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Maritime universities, students, governments share concern after Ottawa unveils plan to cap student visas


He has spent a lot of time advocating for and working on international student policy during his time at Dalhousie University, but Muyu Lyu says there’s still a long way to go – and he doesn’t believe Ottawa’s move to cap international student visas is the right move.

“I do not think the problem is being solved sustainably and I hope the governments can work together to have a more long-term strategy for promoting Canadian education and the Canadian brand in a healthier way,” he said in an interview with CTV Atlantic.

The announcement came Monday, when a plan was unveiled to reduce the number of new international student permits by 35 per cent next year as part of a two-year cap on foreign enrollment, meant to crackdown on institutions who may be taking advantage of international students.

The cap is expected to result in 364,000 new approved permits in 2024. The 2025 limit on new applications will be reassessed at the end of this year.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller also mentioned the cap may also help alleviate housing pressures.

Lyu, a past-president of the Dalhousie International Students’ Association and a former member of the university’s board of governors, worries about how the cap will impact students who’ve already applied, and accepted, an invitation to come to a Canadian university.

He’s also concerned about the public’s perception of international students.

“I am worried that foreign students in Canada will be experiencing some unfair treatment or face the brunt of the public outrage,” he said.

“And I'm also worried the uncertainty about the future is leading to lower expectations, which has an impact on Canadian international education's reputation globally.”

Many Atlantic universities say there’s too many unknowns at this point to make a fair assessment of the cap.

Robert Summerby-Murray, Saint Mary’s University president and chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities, notes that international students represent about 30 per cent of Atlantic university student populations and they bring “innovation, they bring talent, and they bring a world view that is diverse and vibrant.”

“I think that it’s important to note, we are not targets in many ways,” he said.

“What we see, particularly Atlantic Canada, is the collateral damage, if I can put it that way, from policies that are designed to deal with bad actors in the system.”

He believes there are ways to work with Ottawa to improve some concerns – like housing.

“I would call for the federal government to open up access for universities to programs in the Housing Accelerator Fund, as an opportunity for us as universities, publicly funded universities, to be working in partnership with the Government of Canada to provide solutions to housing in our region,” he said.

While universities are waiting to hear what the Atlantic region’s allotment of visas will be, Université de Moncton’s president and vice-chancellor says most are concerned about how it will impact them financially.

“I think it will have an impact, a financial impact, on any institution, and they will have to find ways to balance the budget,” said Denis Prud’homme.

“In our case, about 65 per cent of the budget is from government grant and 35 per cent is from student tuitions. So obviously, there is a risk if the student bodies decline, that an institution will be faced to potentially have to increase their tuition.”

The University of New Brunswick’s Student Union president believes there’s a better way to approach these issues.

“We're kind of relating this to the housing crisis, but restricting students coming to anywhere in Canada isn’t going to fix the housing crisis whatsoever,” said Amanda Smith.

“We need to come with better innovative ideas of what we're going to do. And so, to say, ‘You know what, let's limit students coming.’ That's not going to fix it.”

All three Maritime provincial governments said they are waiting for more details from Ottawa, but value international students.

“[I]nstitutions need to ensure that they have the infrastructure to support these students,” said Nova Scotia’s Department of Advanced Education.

New Brunswick’s Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour said it believes the cap will hurt the province in the end, and doesn’t support the move.

“[W]e are not in favour of this move that unfairly targets all provincial jurisdictions when not all are experiencing the same problems. 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,” Minister Arlene Dunn stated in an email. Top Stories

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