being churned through the system.

We receive messages from students stating they don’t want to live anymore, and while we feel compelled to take action, it is discouraging that politicians feel no such obligation.

In fact, politicians like MP Sukh Dhaliwal and minister Marco Mendicino do not seem to think anything is wrong with the international student program.

Politicians do not feel compelled to fix this mess because international education is very lucrative. International students are charged nearly five times higher tuition, bring in over $20 billion, and have allowed provincial governments to decreasetheir proportion of higher education funding.

In one honest conversation, an elected official acknowledged to me the unwillingness to fix this problem is because the economy and many jobs are dependent on the status quo.

What does this say about those in power? I interpret inaction to mean that in order to generate wealth for Canada, politicians tacitly accept migrant suicides and Punjabi migrant women being trafficked.

Adding to my frustration is this exploitation follows a similar pattern from over a century ago.

After British colonization of Punjab in 1858, Punjab’s fertile lands were used to produce cash crops for export. In the succeeding decades, British management of agriculture to increase production also led to land values, prices of basic goods, and taxes all increasing. It also resulted in repeated famines and many modest Punjabi farmers accumulating debt.

For many struggling farmers emigration was the best option to improve economic fortunes.

At the same time, newspapers were filled with job ads from Canadian companies and labour contractors who were recruiting in Punjab.

In the 1900s Punjabi migrant workers started arriving in Canada and would experience significant hardships. They were paid less for equal work and often victims of abuse and discrimination. This easy to exploit labour was lucrative for the lumber industry.

Fast forward to the 1960s green revolution, which was initiated to boost global agricultural production. Decades later, many found the green revolution benefitted multinational corporations pushing chemical pesticides more than farmers in places like Punjab.

In Punjab, long-term pesticide use has led to environmental degradation resulting in stagnating agricultural production. This disproportionately affects modest farmers who are accumulating debt to stay afloat. For these struggling families emigration is the best option to improve economic fortunes, and a student visa is the best path to emigrate.

Sadly, like their predecessors, this generation of Punjabi migrants also face serious hardships and exploitation in Canada.

Throughout the last century Punjabi Canadians have mobilized and began a tradition of activism. Prominent fights include advocating for equal pay in the 1940s and farm workers advocating for better work conditions in the 1980s. And today, community advocates and students are fighting against the economic exploitation of international students.

Ironically, Canadian politicians will celebrate Punjabi migrants who struggled for equality and dignity in the past, but neglect the indignity Punjabi migrants experience today.

Municipal, provincial, and federal politicians showed concern for farmers during India’s farmer protest, but they have no concern for the children of these farmers suffering in Canada.

It seems that in politics the profits made off the vulnerable count, while the pain experienced by them does not.

Balraj S. Kahlon is a member of One Voice Canada and the author of The Realities of International Students: Evidenced Challenges.

Source: Canada’s exploitation of Punjabi international students is history repeating itself

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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