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Immigration Overhaul: Navigating Shifts in Canada's Immigration Policy for International Students



☝️☝️ HERE IS THE READ-ALONG VIDEO PODCAST FOR THIS POST ☝️☝️


In my ten years of involvement in Canadian immigration, I have never experienced an announcement with so many changes occurring all at once, with such immediate effect and country-wide impact. (This excludes the COVID period, of course).


This landmark announcement has sent ripples through the academic and immigrant community. Students, prospective immigrants, educational institutions, professors, spouses, and provincial governments have all been directly impacted by this announcement. For many, these changes have triggered either pandemonium or a grinding halt.


Provinces are scrambling, to put a process in place for the government's immediate need for an attestation letter. Meanwhile, prospective students, particularly those hoping to arrive with their spouses on open work permits and start in May or September, are in limbo as we await more news.


Let’s recap the changes:



Key Changes in the Immigration Policy


Cap on International Student Permits


It is no surprise that a cap on international students has been put in place. This discussion has been circulating for the last several months, after the outgoing Immigration Minister, now Canada’s Housing Minister, floated the idea in August of 2023. We knew it was being considered, and doubted it would be implemented anytime soon, but had reasonable expectations that it could happen. The surprise, however, was the timing of the announcement and implementation of the cap.


A week before Immigration Minister Hon. Marc Miller announced the cap on January 22, he stated that the federal government was calling on provinces to “rein in” the number of international students in Canada. He stated that if provinces don’t get their acts together, the federal government would intervene and implement a cap. Then...



...Hon. Marc Miller came back on air and announced a cap that was effective immediately, alongside a string of other changes no one saw coming.

The Cap

"For 2024, the cap is expected to result in approximately 360,000 approved study permits, a decrease of 35% from 2023. These temporary measures will be in place for two years, and the number of new study permit applications that will be accepted in 2025 will be re-assessed at the end of this year." (IRCC, 2024, January 22)


The Attestation Letter Requirement


To implement the cap, every study permit application must be supported by an attestation letter. This policy became effective on the date of the announcement, January 22. It was clearly stated that any study permit applications submitted after January 22 without an attestation letter would be refused.


The plot twist? Provinces do not have a process in place to issue attestation letters. As a result, technically, no study permit applications can be submitted after January 22 until such a process is established.


The Minister has given the provinces until March 31, 2024, to get their acts together and establish a formal process for issuing attestation letters. This has resulted in a grinding halt and pandemonium, occurring simultaneously.




Cap Exemptions


A silver lining: The cap does not affect study permit renewals, extensions, or current holders. Moreover, students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees, as well as those in elementary and secondary education, are not subject to this cap. (Internal thought: Anyone renewing a study permit, please put your hand up…🦗)


Ontario Colleges, in their response letter to the federal government following this announcement, stated, "The exemptions for students in master's and PhD programs don't reflect the current and future demands in Ontario's labour market."


I find myself pondering aloud, "What percentage of international students are pursuing PhD and Master's programs?" Perhaps the intent was to include all graduate-level studies, such as post-graduate certificate programs. Clarity should emerge in the coming weeks.


I am leaning towards agreeing with Ontario Colleges. The majority of identified labour shortages are not in areas requiring a Master's or PhD. It could be argued that the limited labour market gaps which do require these advanced degrees align with the small number of immigrants pursuing these levels of study in Canada.





Changes to Post-Graduation Work Permit Eligibility


Private institutions are getting a bad rap for exploiting international students with the promise that if they come to their institution, they can convert to permanent residency and stay in Canada. These private colleges provide a loophole to post-graduation work permit eligibility through their license to deliver the curriculum of an associated public college.


This licensing agreement makes students who attend a private institution eligible for a post-graduation work permit. Without this agreement, the “promise” of permanent residency in Canada is lost, and the allure of attending these private colleges is lost. After all, for many immigrants, the goal is not Canadian education; it's permanent residency.


These private colleges are being deemed “bad actors,” and now the good is seemingly suffering for the bad: but is any party truly “innocent” in all of this?


Michael Sangster, CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges, points to data suggesting that only 10% of the study permits issued across Canada were for students attending private colleges. This indicates that the unsustainable growth has primarily occurred in publicly funded institutions.


Both private and public colleges may face financial struggles since they rely on international student premium tuition to remain in operation.


