The federal government’s consideration of a cap on international students to ease the housing crunch is being met with concern in provinces such as Nova Scotia.
Advocates are against the move, saying these students help to drive enrolment, revenue and culture at universities across the country.
The Canadian Federation of Students, which aims to represent post-secondary students from coast to coast, says it’s not happy with the idea.
“It’s deeply unfair and just deeply angering and it really makes us wonder if Canada is a place where we want to be – if we will be treated fairly,” says national deputy chair Natalia Tola.
Tola moved to Nova Scotia from Ecuador for her studies and says there are many barriers international students face, including high tuition costs, difficulties accessing financial aid and affordable housing, and navigating Canadian culture.
“What is going to happen if the government chooses to deny a meaningful future to younger generations?” she asks. “What is going to happen to all of the people who are fleeing their country in hopes of a better life and a better future? I don’t think we could stand comfortably knowing we are being pinned as the problem, as the reason why the housing crisis exists.”
The Nova Scotia chair of CFS agrees that such a policy would be problematic.
“I am offended as a Canadian about this government’s proposal and I think that it’s once again a reflection of our failing systems,” says Aideen Reynolds.
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International student says cap might be a good idea
One student, however, who moved from India to Canada says the cap might not be a bad idea.
Darsh Wathwa says placing a limit on the number of students who cross the border for school might help reduce the struggle some face when they arrive in Canada. The third-year Mount Saint Vincent University student is from India and is now living in Nova Scotia for her psychology degree.
“I would say that if you do not have appropriate housing, it’s a good decision,” she says. “Don’t ask children to come here.”
Wathwa says it was easier to make the move years ago — and she was fortunate to have connections to Nova Scotia, which helped her secure a place to call home.
But she’s worried for her peers as they juggle the high costs of living with their studies.
“People think about Canada — it’s like a very beautiful, colourful, amazing image in their head,” Wathwa says. “They don’t know what the exact reality is. When they come here they bump their heads for housing, for transportation, in harsh weather, wage gaps, it’s really hard.”
She says some international students can be placed in vulnerable positions if they make the costly move to Canada and it doesn’t work out.
“If the government stops the incoming because they don’t have appropriate housing facilities, it’s a good measure,” Wathwa adds.
Meantime, the Association of Atlantic Universities says many are looking at how to address the housing crisis. The group represents 16 universities across Atlantic Canada.
The executive director says international students play a huge role in driving population growth with approximately 21,000 attending post-secondary schools in the region.
“The historic means of providing student housing out of universities building a student residence, that they entirely finance and manage, may be a model that’s from another era,” says Peter Halpin.
Halpin says other potential models could include private partnerships. He’s confident the cap will not come into place without discussion between government and university leaders across the country first.
Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia government says it wants to help international students build a life and career here when they graduate, adding they make a positive impact in the province.
“We are aware of the comments made by federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser about placing a cap on the number of international students,” a statement from the Department of Advanced Education says.
“At this point, it would be premature to comment as this is not new policy, but an idea. If this is something the federal government pursues, Nova Scotia would want to be given the opportunity to be consulted.”