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Beyond Diplomatic Tensions, Why Has Canada Lost Its Sheen for Indian Students?

Is the high cost of living in Canada acting as deterrent, too? The Quint asks experts.

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"Some prospective students reached out to me inquiring about the safety of Indians in Canada, which was not a concern I had previously heard of," Sindhu Mahadevan, a Toronto-based writer and advocate for immigration awareness, tells The Quint.

Mahadevan, however, adds that "the diplomatic tension did play a role, but it is definitely not the only cause."

The topmost choice for Indian students for studying abroad, Canada, is now seemingly losing ground.

According to Immigration Minister Marc Miller, the number of Indian students applying for study permits in Canada nosedived by 86 percent in the October-December 2023 quarter as compared to the third quarter of 2023. It was about 80 percent lesser than the same quarter of 2022.

Is the high cost of living in Canada acting as deterrent, too? The Quint asks experts.

The number of study permits issued to Indian students recorded a sharp drop of nearly 86 percent in the Oct-Dec quarter of 2023, as compared to the July-Sept quarter of the same year.

(Data: IRCC)

Another report by Better Dwelling, a Canadian real-estate firm, points out the trend took off in the second half of 2023. The Canadian government processed only 87,000 new study permits for Indian nationals in the July-October 2023 quarter as compared to almost 146,000 applications for the same quarter in 2022 – recording a year-over-year decline of 41 percent.

Even as the diplomatic ties remain strained, why is Canada losing sheen for Indian students? What are the other reasons behind the decline? The Quint explains.

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Why Are Indian Students Not Keen on Going to Canada?  

According to the Indian Students Mobility Report 2023, Canada's intake of Indian students was the highest for four consecutive years (2018-2022), ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

According to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), out of the 5.5 lakh new study permits issued by Canada in 2022, nearly 41 percent or 2.26 lakh students were from India.

Is the high cost of living in Canada acting as deterrent, too? The Quint asks experts.

This shows that the number of Indian students getting study permits every year in Canada has increased nearly seven-fold since 2015.

(Data: IRCC)

However, out of the nearly 5.8 lakh new study permits issued till November 2023, Indian students accounted for over 2.15 lakh permits or 37 percent of the total.

"The aftermath of the [Hardeep Singh] Nijjar announcement and the tense exchanges certainly worried students," says Mahadevan.  

In September last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement in the Parliament, linking the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar with Indian agents. Nijjar, who was the chief of proscribed outfit Khalistan Tiger Force, was shot dead outside a gurdwara in Canada's British Columbia province on 18 June 2023 by two masked men.

Registered Canadian Immigration Consultant Earl Blaney tells The Quint that bilateral tensions and repeated warnings from the government may have led to an anti-Canada sentiment among Indian parents.

"Secondly, the suspension of 41 diplomats from the Canadian Embassy in New Delhi post-Trudeau's comments may have contributed to less processing of visa applications. However, most processing is done by locally engaged staff in India, so it is unclear how visa processing is affected."
Earl Blaney, Registered Canadian Immigration Consultant

But there are other factors too. For most Indians, studying abroad is a big investment and this makes international students and their families "extraordinarily risk averse." They wouldn't want to spend money where they are unsure of its gains, Mahadevan explained with respect to the translation of an education programme into a meaningful job. 

She added that the process of getting a Permanent Resident (PR) has become more difficult post-COVID. 

When Indian students come to Canada, it is not just about getting a study permit, their aim is to get Permanent Residence (PR) status through the hoop of education, Earl said, explaining that it is three-step process – 1. Study Permit, 2. Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), which allows you to work in Canada for three years, and 3. Permanent Residence.  

"However, the success rate of transition to PR is abysmally low, under single digits for the year gone by," Earl said. 

He added that those who can't make it are exposed to the risk of exploitation by bad actors such as unauthorised consultants, unethical recruiters, etc.

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Canada's Own Set of Problems

Canada has been in the midst of a severe housing shortage, leading to the rise of housing prices in almost every part of the country. And the news of the same is making its way through social media and otherwise.