Restrictions on Spousal Open Work Permits


I never saw this one coming, and I don't think anyone did. But if you're trying to address the housing crisis, this is certainly one approach! Consider that if there are 900,000 active study permits at the end of 2023 and, hypothetically speaking, 50% bring a spouse, that's well over a million people added to the population. This increase might exceed the infrastructure's capacity to accommodate such a surge of people. Keep in mind that international students and their spouses constitute only a fraction of the immigrant population. One has to wonder: Is this sustainable population growth?


Open work permits will be restricted to spouses of international students in master’s and doctoral programs. Spouses of students at other levels of study will no longer be eligible. We are eager for more clarity on this policy and its implementation timeline.


The ripple effect of this change will influence the decision of many people considering studying in Canada, especially those who rely on the income of a working partner to make ends meet. This restriction supports the cap by deterring people from choosing to study in Canada.


Longer Post-Graduation Work Permit


Let's conclude this summary of changes on a positive note. Graduates with master's degrees will now be eligible for a 3-year work permit, irrespective of the duration of their studies. Currently, graduates are eligible for a work permit that is the same length as their studies, so one year of study will grant them a one-year work permit, which is tight on time to secure a job offer and gain one year of Canadian experience to benefit from the Express Entry system.


This change is designed to afford more time for gaining work experience and facilitating the transition to permanent residency, benefitting a minority of the international student population. However, a victory is still a victory.


There is hope that students in post-graduate certificate/diploma programs will also be granted this advantage. Further details are expected in the coming weeks.


Here is my first report of these changes the day the announcement was made:



Are These Changes Good or Bad?


Needless to say, something had to be done. Did they need to come in like a wrecking ball? Perhaps not. But if not, then what?


Colleges are pushing back, and understandably so; they are a business, after all. They are asking the government to delay the implementation of the attestation letter to March 31st, which I feel is a fair and reasonable request. But is the government trying to be fair? Or are they addressing a greater problem, and these are just the side effects? Imagine one of those drug commercials that say… Anti-depressant medication may lead to diarrhea or constipation. Which is preferable? Neither… so what do you treat?


The Federal Government is pointing their fingers at the Provinces, claiming they expected them to have things under control. Yet, the Federal Government approved the 900,000 permits. The mess has to be cleaned up, and the Immigration Minister is getting “HIS HOUSE” in order. He made it clear that while he understands the financial repercussions:

“I’m not the minister of post-secondary education underfunding. I’m the minister of immigration, and clearly, in the last decade or so, post-secondary institutions in Canada have been underfunded.” Quoted from The National Post article - Tumilty, R. (2024, January 30)

The intentions are to clean up the mess, which is commendable, but no one will walk away unscathed.


How Are People Feeling


I have held private and group sessions with various groups in my community, including my club members, individual coaching clients, my YouTube audience, and the Jamaican diaspora. The sentiments expressed in these conversations are strikingly similar: "What now? We are stuck in limbo." And indeed, they are.


Everything is on hold until we have a process in place for the attestation letter. Similarly, until formal announcements are made about the restrictions on spousal open work permits, we remain in a state of pause.


People are anxious; some fear they have missed their opportunity, lamenting, "If only I had done this last year, or five years ago." However, there is no overall loss of hope. Despite their confusion and frustration, people are still committed to their goals of coming to Canada, aware that there is more than one way to skin a cat.


On Sunday, January 28th, I went live to answer questions and see how people were feeling:



What Now?


Just over 10 years ago, when I sat down with an Immigration Consultant, he determined that going to school in Canada was my best option due to the immigration options available at that time. I had just completed an undergraduate Bachelor's program in Architecture and had no immediate intentions of going back to school. The work world and job market weren't any more appealing than the idea of returning to school.


Fast forward 10 years, and Canada has many more immigration pathways than I could have imagined a decade ago. Students, institutions, educational consultants, and immigration consultants all play a role in this issue by perpetuating the narrative of using school as an immigration pathway. No party is entirely innocent. Some are unaware and fall victim to persuasive sales tactics, while others choose to remain oblivious.


Questions for those of you in limbo:

  • Is your goal Canadian education or Canadian immigration?

  • If immigration is the goal, is there another pathway you can pursue?

  • If education is the goal, can you delay it until after you obtain permanent residency in Canada?


If Canadian education is your goal, stay informed in the coming weeks as we await further news. All hope is not lost, but some re-planning may be necessary.


While you wait, here are a few things to consider:


  1. Do not apply for a study permit if you do not have an attestation letter. Your application will be rejected. Exemptions from needing an attestation letter include a minor child applying to study in a primary or secondary school (kindergarten to grade 12), a student applying for a Master's or PhD, or a student applying to extend their study permit.

