The Trudeau government’s recent announcement that it will pursue a 35% reduction in international student permits issued in the next two years has left provinces and universities across the country unclear as to the details of the plan and its consequences. 

Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced Monday that starting in 2024, the federal government will be capping international student visas for two years. 

Miller said it is in an attempt to combat “bad actors” in the system and exploitation of international students, and to provide relief to social service providers. 

Some provinces, like Ontario, will see a sharper drop in the number of international students accepted, as the provision will be based on the population of each province. 

True North reached out to several provincial cabinet ministers responsible for the administration of universities as well as several universities themselves to probe whether or not the federal government’s new student visa policy is a welcome change or not. 

Of the respondents to True North’s requests for comment, the general consensus from provincial governments and universities has been a sense of uncertainty about what is coming next and how the federal government’s policy change will affect their institutions.

The most critical of the federal government’s immigration policy change was New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, Arlene Dunn, who expressed scepticism for the benefits of international student reductions.

“These changes announced by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have the potential to hurt New Brunswick by wiping out recent enrollment growth at our colleges and universities, shrinking the labour market and reducing the number of provincial immigration nominations,” said Dunn.

New Brunswick has been experiencing declining enrollment in the province’s universities since the early-to-mid 2000’s, as enrollment from the 2003-2004 school year to the 2020-2021 school year had declined 27%.

Furthermore, relative to population size, New Brunswick has the fewest number of international students out of all other provinces. 

Dunn told True North that the federal immigration policy changes will make New Brunswick suffer in order to solve problems present in other parts of the country. 

“While we are still working to fully understand the impact of today’s announcement by the federal government on the province and our institutions, the changes are very concerning for our government, and we are not in favour of this move that unfairly targets all provincial jurisdictions when not all are experiencing the same problems,” said Dunn.

“The problems the federal government are trying to address with these changes are not our issues and New Brunswick is paying the price for the problems that exist in other parts of the country.”

As for the University of New Brunswick, the institution told True North it requires more time to figure out how the federal government’s announcement will affect it.

“We have just received the information so we do not know what the provincial cap in New Brunswick will be or how and if the announcement will impact us. At UNB we are committed to recruiting international students in a responsible and sustainable way,” said university president Paul J. Mazerolle.

Ontario’s minister for colleges and universities, Jill Dunlop, told True North that the province has been working with the federal government to crack down on problems within the international student visa system, although she did not not provide a clear stance on the federal government’s announcement.

“We’ve been engaging with the federal government on ways to crack down on these practices, like predatory recruitment,” said Dunlop.

“We also need to work together to ensure the students coming to Canada receive an education that is responsive to Ontario’s labour needs, especially in the skilled trades. As we do, we have a joint responsibility to ensure the stability of the postsecondary sector and the success of its students.”

British Columbia Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Minister Selina Robinson gave a similar answer to Ontario’s Dunlop, citing cooperation with the government while not taking a clear stance on the policy.

“We have known about the issues facing international students for some time and we are actively working with the federal government on solving them, and making sure that international students receive the quality education they were promised,” said Robinson. 

“Our approach addresses the federal government’s concerns while acknowledging the uniqueness of B.C.’s education sector and the diversity of communities it serves across the province. We will have more to say early next week.”

Miller told reporters Monday that the federal government has been cooperating with Ontario and British Columbia in reworking Canada’s international student visa program. 

Both the universities of Calgary and British Columbia stated that they will be working with their respective provincial governments in order to best cope with the reduction of international students.

“We are aware of the announcement today by Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller. UBC will be working with the provincial government and IRCC over the coming weeks as the details of today’s announcement are clarified,” said University of British Columbia spokesperson Matthew Ramsey.

“The university is aware of the federal government’s decision to place a temporary two-year cap on international student enrollment, and we await details of how this decision will impact Alberta and post-secondary schools in our province,” said a University of Calgary spokesperson.