As per the report, Better Dwelling Co-Founder Stephen Punwasi does not see the decline in Indian students as an outcome of strained diplomatic ties between India and Canada; "more and more international students have been posting on social media about the hardships they faced in Canada, specifically calling out the high cost of living and lack of opportunity promised," Punwasi says.

In addition, a sentiment analysis of top-tier Indian media by ApplyBoard, a Canadian educational tech company, found that between April and August 2023, the number of articles written about housing in Canada increased fivefold versus the same period last year.

At the same time, the percentage of content flagged as negative rose from 12 percent to 30 percent, with Indian students' financial hardships and unemployment challenges a recurrent theme.

"The news of difficulties faced by immigrant students in Canada is finding its way back to aspirants in India. It is certainly weighing on the minds of Indian students seeking to study in Canada," Mahadevan agrees.

To counter the housing distress, Canada's immigration ministry last week announced a two-year cap on the intake of foreign students, adding that it would not take in more than 360,000 international students in the coming year – a decrease of 35 percent as compared to 2023.

Further, "Our relationship with India has really halved our ability to process a lot of applications from India," Immigration Minister Marc Miller told news agency Reuters. The cap, however, will not apply to postgraduate and PhD students or students at elementary or secondary schools.

Miller said that the intake increase is putting pressure on housing, healthcare, and other services.  The sheer numbers of immigrants, including international students, have put acute pressure on housing so much so there are simply not enough units for rent.

Is the high cost of living in Canada acting as deterrent, too? The Quint asks experts.

The number of international students living in Canada has increased year after year, registering a drop only in 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

(Data: IRCC, Media Reports)

A report by CBC showed that students looking for apartment rentals were struggling to find options for less than $1,000 (Rs 83,130) per month.   

Mahadevan, however, argues that the housing crisis leading to rising rents is not caused by Indian students. "The housing crisis has two aspects – on the demand side, the number of immigrants is increasing every year; and on the supply side, Canada is not building enough. Indian students are a part of the demand but certainly not the cause of the crisis which was already well underway before the recent spike in international student arrivals," she explains.  

The Canadian government also announced that new applicants of study permits will now have to show a financial capacity (for covering the cost of living) of C$20,635 (Rs 12.8 lakh) – more than double the existing amount of C$10,000 (Rs 6.2 lakh). 

Welcoming the move, Mahadevan tells The Quint:

"While the cost of living has consistently increased, the proof of funds requirement has not changed in the last 10 years. This disparity causes some immigrating students to be financially unprepared for life in Canada. While the adjustment was much needed, this could discourage incoming Indian students going forward."
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What Can Indian Students Do? 

Amid rising concerns over studying in Canada, Indian students may be looking for other alternatives. According to a report in The Times of India, the US and the UK are emerging as preferred alternatives followed by Australia, France, Germany, and Ireland.

However, New York-based immigrant advocate Aditi Paul cautions that this might raise the risk of foreign students being targeted by scams. These scams could involve steering them towards courses at illegitimate universities in the US, where they end up paying high tuition fees for a non-existent or substandard education.

She recalls "Day 1 CPT Scams," which affected international students who were unable to get a work permit in the US after completing their education.

In 2019, an institution by the name of 'University of Farmington in Michigan' claimed to offer CPT (Curriculum Practical Training, which allows F1 visa holders to stay in the US for one year) enrollment without the need for students to attend classes. An investigation that year revealed that the university was a sham, with no faculty, curriculum, or academic commitments.

At the same time, while there's no limit on F1 visas, getting an H1-B visa to work in the US after graduation is becoming extremely challenging because of limited slots (around 65,000 - 85,000 per year) and a lottery system. Even if selected, immigrants must persuade their employers to apply for green cards, allowing them to work beyond the H1-B's six-year limit.

"Frequent layoffs in the tech sector and the extensive backlog for green cards, particularly for Indian nationals, makes life extremely challenging for immigrants," Paul remarks. She asserts that capping would ensure a demand-supply balance in the job market and protect immigrants from such situations. 

Blaney stated that Australia may emerge as a popular education destination among Indian students but said that these trends will become clearer after the first quarter of 2024 since the measures to check foreign students' intake are effective 1 January.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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