Speaking notes for the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Update on the International Students Program

Speech

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Good afternoon.

I’d like to acknowledge that we are gathering on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishanaabeg People.

We are proud that Canada is a top destination for talented students from around the world.

This year alone, our department has received and processed more than 600,000 study permit requests.

That speaks to the many high-quality educational institutions we have in this country.

It speaks to our diverse and welcoming society.

And it speaks to the opportunities some students hope to pursue here after they graduate, to start their careers and perhaps become new Canadians.

International students benefit campus life and Canada’s multicultural spirit in communities across the country and are drivers of innovation.

When we welcome international students, we benefit from new ideas and ways of learning and researching coming into our postsecondary system.

However, some of these students have experienced serious challenges navigating life in Canada.

That’s why we have been working hard to tackle issues that make some students vulnerable to exploitation, and challenge the integrity of the International Student Program.

I announced some reforms to the International Student Program back in October, including the development of a new framework to recognize learning institutions that provide top-quality services and support, including housing, to international students.

It would be a mistake to blame international students for the housing crisis, but it would also be a mistake to invite them to come to Canada, with no support on how to put a roof over their heads. That is why we expect learning institutions to only accept the number of students that they are able to house, or provide assistance for students to find off-campus housing.

In welcoming international students, we have a responsibility to make sure that students are supported when they come to our country. We also want to ensure that international students don’t become victims of unscrupulous individuals who offer them inadequate living conditions at inflated prices.

It is imperative to work together with provincial and territorial governments, learning institutions and other education stakeholders.

Ahead of the September 2024 enrolment sessions, we are prepared to take the necessary measures, including the refusal of visas, to ensure that designated learning institutions provide adequate and sufficient student supports as part of the academic experience. In order to achieve to assure this result, it is imperative to work together with provincial and territorial governments, learning institutions and other education stakeholders, so we can ensure international students are set up for success in Canada.

Our aim is to strike the right balance between welcoming international students, and ensuring they have all they need to thrive. I will communicate more in due course.

For today, I’m here to announce a few more measures.

International students need to be prepared for life in Canada. And we have a responsibility to make certain that they are well-supported when they come to Canada.

But the cost-of-living requirement for study permit applicants hasn’t changed since the early 2000s, when it was set at $10,000 for a single applicant.

That figure clearly hasn’t kept up with the cost of living. Some students arrive in Canada and realize their funds won’t be enough to get them through the school year.

So, starting January 1, 2024, the financial requirement for study permits will be raised to reflect the current cost of living.

As such, a single applicant will need to show that they have at least $20,635 in funds to support themselves in Canada. Moving to a more accurate cost-of-living level helps international students arrive with the necessary resources to live and study in Canada.

Future increases will be tied to the low-income cut-off that Statistics Canada publishes every year, similar to other immigration programs. This cut-off conveys the income below which an individual may be in strained circumstances as they have to spend a greater-than-average proportion of their income on necessities. Recognizing that students have to show they can cover their tuition as well as travel costs, our cost-of-living threshold is set at 75% of the low-income cut-off, rather than 100%.

This change will help international students face any financial challenges they encounter in Canada, and protect them from becoming vulnerable to exploitation so that their focus can be on their studies. It will also help make sure they have the financial resources they need to thrive, so they are able to stay and build lives in Canada, if they wish to.

We recognize that this change could have differential impacts on prospective students, such as those from less privileged backgrounds or locations. Next year, in collaboration with partners, we intend to implement targeted pilots that will test new ideas aimed at helping underrepresented cohorts of international students pursue their studies in Canada. We also plan to work with institutions, provinces and territories to provide students with what they need to succeed. We will have more to say on this in 2024.

I’d like to also update you on three temporary policies affecting international students that were set to expire at the end of this month.

The main purpose for an international student to be in Canada should be to study. However, since most students are currently halfway through their school year and some are working full-time to meet their needs, we will extend the temporary policy that has allowed eligible international students to work more than 20hours per week through April 30, 2024, the end of the academic year.

We are currently examining options for this policy in the future, and we are looking at potentially expanding off-campus work hours for international students to 30 hours per week while class is in session. We’re also extending the measure allowing international students to count time spent studying online towards the length of any future post-graduation work permit they receive, as long as that online portion is less than half of their total program of study.

We first implemented distance learning measures in 2020 due to travel restrictions during the pandemic, and reduced them in scope in September 2022. But since the vast majority of international students are now studying in person in Canada, we’re extending this measure only to those starting their programs before September 1, 2024.

Finally, in response to labour market disruptions over the pandemic, we introduced a temporary policy granting post graduation work permit holders an additional 18-month open work permit, if needed. Those with a post-graduation work permit expiring by the end of this year remain eligible to apply. We won’t be extending this policy after that.

With this long-overdue increase to the cost-of-living threshold, and the extension of temporary facilitative measures, students arriving in Canada will be on a stronger financial footing as they begin their studies here.

Protecting and supporting international students to prevent them from becoming vulnerable—whether that’s to bad actors or simply to meeting their needs in Canada—is one of the main goals of our review of the International Student Program.

International students contribute to boosting Canada’s economy. Taking today’s additional steps contribute to the long-term solution: preserving the integrity of the International Student Program.

Working together with provincial and territorial governments, learning institutions and other education stakeholders, we can ensure international students are set up for success in Canada.

Thank you. I’m happy to take your questions.

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