International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

Final part of the Star’s series on international education and their recommendations how to address the abuse and challenges. Some are more realistic than others (hard to see provincial funding increasing to reduce reliance on international students, and not sure what the capacity is for settlement services to handle students) but many are eminently practical:

Make more classroom supports available. Provide better information on employment rights. And begin regulating education recruiters.

Those are just some of the ways to bolster the experience of international students in Canada and improve the burgeoning international education system, according to students, teachers, policy-makers and others.

A months-long joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard found the explosive growth in the number of international students in Canada, particularly in Ontario colleges, has left students feeling overwhelmed and teachers frustrated.

There are now more than 572,000 international students in Canada — the largest cohort ever — and a 73 per cent hike since 2014. That unprecedented growth has proven extremely lucrative, with international students pumping $21.6 billion into campuses, communities and the economy nationwide last year. But it has also brought significant challenges.

Part 1 of the Price of Admission series looks at how international students have increasingly been used as a key source of revenue to prop up an underfunded Canadian education system. Part 2 examines how one Ontario college scrambled to deal with a crisis on campus in the wake of a surge in international enrolment. And Part 3 explores how international students, desperate to stay here permanently, are sometimes exploited by employers.

Reporters spoke with students, teachers, school administrators, policy-makers, academic researchers, recruiters and advocates on how we can make things better.

Some have suggested one way of preventing international students from being taken advantage of in Canada, would be to grant them permanent residence upon arrival. But others say this is unrealistic and it is unlikely any political party in power would want to do that.

Here are some of their other suggestions:

For the provincial government:

  • Invest in post-secondary education to reduce reliance on revenue from international students to fund public education.
  • Regulate education recruiters to crack down on misinformation about Canada’s education and immigration systems, similar to a mechanism in place in Manitoba that monitors designated education providers, recruiters and contracted agents.
  • Reach out to international students to inform them about their job rights and enforce employer compliance.

For the federal government:

  • Make pre-arrival information and checklists available to incoming students on such things as housing, transportation, cost of living, health care, immigration and employment.
  • Grant students access to settlement services, including help with job searches, housing and counselling.
  • Provide clear information to prospective students about the pathways to immigration and the criteria for permanent residence down the road.
  • Raise the threshold of the GIC deposit required of international students to ensure they have the minimum savings to complete their studies in Canada.
  • Enhance and expand the immigration department’s current “letter of acceptance verification project” and “international student compliance project” to ensure students are not using their study permit just for the purpose of entering the country. Make this part of the regular audit of Canada’s international education strategy.
  • Work with provincial partners to survey students about their needs and experience, and track their progress through the education and immigration systems, using the data for policy reviews and decisions.

For schools:

  • Improve vetting system to ensure English language admission test scores accurately reflect a student’s actual language proficiency, including interviews with college staff.
  • Provide improved linguistic supports, including better access to translators, to help students from non-English speaking countries navigate the education system, student and medical supports, and to assist teachers in the classrooms.
  • Provide additional classroom and counselling support to help international students unfamiliar with Canada’s education system, teaching styles and culture throughout their studies and not just limited to the initial orientation.
  • Offer cultural sensitivity and awareness training to teaching and administrative staff about international students and the unique challenges and circumstances they face.
  • Implement an early warning system among school administration to assist failing students.
  • Start a buddy system matching international students with their domestic peers to ease their transition and better integrate them into the school community.

Source: International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

‘We think of them as cash cows.’ International students want to immigrate, but colleges, employers want to boost their bottom lines

Believe this is the last piece in the Star series. Will be interesting to see if this gets picked up or not during the campaign:

When Romina Avila and her husband Arturo Castaneyra decided to leave behind the growing violence in Mexico for a better life elsewhere, the couple set their sights on Canada and its colleges — an increasingly popular ticket for immigration.

By enrolling as international students at the college level — a more affordable alternative to university — they could acquire Canadian education credentials, postgraduate work permits and job experience to boost their chances for permanent residence, a feat Avila’s two older sisters and their spouses had previously accomplished.

“Everyone is looking for the same thing: Enrol in a college, get your one-year work experience and apply for permanent residence,” says Avila, a 32-year-old Mexico City native, who came to Canada with her husband in 2014, a year after Canada launched an aggressive campaign to double its annual number of international students to 450,000 by 2022. That target has long been surpassed.

In 2018, there were 570,000 study-permit holders in Canada — three-quarters enrolled in post-secondary education. The federal government estimated their spending, including tuition, amounted to $21.6 billion and supported 170,000 Canadian jobs.

Canada ranks fourth in the world among top destinations for international education, just behind the United States, the United Kingdom and China, having recently nudged ahead of Australia and France. A survey last year by the non-profit Canadian Bureau for International Education found that 60 per cent of international students planned to apply for permanent residence and 75 per cent said being able to work here after their studies was key to their decision to choose Canada.

A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard looked at the exponential growth of international students in Canada, especially in colleges. This influx has prompted concerns about whether international education has become an immigration shortcut, a default migrant workers’ program and a money-making business rather than primarily an opportunity for higher learning.

“The policy creates vulnerability, maybe not intentionally, but the way the policy was designed and enacted is what it’s producing,” says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Margaret Walton-Roberts, whose research focuses on international student migration. “There’s this desire to use this (education) stream to get permanent residence. All the way along, there are a lot of people who have an interest in making money out of this group, including the Canadian government.

“It’s been used by the government to prop up the post-secondary education sector. We kind of think of (international students) as cash cows.”

Colleges Ontario, an industry group representing the province’s 24 publicly funded colleges, says the push for international education has been driven by labour and skills shortages as a result of the country’s low birth rate and aging population. Colleges, it says, are better positioned to deal with the changing needs of the job market, with their historical focus on practical, shorter-term skills training and established networks with local employers.

Several years ago, Sang Woo Jo, 28, of South Korea, decided he wanted to immigrate to Canada and work as an auto technician. The best way to do that, he figured, was with a student visa.

Jo already had experience, having worked in Seoul for four years as a mechanic for the automaker Renault. But he didn’t know the English words for car parts and basic maintenance tasks, such as oil changes and tire rotations.

He arrived in 2017 and this spring wrapped up a two-year motive power co-op program at Niagara College, which trains auto mechanics.

“I will never go back to Korea,” he says. “I would really love to stay here … Good people, good country and good pay here in Canada, very good career here.”

After graduating, Jo landed a gig at Audi in Newmarket — a three-year work visa allows him to stay and work.

That’s not surprising for Wayne Toth, co-ordinator of motive power at Niagara College — a program with about 300 students, more than half of them international, mostly from China, Korea, India and the Caribbean.

“There’s a huge demand for skilled trades, especially in automotive,” says Toth. “A lot of (our students) are securing full-time positions when they graduate. There’s a huge number of seasoned technicians that are coming up for retirement.”

And, he says, by the nature of being already far from home, international students tend to be more willing to relocate for work, which makes them good matches for employers.

Niagara College says it routinely gets calls from local businesses, such as Fallsview casino, wineries and personal support worker agencies, seeking graduates.

“In the last year, we’ve seen a big uptick in requests,” says Shawna Luey, associate director of the college’s international student services. “We’re liaising more and more with employers and people in the community that hadn’t necessarily thought about international graduates as ongoing members of their greater community.”

Canada’s immigration department awards points to applicants under the skilled immigrant program based on attributes such as age, education, language proficiency and work experience. As part of Ottawa’s economic plan, the government tweaked the point grid and began rewarding applicants with bonus points if they have a degree, diploma or certificate from a Canadian publicly funded academic institution (up to 30 points) and work experience in Canada in an occupation with a staff shortage (up to 80 points.)

Andrei Evangelista of the Philippines tried twice to immigrate to Canada: in 2010 as a skilled worker and in 2014 as a live-in caregiver, but was refused both times. After working as a nurse abroad for nearly a decade, he enrolled in the postgraduate gerontology program at Niagara College in Welland and arrived in 2018.

He worked part-time as a personal support worker, and as a cashier at Walmart, earning in a day what he earned in a week back home.

“My goal was to be out of the Philippines and get a better paying job,” says Evangelista, who just completed his one-year diploma program this spring and started a full-time job at a nursing home in Halifax on a postgraduate work permit. He plans to apply for permanent residence after he earns the Canadian experience to meet the point threshold for immigration.

In 2016, about 30,000 former international students became permanent residents in Canada. In 2018, that number almost doubled to 54,000, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Last year, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced a new program to expedite student visa applications for those from China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam by fast-tracking processing from months to just 20 days. The four countries made up 60 per cent of Canada’s international student population in 2018. In July, the program was expanded to Pakistan, and to Morocco and Senegal this month.

“International students make significant contributions to the schools and the colleges and the universities and the communities in which they reside. The diverse perspectives that they bring to our classrooms enrich the educational experiences of Canadian students,” says Hussen.

“International students are the ideal future Canadians,” he adds. “That’s because they have Canadian post-secondary education and, in many cases, Canadian work experience. They also speak one, if not both, of our official languages. All of which is a recipe for a newcomer’s success in Canada.”

York University education professor Roopa Desai Trilokekar, whose research focuses on international education, says there’s no doubt most international students enrolled in our colleges have their eyes set on immigration.

“Today’s international education is a business. Our education (quality) can suffer if we bend too much to an open market,” cautions Trilokekar, who attended university in the United States in the 1970s as a visa student from India before immigrating to Canada in 1996. “If we don’t have enough check and balance, it’s going to open a different can of worms.”

