A crisis response from Canada: Students and the housing crisis

by | Apr 8, 2024 | EDUCATION

Ever wanted to study in Canada? Well, go somewhere else!

 

On 22 January 2024 the Canadian Government announced a new immigration measure that will place a cap on the number of international student visas issued over the next two years. The measure aims to limit the intake to 360,000 students per year. This will be a significant decrease to the year on year growth of Canada’s international student population.

 

In a press release from the Government of Canada, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party warned that due to unsustainable levels of immigration the “integrity of the international student system has been threatened”. The droves of students looking to earn degrees in Canadian Universities has placed a strain on “housing, healthcare and other public services”. Although focused on students, the measure aims primarily to decrease the external pressure on the Canadian rental market, which much like Ireland, is in crisis.

 

Each province and territory will have tailored quotas based on relative population size with Ontario and British Columbia being the most affected.  Both will see their incoming student population fall by around 50%. To help implement this measure, prospective students must also obtain an attestation letter from their respective province or territory. 

 

Starting September 1, 2024, international students who begin a study program that is part of a curriculum licensing arrangement will no longer be eligible for a post graduation work permit upon graduation. British Columbia has also placed a ban on new institutions accepting any international students during this period. 

 

Furthermore, financial requirements have also doubled to account for the rising cost of living in the country. Prior to 2024 students only needed to have $10,000 CAD to prove their ability to support themselves in the country; that figure has now doubled to $20,635 (~€14,000). 

To put the Canadian housing crisis in an Irish context: at present the average monthly rent is $2,196 (€1,488) and the average house price sits at $650,000 (€447,980). The current average rent in Ireland is €1,544 and the median price of home ownership comes in at €323,000.

The need for such measures begs the question of why a Canadian education is so coveted? 

In 2023 a total of 684,385 students received study permits. Of the cohort of students granted permits last year 278,860 students were from India, 58,430 from China, and 37,675 were from Nigeria. Only 190 students from Ireland travelled to Canada for university in 2023. 

Canada boasts some of the best higher education institutions in the world. The University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University and McMaster University all sit within the top 85 universities in the world according to The Times Higher Education Rankings – higher than any Irish institutions, Trinity College is 161st. 

Other pull-factors include the high standard of living, a diverse and cosmopolitan environment and relative safety enjoyed by Canadians. Tuition fees are not much different to those paid by non-EU students studying in Ireland with an undergraduate degree costing $36,360 (€24,700) for international students. With 223 public and private universities, and 213 public colleges and institutes Canada has a lot to offer international students. Along with a world class education they will also act as a scapegoat for a deepening housing crisis. 

Are international students causing a mass housing crisis across Canada?

In short: no. 

International students are not the main culprit causing the downfall of the Canadian housing system. At the heart of this issue is a mismatch between supply and demand. Housing supply from the government is sluggish in the delivery of rental units and homes. Only 240,267 new units were built last year. Immigration initiatives have led to a population increase of 1.2 million in 2023, making Canada the fastest growing G7 member and placing it in the top 20 fastest growing countries in the world. If immigration levels stay as they are, the population will double in only 26 years. The government partially blames a labour shortage for its lacklustre performance, however it is clear that long term strategies to absorb the increasing population were not robustly considered.

According to the government of Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan for 2024-2026 the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has set an immigration target of 450,000 permanent residents for 2024 and 500,000 permanent residents for both 2025 and 2026. 

 

To obtain permanent residency in Canada typically an individual must work in the country for 12 consecutive months before applying, so those seeking permanent residency for 2024 are already in the country. Permanent residency is not the same as obtaining citizenship. Permanent residents do not hold the right to vote or run for office, must renew their documentation periodically, and do not hold the same travel rights enjoyed by Canadian citizens.

 

Permanent residents and visiting students do not have political agency within the Canadian political system and therefore have no sway on immigration laws. Students and immigrants who travel to Canada seeking a world class education or new employment opportunities operate fully within the confines of the existing political system, laws and regulations voted for and supported by Canadian citizens.

Immigrants cannot be held accountable for the housing crisis occurring in Canada when the government is actively seeking to grow the population without sustainable housing and social supports in place. The issue of housing is second highest on the agenda for Canadian voters and could lead to either a change in government or at least lower levels of support for the current Liberal Party in the upcoming 2025 federal election. 

To walk around the streets of Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver is to see the devastation caused by the unaffordable housing market and the increasingly unaffordable cost of living.

It is difficult to discern any control the Canadian Government claims to have over the current spiralling housing market. Homelessness is rampant and becoming the norm. With political leaders desensitised and unmoved by the effects of the housing and cost of living crises little change is possible. 

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