Feds prepared to fix international student rackets if provinces can’t crack down on schools and ‘bad actors’

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Published October 30, 2023 at 8:56 am

New International Student Work Week

The federal government says it is prepared to crack down on dubious post-secondary institutions that recruit international students to Canada if provinces aren’t up to the task.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller made the comments in Brampton on Friday as he announced new rules to curb fraud and “bad actors” in the international student program, following an investigation this summer into more than 100 cases involving fake admission letters.

Miller said the international school program has created an ecosystem that is “rife with perverse incentives,” and that is very lucrative for the institutions and for provinces that have underfunded their post-secondary schools.

“The federal government is coming forward and opening its arms to our provincial partners, territorial partners, to make sure we all do our jobs properly,” Miller said at a press conference at Sheraton College in Brampton, Ont. Friday.

“If that job can’t be done, the federal government is prepared to do it.”

Provinces are responsible for accrediting schools that can accept international students, which include both public universities and colleges as well as private institutions.

In his final months in the role former immigration minister Sean Fraser raised concerns about the number of private colleges in strip malls and other venues that rely on international student tuition, but in some cases offer a meagre education in return.

Several advocacy groups, including the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change have highlighted cases of student exploitation by some of those intuitions.

The immigration department counted 800,000 active study permits at the end of 2022, a 170 per cent increase over the last decade.

“What we are seeing in the ecosystem is one that has been chasing after short term gain, without looking at the long term pain. And we need to reverse that trend. But it will take time,” he said.

Ontario in particular has “challenges” when it comes to the accreditation of post-secondary intuitions, but it is not the only one. Miller did not elaborate on what those specific challenges are.

The Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities did not answer specific questions, but said in a statement the provincial government will “again ask for a meeting with the new federal minister to discuss the planned changes once they’ve been communicated with ministry.”

The department is also looking to combat fraud by verifying international students’ acceptance letters from Colleges and Universities.

The extra verification is a reaction to a scheme that dates back to 2017, which saw immigration agents issue fake acceptance letters to get international students into Canada.

The department launched a task force in June to investigate cases associated with the racket. Of the 103 cases reviewed so far, roughly 40 per cent of students appeared to be in on the scheme, while the rest were victims of it.

The task force is still investigating another 182 cases.

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