Australia began an aggressive campaign to recruit international students in the early 2000s and saw its international enrolment peak in 2009. That growth slowed down after a series of attacks on international students from India amid rising racial tension.

In a comparative research study, Trilokekar and co-author Zainab Kizilbash, identified a number of challenges in Australia’s education and immigration systems, including unethical recruitment and graduation practices as well as lower admission standards.

“They encouraged the admission of non-genuine students who were looking for backdoor entry into Australia’s workforce,” the study says. “In addition to distorting Australia’s international education sector, these practices also negatively affected the integrity of its migration program.”

Canada has already taken a page from Australia’s experience by introducing a list of designated learning institutions for prospective students and limiting post-graduation permits to those who attend publicly funded universities and colleges, which are under more stringent government monitoring.

Even if you get an acceptance from a Canadian school, it still doesn’t mean Canada will let you in. In fact, last year, more than a third of student-visa applicants were turned away for a variety of reasons, such as failing to convince an immigration officer their main intent was to pursue their studies.

Immigration officials also require schools to submit a compliance report twice a year that verifies the academic and enrolment status of international students at their institutions. Cases are referred for further review if a student is suspended, asks for a leave, defers enrolment or has poor attendance.

According to the immigration department, the number of study permits revoked has tripled from 1,538 in 2016 to 5,502 in 2018, with 1,048 students stripped of their student status in the first two months of this year alone. A similar trend was reported in the number of study permit extensions being refused for students failing to meet their obligations and graduation timeline.

International students can lose their study permits if they get caught working more than the 20 hours a week permitted by the federal government. The opportunity to work during the academic year was introduced as a way to help students pay for their studies and earn Canadian work experience for immigration.

Critics, however, say international students have increasingly joined the revolving door of migrant workers, mostly to fill low-paying jobs in Canada.

“They come, live and work here mostly in low-wage retail, labour and factory jobs, sometimes through temp agencies. They are no different from other migrant workers, except for the added component and costs of the actual studies,” says Syed Hussan of Toronto-based Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a national advocacy coalition of migrant workers, grassroots organizations, unions, faith groups, activists and researchers.

Migrant workers’ advocates say they first heard from international students around 2016. They raised issues such as owed wages and wage theft as well as complaints about workplace abuse and exploitation. The advocates initially referred them to unions and settlement services, but came to the realization there’s a “total absence of any meaningful services and advocacy” for this overlooked group.

The migrant workers’ alliance then reached out directly to international students, and since then more than 1,800 people have reported a range of issues from labour standards, to housing, wages and immigration.

“Migrant students don’t have many rights to access to begin with and there is a complete lack of information about their rights in Canada,” Syed Hussan says. “The point is the immigration system is designed to create and reinforce temporary status with the promise for a better life. And everyone is taking advantage of these students. Many of them end up doing low-wage work and later being forced to leave.”

In canvassing international students about their employment experience, alliance members uncovered some troubling incidents:

  • A group of six 17-year-olds from Brazil enrolled in a six-month language program say they were sent to clean offices in Toronto and Mississauga in the evening — without pay — as part of a “language training on-site practicum.”
  • A Pakistani student, who completed a two-year post-grad diploma in computer programming and was on a postgraduate work permit, says his employer had him deposit his paycheques, then forced him to withdraw the money and hand it back over in exchange for a reference letter for his permanent residence application.
  • Two students from India say they were hired to load trucks at a warehouse and split $350 in wages for the 25 hours they each put in on the job every week. The hourly rate amounted to just $7.

Minister Hussen says the government takes the integrity of the international education system very seriously, but he believes these cases are a minority and blames the problem on unscrupulous recruiters who mislead and misinform students.

“The vast majority of international students are fine. They come, they know the rules and abide by them. They have a great experience,” Hussen says in an interview.

“The story of international students has been a very positive story. They make great contributions to our economy and amazing contributions to our classrooms. Some of them choose to stay and become permanent residents and help us fill unfilled jobs and bring much-needed skills to Canada.”

Fred Gibbons, president of Northern College in Timmins, says international students have become an increasingly important source of labour in smaller communities at businesses such as Home Depot, Canadian Tire, local grocers and the service industry.

“They’re doing the part-time jobs that many of our kids don’t want to do anymore and in many respects there aren’t the kids around to do the jobs anymore,” says Gibbons. “They’re being embraced by the employers. They’re saying these students show up on time, they’re polite, they’re punctual, they’re reliable.”

Former international student Varunpreet Singh, a student co-ordinator with the migrant workers alliance, says international students are vulnerable to exploitation because of Canada’s increasingly “temporary” immigration system, which brings in migrants on temporary status with the promise of permanent residence through a myriad of confusing pathways.

“What’s most challenging is these students are so afraid to come out and share their experiences. They have invested so much in the process with the hope of staying. There is so much pressure on them to succeed,” says Singh, 27, who enrolled in George Brown College in 2014 before completing a master’s degree in architecture at University of Calgary two years ago. He became a permanent resident in February.

“The blame is not just on the employers who pay these students below minimum wage and exploit them, but on the system that allows the abuse to take place.”

Last year, Ireland rolled out a scheme to offer amnesty to former international students who had overstayed and gone underground after finishing their studies and failing to secure permanent residence. “Offering permanent residence upon arrival is the only solution to these problems,” Singh suggests.

Victoria Esses, director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations at Western University, says international students make ideal immigrants because theoretically they are already acculturated and have better English skills and an education more familiar to Canadian employers.

“You don’t have to be a PhD to be a skilled immigrant,” says Esses. “The thing that we need to pay attention to is how we are integrating international students. Being isolated in a classroom or in residence (from Canadian students) is not going to help them integrate.”

While schools tend to focus on international students’ initial orientation upon arrival, Esses says they require continuous support throughout their studies and in the transition into the labour market and permanent residence.

One of the challenges in integrating international students is, as temporary residents of Canada, they are not eligible for immigrant settlement services, and universities and colleges can only provide limited support beyond their academic and social needs.

Phoram Ghelani, a former international student from India, says many families like his have to borrow money to enable their children to study in Canada and, once here, the students must work to pay their own bills and sometimes even support their families back home.

“To us, immigration and international education are the same thing. We don’t see any difference,” says Ghelani, who came to Toronto from Rajkot City in India’s Gujarat state for the one-year hospitality and tourism operations management program at Humber College in 2014, after finishing an undergraduate degree in commerce from Saurashtra University.

“Even if we only get a sh–y job here, we still make more money than doing a decent job in India. Canada’s economy runs on immigrants and immigration. The product it sells is immigration, permanent residence,” adds the 25-year-old, who worked as a chef with his one-year post-grad work permit and was granted permanent residence in December. He now works as a banking adviser.

Critics say if Canada increases enrolment without investing in support for international students, the quality of education will suffer and the whole international education system will become, by default, simply a way to earn money and permanent residence.

“Is it right?” asks Laurier’s Walton-Roberts. “Not if people are not getting something of value out of the process. So what’s the thing of value that they want? Is the thing of value they want permanent residence or a particular education? If they are getting it and if the college process is the means to get there, the question to ask is, is that a problem?”

Avila, the George Brown graduate from Mexico, says although she initially came to Canada with her husband for the ultimate purpose of immigration, she had grown to love the community worker program she enrolled in.

“We do feel we are used as cash cows to subsidize the Canadian education system. We do feel we have no rights as international students. I didn’t want to go back to school, but this is the best way to immigrate to Canada,” says Avila, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Mexico.

“The college experience does make it easier to find a job and meet people and network in Canada. I’m here because of international education. It does open the door for me.”

Source: ‘We think of them as cash cows.’ International students want to immigrate, but colleges, employers want to boost their bottom lines

The test said they were good enough to get in, but they were failing in class. How Niagara College tackled an international student crisis

Second part of the Star’s series on international students. Hard not to see this as an exploitative business model:

The view from the Niagara Falls motel is hardly the slice of Canadiana the students expected.

They travelled from their homes in India, anticipating the Canada portrayed in Niagara College marketing materials, complete with a roaring falls and vibrant green vineyards — the perfect setting to lay the foundation for a better life.

Instead, these Niagara College students, living in cramped rooms, look out on a pool, in the centre of the motel parking lot, and a little wedding chapel. The only roar is from the steady rumble of traffic along Lundy’s Lane, not far from the bric-a-brac of the Niagara Falls tourist district.

The Rockwell Resort is far from a holiday haven, but it is cheap — about $300 a month per student, sharing with one to three others.

Money is tight. International students attending Niagara College pay at least $13,000 a year in tuition, compared to an average of $4,400 for domestic students. Some Rockwell residents say they subsist on as little as a piece of fruit and a cup of tea for breakfast before heading off to the Welland campus, a 20-minute bus ride away.

“I tell you, for the first four or five months here, I cried almost every day,” says Nikhil Desai, a 21-year-old second-year international business student from India’s Gujarat state, who has lived at the Rockwell for more than a year.

“Everything I was told about Canada, about being here, about living here, turned out to be the opposite. Completely opposite. But I can’t go back. There is no going back for us.”

Last year, Desai was part of the largest cohort of international students ever enrolled at Niagara College — 4,100 students out of a total of over 11,000.

More than 2,900 of those students were from India, and hundreds of them couldn’t cope academically in English. The sheer volume of struggling students triggered a crisis on campus, raising doubts about the credibility of international English-language admission tests. In response, the school’s administration ordered hundreds of students here and overseas to be re-evaluated for language proficiency and shifted its admission policies, including drastically reducing the number of new students from India. Other colleges have reacted by retesting their own international students.