  2. The policy change concerning open work permits for spouses of students is not yet in effect, and no date has been set. If you already have your study permit, you should apply for your spouse’s open work permit ASAP, before the policy takes effect.

  3. If you intend to work in Canada after your studies, ensure that the institution is not a private college with a partnership that allows post-graduation work permits. Starting September 1, 2024, post-graduation work permits will no longer be issued to students in such programs.

  4. If you are currently at a private college and expect to graduate after September 1, 2024, and apply for a PGWP, get a full understanding from your institution on how the new rules affect the length of your PGWP. This situation occurred at a private college in Quebec, and they had to make changes for the students to be eligible for the full length of their PGWP. Rochelle shared her experience in 2023 in this video.

  5. If you are pursuing a Master’s or Doctorate, none of the new policy changes apply to you. Proceed as usual!

  6. Spouses of affected students are eligible to receive an open work permit when the student has completed their studies and is on a Post Graduation Work Permit. Consider if this is a sacrifice you are willing to make.

  7. Ontario and BC have been identified as provinces with the most unsustainable growth. The intake of international students in these provinces will be less than in other provinces. If you have not yet selected a school, consider looking outside of these provinces.

  8. Come up with options A, B, and C, given the changes, to have some comfort in knowing what your next steps will be. For instance, if your spouse cannot come, then decide not to go; if your spouse can only come after completing school, then you might be willing to make that sacrifice. Develop practical solutions while you wait for more news.

  9. Hang tight & keep the faith!

  10. If Canadian education is not your main priority, consider other options that align better with your goals and budget.


Other Immigration Pathways


The Atlantic Immigration Program


The Atlantic Immigration Program has been one of my favorite programs since its inception in 2019.


The idea of coming to Canada with a job offer in place on a direct path to permanent residency resonates with me. Is it "easy"? If you're looking for "easy," stay home.


The opportunity is ideal for those willing to put in the effort to find a designated employer with a suitable job offer and follow through on the path.


If you are looking for jobs in Atlantic Canada, check out this webinar.



Francophone Immigration


If you are French-speaking, Canada favors you. If you are bilingual, you are favored even more. French-speaking individuals have a 26,000 intake target for 2024. Francophone immigration aims to build French-speaking communities outside of Quebec, making it a very attractive immigration option.


The requirements for this pathway are less strict and attract individuals of all skill levels and educational backgrounds to different communities across Canada (outside of Quebec).



Other Options


Depending on your level of education and occupation, there are several other options available to you. Be careful not to overwhelm yourself with too many choices. I have seen many potential immigrants spread their focus too thin by trying several programs at once, and a year later... they are nowhere.


Focus your efforts. Understand that job hunting is a job in itself. If you find it difficult in your own country, it will certainly not be any less challenging in another country.



The race is not for the swift but for those who are willing to endure.


Stay tuned and look out for my new coaching program launching in the coming weeks to assist you with your immigration and career goals.


If you’d like to book a coaching call with me to explore your options, here’s the link. I can’t wait to meet you.



Until soon.


Keep the Faith,

Kristina



References


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada [IRCC]. (2024, January 22). Canada to stabilize growth and decrease number of new international student permits issued to approximately. . . Government of Canada. Retrieved January 22, 2024, from https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/2024/01/canada-to-stabilize-growth-and-decrease-number-of-new-international-student-permits-issued-to-approximately-360000-for-2024.html


Keung, N. K., & Rushowy, K. R. (2024, January 26). Ford government restores Wynne-era moratorium on public-private college partnerships amid international student cap. Toronto Star. Retrieved February 5, 2024, from https://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/ford-government-restores-wynne-era-moratorium-on-public-private-college-partnerships-amid-international-student-cap/article_341bb0ee-bc73-11ee-b26c-9f8f56800fed.html#:~:text=The%20public%2Dprivate%20college%20partnerships,sanctioned%20by%20the%20Ontario%20government.


Statement by Ontario’s public colleges on the imposed cap on study permits. (2024, January 24). Colleges Ontario. https://www.collegesontario.org/en/news/statement-by-ontario-s-public-colleges


Tumilty, R. (2024, January 30). Canada’s “global reputation” is at stake: Universities, colleges ask for pause to international student cap. Nationalpost. https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/universities-colleges-plead-pause-international-student-cap#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI'm%20not%20the%20minister,in%20Canada%20have%20been%20underfunded.%E2%80%9D




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