Canada has announced a significant policy shift , implementing a two-year cap on international student visas to address challenges in housing, healthcare, and other services amid record immigration.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller disclosed plans for a 35% reduction in new study visas in 2024, citing concerns about institutions offering questionable degrees exploiting the international student program, leading to housing and healthcare strains.
Miller acknowledged the need to bring control to the situation, stating, “It’s a bit of a mess, and it’s time to rein it in.”
The new policy sets a cap of 364,000 new study visas, a substantial reduction from the nearly 560,000 issued last year. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet retreat in Montreal is emphasizing affordability and housing as a priority this week.
Canada currently hosts approximately 1 million foreign students, and without intervention, this number is projected to keep growing. The total number of foreign students has more than tripled over the past decade. Officials are grappling with the challenge of stabilizing annual immigration numbers as housing pressures escalate.
In 2021, Canada experienced a population increase of about 1 million, reaching a record 40 million. This growth, combined with rising living costs, including rents and mortgages, has put a strain on the housing market.
TD Bank Group’s chief economist, Beata Caranci, highlighted the structural problem, stating, “You cannot bring in 1.25 million people a year but only create 300,000 homes on average and think you’re not going to have a structural problem on housing.”
Miller emphasized the existence of unscrupulous schools exploiting foreign students by accepting high tuition fees without delivering a quality education.
Some students use these schools as a pathway to permanent residency in Canada. Miller clarified that the international student program was not intended to support degrees from sham schools.
“If you need a dedicated channel for Uber drivers in Canada, I can design that, but that isn’t the intention of the international student program,” Miller stated.
The opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre, criticized the situation, blaming Trudeau for granting study permits to students attending fake schools. There is ongoing debate about the impact of immigration and the surge in foreign students on the housing market and rents.
Some experts suggest a connection between the influx of students and rising rents, while others argue that the effect on house prices is minimal.
Political science professor Nelson Wiseman at the University of Toronto noted that immigration targets are likely to remain high, especially if the opposition Conservatives win the next election, expected in 2025.
He emphasized that economic realities, including an aging population reliant on government-funded services, are key drivers of immigration policies in Canada.