A months-long joint investigation by The St. Catharines Standard and the Toronto Star found international enrolment in Ontario colleges has risen dramatically in the past five years, and that unprecedented growth has left students feeling overwhelmed and educators frustrated. In the case of Niagara College, these challenges manifested themselves in a situation one teacher described as a “nightmare.”

College president Dan Patterson says in an interview it was a “bump in the road” the school is managing.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is the fact that if something goes off the tracks, we work very hard to correct it,” Patterson says. “Niagara College has been at this for 25 years, we’ve got support systems and invest in a lot to ensure the experience is good. And when it isn’t, we are going to find out what we can do to help. That is part of our DNA.”

After more than 400 students from India were re-evaluated for language proficiency, Niagara offered an English course to more than 200 Indian students who scored poorly, but most declined and opted to stay in their programs. Many stopped coming to class, according to six college teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals from the school’s administration.

One teacher says in the fall of 2018, there were about 50 students in a class, the vast majority from India. Most scored less than 10 per cent in their final grades, the teacher says. When the second semester began, only a handful of students were left in that course.

Despite absences, the Indian students remained enrolled, with some having moved on to the second year of their program, according to Steven Hudson, Niagara College’s vice-president of academics.

“As teachers, we want to see our students succeed,” says Ravi Ramkissoonsingh, president of OPSEU Local 242, which represents Niagara College faculty. “But there seemed to be very little chance of these students succeeding. And if they don’t, what becomes of them?”

The crisis at Niagara College came four years after changes to Canada’s immigration policies made a Canadian education more attractive to international students. As part of Ottawa’s strategy, students who graduated from an officially recognized Canadian school would earn points toward achieving permanent residence status.

Demand for admissions exploded in India, feeding a significant expansion of coaching centres designed to teach students how to pass critical English-language tests and fuelling a rise in agents who, students allege, were willing to provide passing grades for a price.

The number of Indian students in Canada surged dramatically. By 2018, India became the top exporter of international students to Canadian colleges. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 55,265 students from India enrolled in Ontario colleges that year alone.

Students say they see Canadian schools as a way to escape crushing poverty in India.

“The economic reality of living in India is not good,” says 25-year-old Niagara College nursing student Jajdeep Kavi, who shares a room at the Rockwell with another student.

She transferred to Niagara from Seneca last year. Her husband works in Brampton, where he lives with the couple’s daughter and his mother. Kavi says she doesn’t get much time with her family. The Rockwell had no vacancies earlier this month, so recent visits provided them with little privacy.

“This is not what I expected, but the opportunity is better,” Kavi says.

About 150 Indian students — many of them Punjabi speakers from the poorer, largely rural communities of Punjab — live in the Rockwell Resort. Some have bunk beds, others use cots, leaving just enough room for a beer fridge, a dresser and a small stove.

Rent is half of what they were told to expect to pay for housing in Niagara — a boon for students whose families have sold property and possessions to send their children to Canada.

Before they arrive, the Canadian government requires students from India to post a guaranteed investment certificate (GIC) of $10,000, more than half a million Indian rupees. That money covers only a portion of the $30,000 it costs to attend a year of classes, including travel, tuition, housing, admission testing and supplies.

“It’s very difficult because you have to make money to survive. Everything is expensive. But (according to the immigration department’s student permit rules) you cannot work more than 20 hours a week as a student,” says Desai, who works as a dishwasher in Niagara College’s Benchmark restaurant. “If you work 25 hours, you get deported.”

Desai lives with two other students. Their three beds — two cots and an inflatable mattress — dominate their 22-square-metre living space. They have learned to keep it tidy and find little ways — like having two fish tanks — to make it feel homey.

Motel owner Steve Rockwell say he advertises in India, but many students find him by word of mouth. He bought the place in May 2018, but says Indian students were already renting rooms under previous ownership. He tries to limit occupancy to two to a room when he can, but says there’s high demand from students.

“This motel is a Little India,” says Rockwell, who notes the motel is within walking distance of a Sikh temple, a Hindu temple and a mosque. “What I provide is an affordable living space that is clean and secure and, importantly, a place where they can be with people from their own culture and speak their language.”

For many prospective students in India, the road to Canada starts at an educational fair, where official college representatives promote their schools. These introductions to Ontario colleges open a possible pathway from poverty to permanent residency in Canada.

Canada’s higher standard of living is an undeniable siren song for young people in India, where the average annual income in 2018 was about $26,500, according to the World Bank, and opportunities are often scarce. Ontario colleges are taking advantage of this desire for a better life, says Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, an education policy consultation firm in Toronto.

Canada is the lure, Usher says, not any particular college. “You’ve got to understand the way that international students think about this is the poorer the country they’re from, the less likely they are to care about which institution they get into.”

Varunpreet Singh, a 27-year-old from India who graduated from George Brown College, says life in Canada is a key recruitment pitch.

“They sell you the dream of coming to Canada, a dream of having a better life,” says Singh, who now organizes international students through the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

That dream is so potent, students and their families are willing to sell their property and possessions, acquire high-interest loans and risk putting themselves deep in debt to cross the ocean and get to a Canadian college.

“I spent around 1.4 million rupees (around $28,000 Cdn),” says Harman Singh, a 20-year-old Humber College student from India. To raise the money to come to Canada — including the GIC, tests, medical exams and insurance — he had to use his mother’s savings and sell his late father’s car.

“It was the last thing I had of his,” Singh says.

Raising money is just one step on the road to Canada. To be accepted into an Ontario college, international students have to achieve a minimum score on a standardized English-language test conducted in their home country. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS), used by many post-secondary institutions and the immigration department, is a three-hour exam that assesses reading, writing and listening skills.

Since passing the language test is critical, some students turn to private education agents — not employed by the colleges — to shepherd them through the testing and applications.

Interviews with 11 international students from India — most at Niagara College — reveal a labyrinthine and costly process. The students say taking the English-language test costs about $300. Most had to do it more than once, paying the fee each time.

“I tried to do it on my own at first, but when I failed the first time, I hired an agent,” says Desai, the Rockwell resident, who passed on his second attempt.

The agents are not official representatives of the colleges, but act as an access point for students into Canada’s education and immigration systems.

Students interviewed for this story say agents handle everything from arranging training courses and exams, to filing paperwork with the Canadian government and college admission departments.

All but one Indian student interviewed for this story took a training course for the IELTS, which costs between $150 to $300 and takes about two months. The course is not about learning English, but rather provides strategies on how to pass the test.

Hudson, Niagara College’s vice-president of academics, says like many standardized admissions tests, the IELTS is structured in such a way that the method of answering a question can be found in the questions themselves. It’s why domestic students will train for months to take exams like the Law School Admissions Test or police college entrance exams.

As a consequence, students who otherwise do not have academic-level English skills can still manage a passing score.

For those who cannot, there is another option. While none of the students interviewed for this story say they bought a passing score, they all say they’ve heard of it being done. One student at the Rockwell, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his standing at Niagara College, says he took the IELTS three times, paying $300 for each try. During the process, he was told by an agent he could buy a passing score for $1,000.

Reports of unscrupulous agents and fake test scores have made headlines in recent years, with the Times of India and India Tribune documenting high-profile arrests.

In 2016, an undercover investigation by SBS Punjabi radio journalist Shamsher Kainth found education agents selling English-language test scores for as much as $18,000.

SBS Punjabi recorded an agent claiming to have bribed IELTS staff in the city of Muktsar. His method, he said, was to buy two seats on testing day, one for the student and another for a person who writes and passes the test. This allowed the fake student to get around ID checks by exam staff before the test began. The fraudulent test was then submitted under the student’s name.

Niagara College says it received more than 14,000 applications from India for the 2018 school year. That fall, a record number of Indian students were admitted — part of the largest class of international students the school had ever accepted and contributing to substantial revenue and a multimillion-dollar surplus for the college.

Within weeks, teachers noticed an unusually high number of students, predominantly those from India, could not function academically in English.

According to the accounts of 10 Niagara College teachers, there had been warning signs the previous academic year, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

“I’ve taught many international students, and it is not uncommon for them to have some difficulty in English. It’s usually their second, even their third language,” a former communications teacher recalls. “But these students really could not handle the work. We could not even talk to each other. Out of a class of 35 students, 30 were Punjabi-speaking students. I would go home some nights and just cry because I didn’t know what to do.”

The teacher shared with a reporter some of the course work students submitted in 2017. Simple essays based on an article the students were assigned to read are filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and misused words. Homework assignments are better written than in-class assignments, but show signs of plagiarism. Verbatim passages, including errors, can be seen in the work of several students.

Teachers raised concerns with the college in 2017. Hudson says initially the college believed the issue to be a cultural, rather than a linguistic problem, and didn’t realize it was specific to students from the same country.

Administrators tried to organize sessions for instructors to learn “best practices for teaching international students,” with a focus on cultural sensitivities. But in emails obtained by The Standard, teachers were incredulous: “If the students cannot communicate in English, no strategy session or best practices is going to solve it,” wrote one.

Ramkissoonsingh, who teaches psychology, says teachers told the college administration that Punjabi-speaking students, in particular, were struggling, but felt their concerns were not taken seriously.

“Our members warned them,” he says. “There was obviously something wrong (with the English testing) in 2017, but the college didn’t listen. And we saw what happened.”

When the 2018 school year got underway, the problem was amplified by the record enrolment from India. Some international students were moved by the college — in some cases into language-centric courses like journalism, public relations and marketing — because their preferred classes were full, says Hudson.

In emails written to college administrators early in the semester and obtained for this story, Niagara College teachers said some of the students — who had passing IELTS scores — could not read, write or converse in English.

Plagiarism and cheating — which teachers say are also issues with domestic students — were, again, a problem. Several teachers say their international students used vocal cues and pen clicks to exchange answers during multiple-choice exams. The same wrong answers appeared on multiple students’ tests.

Teachers acknowledged the students were under pressure to survive in circumstances in which they had no reasonable chance of success.

“As a group, we need to be concerned with the students. Many have been placed in a position that must be devastating,” wrote one teacher in an email response to a director of student services who called for a meeting to come up with teaching strategies in September 2018. “To be in a class, not understand the language and have assignments given to them that they cannot even attempt. This forces them into a unwinnable situation. As teachers we feel for these students. They are not numbers or issues. They are individuals that we are responsible for.”

Hudson and Patterson say Niagara College had supports in place, including a handful of student leaders who speak Punjabi.

In late 2018, the college retested more than 400 of the international students already at the school, and ordered new IELTS tests for 400 set to arrive in the next semester.

Of the students already at the college who were given an in-house English test instead of another IELTS exam, more than 200 scored so low they were at risk of failing their classes. Teachers who were interviewed believe more than the 400 students tested were at risk of failing, but acknowledge this is an anecdotal assessment based on classroom experience.

The college offered to transfer struggling students from their programs of study into an English-language course. While the course might improve their comprehension and speaking skills, it could potentially jeopardize their path to permanent residency. International students need to graduate from a program recognized by Canada’s immigration department — and the language course isn’t one of them. To return to their core program of study would mean more time and additional tuition to graduate.

In the wake of the tests, Indian students clogged Niagara College’s international student centre on its Welland campus and pleaded with teachers in the hallways not to be removed from their programs. They would work harder, they said.

Only 10 per cent of the students who were offered the English classes agreed to take them, according to Hudson. Most opted to remain in their programs, despite the risk of failure.

In the meantime, 10 per cent of the prospective students still in India who were retested failed and were required to take an English night class once they arrived in Niagara in January 2019.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, himself an immigrant, sees international students as vital to the national interest. The country needs immigrants, he says, and bringing them in through education is a way to build a work-ready population of new Canadians.

But if you don’t have the skills or the cash, “coming to Canada may not be the best option for you,” he says.

“International education in Canada is not for everybody. You are expected to pay your own way. You have to be really careful and do your due diligence on who you rely on for advice,” says Hussen.

He says Ottawa is aware of issues with educational agents in India, and the government has launched an advertising campaign aimed at promoting reliable sources of information for students who want to come to Canada.

Niagara College administrators defend their handling of the situation in 2018 and stand by the credibility of IELTS exams.

“We have not seen signs or indications of significant corruption or cheating in the results we have seen,” says Hudson. “It’s important we accept the validity of the IELTS tests. The IELTS are an international standard that are accepted by post-secondary institutions around the world.”

A spokesman for IELTS did not answer questions about the situation in India. In an emailed statement, Ashton Debono said the tests have “multi-layer security and score marking processes to ensure the validity of each individual test.”

Hudson says the college has no means to independently check the legitimacy of test results conducted in another country. College staff did not interview the thousands of Punjabi students who applied in 2018, a task the college says it is not equipped to do.

“In the end, we are relying on the work done by (the Canadian consulate in India) and others in the country who are focused on whether or not the tests themselves are being run inappropriately,” says Hudson.

And although Niagara College used an in-house exam to retest students rather than IELTS, Patterson and Hudson cautioned against overstating the extent of the problem.

Patterson defended the college’s track record of international student education, citing a 93 per cent graduation rate leading up to last year in 2018, and questioned the accounts of teachers interviewed for this story, saying they did not speak to him.

“How do I process between, is this their feelings or is it fact?” says Patterson, who believes teachers have to adapt their teaching methods to the needs of an increasingly diverse international student population.

On Sept. 3, 2019, just as this semester began, the college sent an update to staff saying it has hired a new educational consultant who will “explore” inclusive and culturally responsive teaching practices” with Niagara College teachers.

Ramkissoonsingh says the college has not gone far enough and has enough cash to improve services for international students.

According to the college’s budget documents, international tuition represents 38 per cent of total revenue this year compared to 16 per cent for domestic students. The college had a budget surplus of $13.9 million in 2017-18 and projects a $26.1 million surplus for the 2018-19 academic year.

The fallout from Niagara College has had ripple effects across the province, prompting other colleges to retest their own international students, including those from countries beyond India.

Durham College president Don Lovisa says the school did its own “due diligence” to ensure the problem at Niagara wasn’t happening on his campus, including investigating agents working with the college overseas.

Northern College, based in Timmins, retested the language skills of its international students this fall, as did St. Clair College in Windsor-Chatham.

While the Niagara situation caused some institutions to take notice, other colleges have provided a level of language support for international students for years, including Centennial College, which has offered English language classes, tutoring and workshops at all its campuses.

This fall, Niagara College also raised the minimum IELTS score it would accept for admission and pointedly reduced the number of admissions it is accepting from India. This year, the college has 2,476 Indian students enrolled, down from 2,914 the previous year.

The number of students from India now comprises 40 per cent of the first-year student body, compared to 60 per cent last year, according to a September bulletin from the college.

Hudson says this is not being done because of the 2018 situation, but to increase diversity on campus.

“The intent of our diversity strategy from the outset was to bring a broad diversity of students to the college,” he says, adding the college attracts students from 92 countries. “We could fill the college with Punjabi students, but don’t want to see admissions to programs dominated by a group from a single country.”

The college has implemented new online “pre-departure” programs to help prepare international students. And according to the September update “also introduced a new initiative over the summer to provide intensive two-week academic preparedness programs to over 650 incoming NC students in locations across India.”

Housing issues are also being reviewed. After Niagara College was questioned about students living in motels, Patterson says a consultant was hired to look into the living conditions of students. He says while students are free to select their own accommodation — including campus residence — the college has ensured the students are aware of support services at the school, as well as local food banks and other programs that can help them should they need it.

Over at the Rockwell Resort, Desai — who passed the 2018 Niagara College retests, which he said were “simple” — remains focused on becoming a Canadian citizen.

“There is a lot of pressure,” he says. “But the future here is better than in India.”

Source: The test said they were good enough to get in, but they were failing in class. How Niagara College tackled an international student crisis

‘I’ve given up everything.’ Explosive growth in international students comes at a steep cost

Good long read on how attracting international students keeps on becoming more of a business for community colleges and viewed as a possible path to residency.

Issues raised include concerns on weak academic standards given business pressures, the appropriate levels and mix of international students among others, and that attendance and performance of many students given part-time work and financial needs:

Hyungee Bae is putting it all on the line — every ounce of energy and every cent — to study at Centennial College’s state-of-the-art aerospace and aviation campus. She’s banking on it landing her a job in Canada and, hopefully, one day, citizenship.

“My parents say, ‘I don’t know if you’re brave or a fool,’ because I’ve given up everything,” says Bae, 28, who left South Korea where she taught English and lived in the comfort of her parents’ home.

This fall, she is among the biggest cohort of international students ever in Canada. There are more than 572,000 here, a 73 per cent hike since 2014, when immigration policy changes made it easier for students who study at publicly funded institutions to work and apply for permanent residency.

Canadian education has become so lucrative that international students pumped $21.6 billion last year into campuses, communities and the economy nationwide.

Growth has been particularly explosive in the college sector. International students, heartened by Canada’s safe and welcoming reputation, have been drawn to the college system’s focus on job skills and training. In fact, enrolment of international students in colleges surpassed universities for the first time in 2018, with students choosing college as a cheaper and potentially faster route to post-graduate work and immigration.

A joint project by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard surveyed all 22 of Ontario’s publicly funded English colleges and found international student enrolment rose 155 per cent over the past five years to more than 86,000 out of about 300,000 students. And while many international students seem satisfied with their educational experience, this unprecedented growth has brought significant challenges: Reporting found students struggling with English proficiency and insufficient support; and teachers feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

The influx has resulted in governments, recruiters, academic institutions and employers directly, and indirectly, profiting from international students, who are willing to pay hefty tuition fees and, in some cases, put up with abuse and exploitation, for the dream of making a life in Canada.

“International education is not an education program anymore, it is an immigration program,” says Earl Blaney, a London, Ont., immigration consultant who doubles as an education agent in the Philippines. “(Most students) are studying for permanent residence. It has nothing to do with learning.

‘It’s Canada’s gold rush and everyone is in this game.”

Bae sits in the lobby of Centennial’s Downsview Campus Centre for Aerospace and Aviation, overlooking a hangar filled with aircraft.

The $72-million campus, which includes a drone lab, was funded by federal and provincial government grants and the college’s own cash surplus generated by international enrolment. It opened earlier this year, creating instruction space for about 1,000 students, tripling the size of the program.

Bae, whose tuition this year is $20,400 for the aviation technician-aircraft maintenance program, compared with $5,300 for domestic students, looks admiringly at the “high-tech” surroundings.

“I spent this much money and if the facilities aren’t good I’d be disappointed,” says Bae, who chose college over university because fees are considerably less and programs shorter. “I know all the money we pay goes to the campus. It’s like a business for the college.”

Virginia Macchiavello is a driving force behind the growth at Centennial, which boasts the highest number of international students at any Ontario college. They make up half of the college’s 28,000 student population.

“(I’ve been) accused of being an entrepreneur — not in a good way,” says Macchiavello, associate vice-president, international education, business development. “But we really do believe in education.”

Revenue from international students has allowed the college to make capital investments, expanding and updating campus facilities. Just last year, Centennial generated $210 million in revenue from tuition of international students, and the college ended the 2018-19 fiscal year with a budget surplus of $59.6 million. It also has a $33 million endowment fund — created in part by using 1 per cent of international revenue — to pay for scholarships and academic programming overseas.

A dozen years ago, when Linda Franklin became president and CEO of Colleges Ontario — an advocacy group representing the province’s public colleges — campus facilities were far from the gleaming, light-filled structures they are today.

“A lot of these colleges had very sad buildings,” she says, recalling 50-year-old portables. “That was their reality. And I remember at the time one president saying to me, ‘We’ve got to fix this because a post-secondary student has to feel when they walk in the doors that they’re walking into some place that matters.’ ”

This transformation is, in part, being financed by international students in a province where domestic enrolment is declining. Ontario college revenue is largely made up of tuition and government grants, which on a per-student basis are the lowest in the country and not keeping up with rising costs of the system. To supplement their income, colleges have turned to international students, whose education is not subsidized by taxpayers and who typically pay up to four times more in tuition than their domestic counterparts.

At St. Clair College in Windsor-Chatham, the 2019-20 budget shows for the first time that international student tuition is the largest source of revenue, with a projected $71.8 million. By comparison, operating grants are $41.3 million, and tuition for its budgeted 7,600 domestic students is about $24.3 million. This fall, the college, which has seen its population of international students grow from just about 500 in 2014 to 4,200, increased tuition for new international students by 15 per cent.

Ross Romano, minister of training, colleges and universities, says the province wants schools to be entrepreneurial, adding, “The more revenue they generate, the better the institutions they can be.” He welcomes the growth in international students and hopes they consider staying in Ontario, noting, “We have an economy that’s booming.

“(International students) know they are going into a place where they are going to get a quality education, a world-class education, and they know there’s an opportunity for a great job at the end of that education,” he says. “When people are working, everybody wins.”

John Tibbits, president of Conestoga College in Kitchener, says local labour market demands have been a driving force in the college’s outreach to international students. And college surveys show about 80 per cent of Conestoga students have consistently indicated they plan to stay in Canada.

The revenue they generate has been a lifeline, given the drop in domestic enrolment across much of the sector because of a declining birth rate and high school students choosing university over college. Administrators point out international students aren’t taking seats from domestic students — they’re sitting in seats that would otherwise be empty.

“We would have faced significant downsizing … if we hadn’t gone to the international market,” says Tibbits. “We’re filling a lot of programs that we would have probably had to cancel.”

Increased enrolment from international students has allowed the college to deliver more programming, also benefiting domestic students. For instance, in 2018, Conestoga expanded its Waterloo campus, and in Brantford it purchased three buildings, and leased two, allowing it to grow enrolment there from 100 students to more than 1,000 this fall. And in a record year, Conestoga hired about 90 full-time faculty and staff, mostly front-line workers delivering student services.

Enrico De Francesco, who teaches hospitality at Ottawa’s Algonquin College, says when he started there in 1989, all his students were domestic. Now, about 90 per cent of his first-year students are international.

“A lot of colleges saw this international opportunity as the goose that lays the golden egg,” says De Francesco, who represents the college’s school of hospitality and tourism for Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 415.

“It’s a business, right? Schools run based on the funding and money they can make. If there’s no funding, they have to find their money somewhere — and international students are a good draw.”

At the end of the first week of school, Bae is exhausted. She wakes at 6:30 a.m. to head to campus, and she waitresses late into the night at a Korean restaurant to cover tuition and rent. She’s also mentally spent, having to concentrate extra hard in class since English isn’t her first language.

“(If) there are words I don’t understand I have to look it up, so it takes more time than domestic students.”

Bae is determined to succeed. After all, she uprooted her life in Seoul, where she got an architecture degree and taught English to children after school. She has chosen a program she hopes will lead to good job offers and eventually permanent status, since graduating here garners extra points on a residency application.

But to get into the workforce, she first needs a diploma — without it she can’t apply for a post-graduate work permit.

That’s a big reason international students graduate at much higher rates when compared with domestic students. According to the Star’s analysis of colleges, 89 per cent of international students graduated in 2018, compared with 69 per cent of domestic.

Franklin of Colleges Ontario believes the difference is largely because domestic students can quit school to work — something international students can’t legally do.

“The single biggest factor, particularly in an economy like this that’s pretty hot — and we have it in spades in the trades — is that these (domestic students) get poached by companies that are desperate for trained labour,” she says. “There’s no need to finish the program because some company is going to hire you. And in some cases, they’re hiring you at a great salary, so you can get a house and a mortgage and a snowmobile and a car. And, so why would you go back (to school)? We constantly face that challenge.”

Tibbits of Conestoga suggests higher grad rates are also because many international students already have post-secondary experience. In fact, according to a 2016 report by the non-profit Canadian Bureau for International Education, the number of international students enrolled in Toronto colleges who had a university degree was 50 per cent, compared with 18 per cent of domestic students.

Ama Osaze-Uzzi, 29, graduated in the spring from George Brown College’s social service worker program. She already has an undergraduate degree in banking and finance from the University of Abuja in her native Nigeria and a master’s degree in management and international business from Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom. With poor job prospects in the U.K. and Nigeria, she started over in Canada, where she hopes to become a permanent resident.

“The (program) has been fantastic,” says Osaze-Uzzi, a week before graduation day. “It’s given me a different perspective on how to support people.”


But graduation rates don’t reveal the whole picture — some of the students are really struggling. Many are just squeaking by to get their diploma.

Teachers say there’s a push from administrators to boost marks for students to get them over the line so that they pass.

“There is enormous pressure for all parties to keep (all) students moving through as a result of chronic provincial underfunding,” says RM Kennedy, chair of the college faculty division at OPSEU, which represents more than 40,000 faculty and staff at colleges. Kennedy, who also teaches at Centennial, says colleges’ financial needs are “trumping” standards.

“Grade inflation is very much part of the system,” says Ravi Ramkissoonsingh, a psychology teacher at Niagara College, who’s also president of OPSEU Local 242, which represents faculty there.

A Niagara College spokesperson said it was not aware of this happening. And a Centennial College spokesperson said it “would never direct faculty to unethically inflate students’ grades under any circumstances.” Franklin, of Colleges Ontario, doubts teachers mark international students more leniently: “I think that would go to the integrity of the program.”

Last year, Niagara teachers raised the alarm when an unusually high number of international students seemed to be performing far below expectations, despite having passed mandatory pre-admission English-language testing. The college ordered those students be re-evaluated for language proficiency and offered them support. Other colleges have since retested their incoming students.


Algonquin’s De Francesco believes the problem lies with language testing done overseas, far from the oversight of Canadian officials. His international students have told him you can pay others to write the test or pay off exam proctors.

“If you saw the level of English that I’m dealing with you’d be saying to yourself, ‘How is this person in post-secondary?’ They can barely express themselves.”

He says essays contain paragraphs that are one long sentence, lack punctuation and are peppered with misused words because students run text through online translators.

Comprehension is also a problem. He recalls an incident at a student-run restaurant that’s part of the hospitality program in which a customer requested a dish and warned of a shellfish allergy. The student nodded, as though fully understanding — then served up a dish with shellfish.

“It’s frustrating to see these young people fail,” says De Francesco, adding some families make big sacrifices so they can afford to send their children here. “Financially, the college needs them. But at the same time, we have to be ethical. We can’t just start accepting every Tom and Jane into the program because they’ve got the tuition to come and they’ll get their visa.

“We want all our students to be successful and knowing that these students don’t have the communications ability … They’ve got a losing hand.”

Given the language barrier, De Francesco says many domestic students balk at the idea of group work, so he’s removed it from his law class. He used to team up international and domestic students, but the domestic kids would end up doing all the work. And if he let groups assemble on their own, domestic students would stick together and the international students would end up submitting something subpar.

If I had a dollar for every domestic student that’s come up to me and said, ‘No group work. I do not want to do group work’ … I wouldn’t have to teach.”

He also says faculty spend more time supporting and meeting with international students after class, and are so busy trying to keep them afloat, they don’t have enough time for domestic students: “That frustrates us … We want our domestic students to be successful, too.”

Algonquin, like other colleges, runs workshops for teachers on how to help international students succeed, which he welcomes and would like to see expand.

Romano, who became minister in June and recently met with all of the province’s college and university presidents, says he has not heard any concerns about students struggling with language proficiency, or about teachers feeling inadequately supported.

But Kennedy of OPSEU says the exponential growth of international students in Ontario colleges is one of the biggest issues for its members.

“Our members have talked about the stress and impacts of the influx of students,” says Kennedy. “We are not prepared for this. There are not enough front-end services to support these students with housing and counselling in their transition.”

Missing class

Teachers say some international students don’t even show up regularly to class because they’re so busy working, often graveyard shifts, at places such as coffee shops, convenience stores, fast-food joints and hotels. International students in publicly funded, post-secondary institutions are legally allowed to work 20 hours a week during the school year.

Conestoga, like all colleges, monitors attendance as required by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“I don’t want to sound like we’re an elementary school, but if people miss class we follow up,” says Tibbits. “We don’t want people to come here and then sit around, hoping they’ll get Canadian citizenship even if they don’t attend class.”

Absences can also be an early indicator of physical illness, mental health issues, financial woes, housing problems and academic struggles.

“Some (students) are overwhelmed,” says Tibbits. “They’re in a foreign country, with a lot of different rules and they’re under a lot of pressure … If they’re making an effort and struggling, then we’ve got to find every which way to help them.”

Without family nearby, international students tend to spend a lot of time on campus, so the college has, for instance, ramped up food services, and extended library hours.

For Jessica Urdangarin, the supports at Seneca College weren’t enough. A few years ago, she and her husband bought into the dream of immigrating here from Brazil after hearing on the news and at education fairs that Canada was flush with jobs. They saved money, sold their car and packed up their belongings. She applied to Seneca and got a student visa, which allowed her husband to accompany her on an open work permit.

When they arrived in 2017, she says the college provided little support in finding housing off-campus, and the $1,200 she was told to budget for rent was less than what landlords were asking. The couple eventually found a unit, after door-knocking, for $1,800.

Urdangarin, who already had a communications degree, entered a two-year social service worker program that cost about $30,000. Her husband, who has a degree in business administration, got a “survival job” in a warehouse. But it wasn’t enough for them to survive. So, Urdangarin took a job restocking store shelves, from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., before heading bleary-eyed to school. The juggling act took its toll, and after three months she quit working.

“It was really overwhelming. By the end of the second semester I had a real anxiety crisis,” she recalls, adding failure was not an option. “I left my home country, sold everything and I need to succeed.”

Urdangarin says some teachers didn’t understand that the language barrier meant it could take three times as long to complete assignments. And basic questions to college staff about post-graduation work permits and scholarships were met by “misinformation.” She says she was never told that her bachelor’s degree could earned her transfer credits, which would have saved her money. Nor that she didn’t have to pay for private health insurance because she was covered by her husband’s OHIP.

A Seneca spokesperson says the college doesn’t comment on individual cases. But it is sorry to hear about Urdangarin’s complaints, noting its goal is to ensure all students have a positive experience. “Moving to Canada from another country can be a difficult and challenging time,” says Amar Shah. “We take every measure to make the transition as smooth as possible for international students.”

Information about services are online and employees are ready to help with questions on such topics as studying English, housing, visas and scholarships, says Shah. He notes that all students are told about transfer credits in their admissions package.

Alex Usher, president of consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates, doesn’t think international students are getting great value for their money. He says there aren’t enough services for them on campus, and doesn’t think teachers are sufficiently trained to deal with culturally diverse classes where students have various learning styles.

“We’re throwing them in the deep end,” he says. “We’re scraping the easy money too often and not investing in the services that make it good for them, which means, I suspect, in a couple of years those sources may dry up because those students talk … Word of mouth matters.”

For now, Randine Fogarthy is spreading the good word about Canada, even though her early days were difficult and she’s still without a job in her chosen field. She came from Jamaica to attend Centennial’s community development program, which she graduated from in the spring. During her first months here she slept on a friend’s couch, felt homesick and slumped into depression.

“It was painful,” recalls the 24 year-old. “It was just an adjustment, overall, to this whole new country … I’m not used to seeing other people that don’t look like me.”

Fogarthy begged her mom to let her return home, but was encouraged to stick it out. She eventually made friends. She immersed herself in campus life, joining the student union. And she became an international student ambassador, showing newcomers the ropes, such as how to take the TTC, and where to look for jobs.

“I wanted to be that person that could help them along — the way I wanted to be helped when I first came.”

In a bustling office at Centennial College’s Scarborough campus, staff are busy promoting the college to the world. At the helm is Macchiavello, leading a recruitment team of 80 in Canada and 80 abroad, who work out of 12 foreign offices.

When she started at Centennial in 2007, studying in Canada wasn’t a pathway to residency. Back then, students were coming to Canada’s career-focused colleges to learn skills to meet the labour needs of their own countries.

Today, they’re coming here to meet our labour needs, spurred by the 2014 federal strategy that treats students as prospective immigrants: Students are given a visa and allowed to work for one to three years after graduation. Further policy tweaks in 2016 reward them with bonus points when they apply for permanent residency. Since then, immigration applications from international students have skyrocketed, and the number accepted has risen from 30,000 in 2016 to 54,000 in 2018.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says there’s no cap on the number of international students allowed into Canada — it boils down to demand and the capacity of schools to accommodate them. But not every study visa application gets accepted.

“We are confident in the fact that this is a demand-driven system,” he says, adding he expects schools are providing “good-quality education for both Canadian and international students.

“We are fortunate to be increasingly the destination of choice for international students who want to come and spend their dollars here, who want to add to our institutions, who want to add to our classrooms — some of whom stay.”

Those who arrived in late August at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport were greeted by Destination Ontario kiosks set up by post-secondary schools and municipalities to provide guidance.

Exhausted from a 20-hour flight from India, Dhwani Bhatt, 27, was delighted to see the welcoming ambassadors as she cleared customs. She already has a master’s degree in electronic and communication engineering. But she’s come for a one-year cybersecurity program at Centennial that costs $17,000.

“Cybersecurity is a booming field and Centennial College has a top-notch program,” she says. “I’m so excited to be in Canada. It’s my dream to visit this country. I look forward to a new start in Canada.”

Students left the airport in all directions. And while most headed to GTA colleges, there has been a greater pull to far-flung communities.

Just last year, for instance, international student enrolment at colleges such as St. Clair in Windsor-Chatham, Cambrian in Sudbury and Canadore in North Bay basically doubled over the previous year.

At Northern College in Timmins, attracting international students is crucial for a region where population decline is accelerated by young people moving away. There, international student growth has skyrocketed — in 2011 there were none, while this year they comprise about 42 per cent of the college’s 1,600 students.

“We’re very invested in ensuring they stay,” says Audrey Penner, vice-president academic and student success at Northern, “that they settle in the north, take up work or begin a business.”

It’s a sentiment Immigration Minister Hussen has heard across the country: “Their ability to help the local communities, to fill unfilled jobs, contribute to local economies, is one of overwhelming success and the feeling of the community is, ‘We want more.’ ”

Still, there have been challenges. In Windsor, for instance, the influx of international students at St. Clair led to complaints from residents worried areas were turning into student ghettos, with homes bursting at the seams with too many occupants. Parking and transit were also becoming issues.

“There were growing pains,” says Ron Seguin, the college’s vice-president, international relations, campus development and student services. “International education is a market and the market is not totally predictable.”

The college is building a second residence with 512 beds and has expanded housing services. It has also worked with the transit authority to add more buses.

Student mix and diversification

Durham College in Oshawa has capped international students at 15 per cent of total population to give it time to build up capacity and supports.

At Centennial, and elsewhere, there’s a push to diversify the pool of international students. The first reason, says Macchiavello, is to ensure a global experience for all students and enrich the classroom experience. Secondly, hosting students from one region is risky, since various factors — think geopolitics, economics, conflict and natural disaster — could impact the flow of students.

A few years ago, when the Ebola crisis hit Africa, St. Clair suddenly lost 100 international students because they couldn’t get through the visa process due to health concerns. That’s why the college is setting aside revenue to mitigate future risk in case of a similar event.

Centennial is reducing the number of students from India. Two years ago, 57 per cent of all international students were from there, last year it was 43 per cent and the goal is to get that figure down to 33 per cent by 2022. Meanwhile, it’s boosting the number of students from countries including Vietnam, Brazil and China.

“Geopolitics is big,” says Macchiavello, noting the diplomatic dispute between Canada and China over the arrest of an executive of telecom giant Huawei. “Some of the colleges would be in big trouble right now if China closed its doors because of Huawei.”

Uncertainty in the U.K. over Brexit and the perception that the Trump administration is unwelcoming have also prompted students to choose Canada.

Back on Centennial’s Downsview campus, Bae says she didn’t consider any other country. Canada was her number one pick. She knows studying here with the goal of attaining residency is a gamble — there’s no guarantee. But it’s a chance she had to take.

“I might regret it if I don’t get permanent residency or if I have to go back to Korea,” she says. “But I would regret it if I never started this.”

Source: ‘I’ve given up everything.’ Explosive growth in international students comes at a steep cost

Immigration status: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules

Another bad legacy of former PM and Home Secretary May, fortunately being repealed:

International students will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years after graduation to find a job, under new proposals announced by the Home Office.

The move reverses a decision made in 2012 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May that forced overseas students to leave four months after finishing a degree.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the change would see students “unlock their potential” and begin careers in the UK.

But campaign group Migration Watch called it a “retrograde” step.

The change will apply to international students in the UK – there were around 450,000 last year – who start courses at undergraduate level or above from next year onwards.

They must be studying at an institution with a track record in upholding immigration checks.

Under the proposals, there is no restriction on the kinds of jobs students would have to seek and no cap on numbers.

“If one needed evidence of a new approach to immigration within government, today’s announcement allowing all foreign students to stay for two years after graduation is just that,” the BBC’s home editor Mark Easton said.

“Where Theresa May introduced what she called a hostile environment around migration rules, with an ambition to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, Boris Johnson has promised to scrap that target and encourage the brightest and best to come and live and work in global Britain.”

Student Shreya Swamy, from India, says the proposal is “a great step forward” but it is “a sad day” for her as it has come too late to help students already in the UK.

She has just finished studying for a master’s degree at the University for the Creative Arts, in Kent and Surrey, and says she has “struggled so much” with the current rule giving her up to four months to look for work.

Jobs for international graduates “are close to nil”, she says, blaming their lack of experience.

“I have been through hell and back trying to figure out my career plan these past few months because it seems practically impossible to have one in the UK,” she says.

“I feel really helpless, and almost regret coming here to study because I’m going to end up going back home with a very expensive piece of paper.”

Chancellor Sajid Javid tweeted that the move was “about time”, adding that the government “should have reversed this silly policy years ago”.

Former universities minister Jo Johnson – who quit his brother’s government last week – tweeted that it was “success at last” after being involved in the cross-party campaign.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the decision, saying it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination”.

“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students,” he said.

But Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the decision was an “unwise” step that would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves”.

“Our universities are attracting a record number of overseas students so there is no need to devalue a study visa by turning it into a backdoor route for working here,” he added.

Others suggested that the overhaul of the rules should come in sooner so students who are due to graduate next year could be eligible for the visa.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, said there was “ample time” for the new rules to be implemented for those who finish their studies in 2020.

How many international students stay in the UK?

Just over 450,000 international students are currently studying in UK universities.

Of these, almost two-thirds are from outside the EU, so will require a student visa to be in the country.

Between about 170,000 and 185,000 of these students graduate each year and, under current rules, they have four months to transfer to another visa – such as a work visa – or decide to continue studying.

In 2018, 6,300 individuals moved from student visas to skilled work visas, meaning they have officially been offered a job paying at least £20,800 in the first year.

A further 450 were granted “high-value migrant” visas, which are normally reserved for those with particular expertise in a field or those who have a set sum of money to invest in the country.

We also know that almost 40,000 student visas are extended each year, implying that a large number of graduates are continuing studies in the UK.

That still leaves more than 100,000 students not formally extending their visas – and we don’t have complete figures for how many of them leave the UK.

However, analysis of exit checks by the Office of National Statistics suggests that 97% of them were leaving on time.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Labour has always said graduates should be able to work here after their studies.

“It enables them to contribute to our economy, our universities and to research, and helps us to attract the brightest and best from around the world.

“It is a great pity that ministers have previously supported measures that did the opposite.”

‘International collaboration’

The government’s announcement coincides with the launch of a £200m genetics project at the UK Biobank, a charity and health resource that contains information and samples from 500,000 people.

The UK Biobank collected DNA samples and health questionnaire information from 500,000 British volunteers over several years and is now open to researchers from anywhere in the world who want to use those resources to develop new treatments for diseases.

The prime minister said projects of this kind wouldn’t be possible “without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work” in the UK.

Mr Johnson said: “That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.”

Britain had a “proud history” of being at the centre of international collaboration, he said, adding that it was “bringing together experts from around the globe to work in the UK on the world’s largest genetics research project”.

Source: Immigration status: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules

Trudeau government outlines five-year, $148-million plan to attract more foreign students to Canadian universities

Nice to see the government set out publicly the countries targeted which will allow evaluation of the success of diversification. The line “We don’t want to be poachers of talent, we want to be partners” appears ingenuous.

Courageous for a government to encourage Canadians to study abroad given that a certain percentage will likely remain in other countries to pursue opportunities.

Concerned that more than half of the international students in Canada come from just two countries, China and India, the federal government has pledged nearly $30-million over the next five years to diversify global recruiting efforts in the postsecondary sector.

The government is targeting countries with a large and growing middle class that may not yet have the higher-education capacity to educate all their students, or where the prospect of a Canadian education in English or French holds appeal.

The government said the initial focus of its marketing efforts will be in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Morocco, Turkey, France and Ukraine. It will also aim to attract students to schools outside of Canada’s largest cities, bringing economic benefits to provinces and regions that have tended to receive fewer immigrants.

“We’re really pleased with the countries [the government] has chosen,” said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, the national lobby group that represents 96 universities across the country.

“We don’t want to be poachers of talent, we want to be partners.”

The government’s efforts to broaden the source countries of international students are part of a five-year, $148-million international education strategy released last week.

The strategy also allocates $95-million to encourage Canadian students to study and build ties abroad, particularly in Asia and Latin America, rather than the common destinations of the U.S., Britain and Australia.

“The higher-education community has been looking for this for about 20 years,” Mr. Davidson said. He cited statistics that show only 11 per cent of Canadian undergraduate students study in another country, lower than in some other wealthy nations.

Mr. Davidson said particular efforts will be focused on opportunities for Indigenous and low-income students, as well as those with disabilities who historically have been less likely to venture abroad for study.

The strategy fits neatly with the government’s skills agenda, Mr. Davidson said. The hope is that a future work force with an international outlook, contacts and cultural fluency in new markets will be a source of strength for Canada. Similarly, some of the international students who study in Canada are expected to apply for and be selected as permanent residents, bringing with them knowledge and networks that extend beyond Canada’s borders.

“International education is an essential pillar of Canada’s long-term competitiveness,” Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification, said in a statement. “Canadians who study abroad gain exposure to new cultures and ideas, stimulating innovation and developing important cross-cultural competencies. Students from abroad who study in Canada bring those same benefits to our shores.”

Last year, India surpassed China as Canada’s top source of foreign students. There were more than 172,000 study permit holders from India in Canada on Dec. 31, 2018, and more than 142,000 from China, each representing slightly more than a quarter of the total of 570,000. Although those countries will continue to figure prominently as source countries for Canada, there is risk associated with such concentration.

There were fears at the height of Canada’s diplomatic conflict with China over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that China would prevent or discourage students coming to Canada in such large numbers. Many universities expressed anxiety about that possibility last December, having seen a similar scenario play out in Canada’s relations with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recalled hundreds of students studying in Canada after their government objected to a Canadian government tweet. Some schools lost significant amounts in tuition revenue as a result.

The economic contribution of education has grown rapidly in recent years. International students spent more than $21-billion in Canada in 2018, according to a study by Global Affairs Canada, and had a larger economic impact than exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft.

The number of foreign study permit holders in Canada has more than doubled since 2012.

Source: Trudeau government outlines five-year, $148-million plan to attract more foreign students to Canadian universities

Douglas Todd: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

Of note:

Female foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported.

Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Stories are emerging that some female international students — desperate to make enough money to avoid returning to their homelands — are resorting to offering sexual services to landlords and are even getting involved in the drug trade, says Kal Dosanjh, a police officer who runs a Surrey-based support program called Kids Play.

The young women are frightened, especially when exploitative employers in the underground economy, including at some restaurants, threaten to report them to immigration officials and have them deported, said Dosanjh.

“When these kids, who don’t know the law, hear about deportation, they get scared, because they’ve already spent so much money coming to Canada, and so much money surviving here, that the last thing they need is to be sent back to their country,” Dosanjh said.

There are more than 500,000 foreign students in Canada. After a jump of almost 50,000 additional students from India in 2017, one quarter of Canada’s international students now come from there.

“It’s a source of shame if they get sent home. They fear they’ll never get the chance to come back to Canada,” said Dosanjh, who also works with male foreign students whom he says tend to get exploited by under-paying construction companies or become low-level participants in the drug trade to pay high student fees and rents.

Being able to fly into Canada on a student visa is seen as the “ticket out of India, out of poverty” for many students, said Dosanjh. “For them to be able to stay here means everything in terms of future job prospects, monetary wealth, sanitary conditions, a significant change in lifestyle.” Many will put up with a lot of hardship to avoid going home.

MOSAIC, a large B.C. settlement service for migrants, this year began training teachers and other education officials about what they could do to support women among Metro Vancouver’s 110,000 foreign students, who the agency maintains are generally “more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to be helped” than native-born students.

“New research confirms that international students reported more sexual assault than domestic students and experience more intense fear, helplessness and horror after victimization,” says a statement from MOSAIC, whose 350 staff members are led by CEO Olga Stachova.

“Some perpetrators of sexual violence see international students as easy targets — too ashamed to report sexual assaults, unaware of where they can get help and influenced by different cultural norms.”

MOSAIC highlighted the case of Maham Kamal Khanum, an international student from Pakistan at UBC, who said sexual violence against women is “normalized” in her home country. “It was almost a culture shock to learn how unacceptable sexual violence was here,” Khanum said.

Dupinder Kaur Saran, Kal Dosanjh, Kiran Toor. Saran and Toor are volunteers with Kids Play, which helps youth in Surrey who are getting into trouble. Kal Dosanjh is a police officer and head of the non-profit group.

Many international students “don’t have a place to belong” when they come to Canada, says Kiran Toor, who, along with Dupinder Saran, has volunteered to work with international students through Kids Play, a large Surrey-based non-profit organization devoted to supporting young people, particularly South Asians.

Many foreign students are under a great deal of financial, social and academic pressure, including to learn English.

A recent article in Desi Today, an Indo-Canadian magazine in B.C., said it’s common for male and female foreign students to work more than the 20 hours a week permitted under a Canadian study visa.

The magazine quoted South Asian community workers who know of intimidated young women being sexually harassed in the workplace by employers, because they have worked many hours over their allowed limit and don’t want to be reported to border officials.

The young women especially feel shame about admitting to something that might hurt their reputations.

In 2017 there was a sudden jump of 48,000 more students from India. (Source: Canadian Bureau for International Education)

While Dosanjh said many female students from India are “liberal, open-minded and sophisticated,” Desi Today quoted community officials who said some traditional Indo-Canadians are “talking bad about the girl students from India.” Some Indo-Canadians don’t like that the young women are often see in public with males. Most officials cited in Desi Today did not respond to The Vancouver Sun’s messages.

At the worst, Dosanjh said, some Indian foreign students who are desperate for cash are getting involved in prostitution and the drug trade. The young men, says the longtime Vancouver police officer, are generally serving as “mules” and the women are agreeing to hold drugs for their male friends.

The effort to help schools provide more support to female foreign students who arrive in Canada without support networks is hampered, MOSAIC’s Stachova said, by the under-reporting of difficult incidents. “The students always think they have the worry: What will happen to my status in Canada?”

Even though the problem of exploitation of female foreign students is real in Metro Vancouver, Stachova said it has to be put into perspective. “I don’t want to sound alarmist,” Stachova said, “because we are generally a safe country.”

Still, the stakes are exceedingly high for the students.

As Dosanjh says, many families in India, particularly in the Punjab, see Canada as a kind of heaven on earth. “So the young people think of it is a land of rich amenities, where they can have a better life, become permanent residents and eventually sponsor their family to come over. That means that once these students come here the last thing most of them want to do is return to India.”

All of which make them more susceptible than most to exploitation.

foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported. Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Source: Douglas Todd: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

Douglas Todd: Popular Canadian student visas leading to exploitation

More from Douglas Todd on Indian student visa holders:

Senior Indian politicians are warning tens of thousands of young Punjabis about the dangers of trying to take advantage of student visas to try to become Canadian citizens.

Indian nationals — some of whom are using student visas primarily to work rather than study in Canada — are being exploited in both countries for their money and cheap labour, say South Asian media outlets and officials in both India and Canada.

The Punjab’s education minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, says he recently travelled to Canada and “saw the plight of students there,” with many working 16 hours a day to make ends meet and attending fly-by-night colleges with just five students enrolled.

Channi, who is concerned about a growing brain drain of young Punjabis to Canada, told the Indian media he is cautioning students against “falling into the emigration trap.” He is one of many officials raising alarms about fraudulent immigration agents who are financially bleeding low-income families in India with false promises their offspring will easily obtain immigrant status in Canada.

Many Indo-Canadians in Metro Vancouver and Toronto are in an uproar over the surge in students from India, with their presence feeding community tensions, allegations of financial exploitation by colleges and universities, employer abuse and fears some young newcomers are “buying jobs” in Canada while working for less than minimum wage, undercutting local South Asians.

The number of Indian students in Canada, mostly from the Punjab, has increased about five-fold in the past few years, since the federal government began to favour international students as future permanent residents.

Canada has 130,000 students from India now, compared to 20,000 in Britain, 70,000 in Australia and 186,000 in the U.S., which has almost 10 times Canada’s population.

“Most international students, especially from China and India, see being an international student as an opportunity to migrate to Canada for greener pastures, to pave way for their families to eventually join them,” says Barj Dhahan, a major B.C. employer and philanthropist.

“They end up paying large sums of money to ‘immigration consultants’ … to help them obtain admissions to Canadian institutions and get visas to Canada. Many of these students are enrolled in short-term degree programs” And, he said, many end up working more than the 20 hours a week are allowed under student study permits.”

Dhahan, owner of the Sandhurst Group of companies that specializes in B.C. restaurants, gas stations and commercial real estate, said some of the 500,000 international students in Canada “work illegally under the table to make ends meet, and are usually paid in cash.” In the process, he said, many are exploited by dubious employers and so-called consultants.

The Tribune is one of several Indian media outlets reporting that young Punjabis and their often-rural families are being gouged by educational institutions, landlords and employers in Canada, as well as by so-called “immigration consultants” in India.

The Punjab newspaper says it typically costs Indian students more than $15,000 Cdn for their first year in Canada, but that consultants don’t tell families that educational fees and housing costs will mushroom to $100,000 to $150,000 for a multi-year program. Last month, Indian headlines trumpeted a police raid on the office of a prominent Punjab immigration consultancy headed by Vinay Hari, who had sponsored large ads celebrating the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Immigration lawyers in Metro Vancouver, such as George Lee and Richard Kurland, say international students from India and China, the two biggest source countries for Canada, are among those who end up trying to extend their chances of gaining immigrant status in Canada by “buying jobs,” some of which don’t exist.

Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee says some international students from India and China are among those who try to extend their chances of gaining immigrant status in Canada by “buying jobs.”

Shinder Purewal, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist and a former citizenship court judge, said “Immigration is the main motive of most international students coming to Canada,” particularly those who sign up with low-tier public and private educational institutions with little intention of obtaining a serious diploma and a much stronger inclination to find work.

One of the most lucrative money-making schemes for fraudulent immigration agents in India and Canada, Purewal said, is arranging often-fake Canadian labour-market impact assessments for international students who seek a long-term work permit to cement their chance of being approved for permanent resident status, the precursor to becoming a Canadian citizen.

Some Indo-Canadian business owners, Purewal said, collude with the agents to charge Indian students $20,000 to $50,000 for a false labour-market assessment, which claims a foreign national is needed for a job because Canadians cannot be found.

Although newcomers on student visas are limited to working 20 hours a week, Purewal said most end up “working more than full time to cover costs, simply because Canadian employers don’t even pay them minimum wage. The system allows ‘immigration consultants’ and businesses to cheat, commit fraud and brutally exploit young people.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman says there is a “rampant” underground economy devoted to creating false labour-market assessments for international students in Canada, regardless of their nationality. If the students who buy such fraudulent job offers are caught, Hyman warned, “they are likely to bear the enforcement consequences — including deportation — more readily than the fraudsters who victimize them and reap the profits of such illegal activity.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Popular Canadian student visas leading to exploitation

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

The Daily — Study: International Students, Immigration and Earnings Growth

Important study showing the importance of pre-landing work experience to earnings:

International students are increasingly regarded as an important group of young and well-educated individuals from which to select permanent residents. In December 2015 there were 353,000 international students with a valid study permit in Canada, up from 84,000 in December 1995. Of the international students admitted to Canada in the early 2000s, 25% became permanent residents over the 10 years that followed. Of these, nearly one-half applied as principal applicants in the economic class.

A small number of studies from Australia, Canada and the United States suggest that the earnings advantage that former international students have over other economic immigrants may be either small or non-existent. This suggests that pre-landing study experience in a destination country such as Canada may not in and of itself improve immigrants’ labour market outcomes over university degrees acquired abroad. Policy-makers and researchers are thus shifting their attention to the complementary role played by other factors, such as pre-landing work experience. A study released today by Statistics Canada offers new evidence on this issue.

The study examines the earnings trajectories of three groups of university graduates: international students who obtained a university degree in Canada and then became landed immigrants (i.e. Canadian-educated immigrants); individuals who had a university degree from abroad at the time they immigrated to Canada (i.e. foreign-educated immigrants); and university graduates born in Canada. The earnings trajectories of these groups were examined over 6 years for the cohort of individuals aged 25 to 34 in 2006, and over 20 years for the cohort of individuals aged 25 to 34 in 1991.

Among the 2006 cohort of male Canadian-educated immigrants, average annual earnings one year after landing were 48% lower than those of Canadian-born graduates. This gap narrowed to 34% six years after landing. Among female Canadian-educated immigrants, the earnings gap vis-à-vis Canadian-born graduates was 39% one year after landing and 32% six years after landing.

Most of these earnings gaps were accounted for by differences in the work histories of immigrant and Canadian-born graduates. Prior to becoming landed immigrants, 12% of male Canadian-educated immigrants had no work experience in Canada and 40% had prior work experience with annual earnings under $20,000. Among male Canadian-born graduates, virtually all had prior work experience and almost 90% had prior work experience with annual earnings of $20,000 and over. These patterns were broadly similar among women.

When group differences in prior Canadian work experience were taken into account, the earnings gap between Canadian-educated immigrants and Canadian-born graduates in the 2006 cohort disappeared among both men and women. Likewise, prior work experience accounted for much of the earnings gap observed among the 1991 cohort.

Canadian-educated immigrants had higher post-immigration earnings than foreign-educated immigrants, but prior work experience once again played an important role. Five years after landing, male Canadian-educated immigrants with no pre-landing work experience had annual earnings 20% below those of male foreign-educated immigrants. Among women, the shortfall was 7%. This takes into account a broad range of socio-demographic and source country characteristics. Canadian-educated immigrants who accumulated pre-landing work experience fared far better relative to their foreign-educated counterparts.

Canadian-educated immigrants with three years of pre-landing work experience that paid less than $20,000 had annual earnings five years after landing that were similar to, or higher than, their foreign-educated counterparts. Those with three years of pre-landing work experience that paid $20,000 to $50,000 had annual earnings five years after landing that were 42% to 61% higher. For the approximately 10% of Canadian-educated immigrants who had three years of pre-landing work experience that paid more than $50,000, their earnings five years after landing were more than double those of foreign-educated immigrants. These differences in earnings were larger among the 2006 cohort than the 1991 cohort.

These results suggest that pre-landing Canadian work experience and earnings play an increasing role in differentiating the post-immigration labour market outcomes of university-educated immigrants.

Source: The Daily — Study: International Students, Immigration and Earnings Growth