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Student visa cap requires rethink, ignores economic realities: B.C. businesses

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO calls for more campus housing and better oversight
Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has concerns about the new international student visa cap. (Ella Matte/News Staff)

Business leaders in B.C.’s capital city say the new cap on international student visas requires a serious rethink.

The federal government’s recent decision to temporarily slash visas by more than one-third came amid concerns a stark rise in international student numbers is putting pressure on Canada’s housing system.

But Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams argues there are other ways to deal with the housing crisis that don’t include a cap.

“We think that the better solution is to build more housing on campus,” Williams said in an interview.

He pointed to Camosun College having no student housing while the University of Victoria has a multitude of residence options.

“Universities are allowed to carry debt and incur debt for things like housing, but community colleges are not,” Williams said. “So that needs to be examined.”

The chamber said in January it was following up on concerns expressed by local post-secondary schools facing a serious and unanticipated financial burden from the international student program cap.

The University of Victoria is planning budget cuts for the 2024/2025 school year and it cited the decreasing international student enrolment as the primary cause. Four per cent of the university’s operating budget could be axed, which amounts to about $13 million.

Although the budget has been announced, UVic said “it is too early” to determine what areas will be impacted by the cuts.

Ultimately, Williams’ biggest concern is the long-term impact on Canada’s economy.

“The problem with this is that we need to create a workforce and post secondaries create the skills to create a workforce,” he said. “We have a huge demand for workers right now and immigrants, which includes international students, (the feds have) taken that all away.”

The federal cap also aims to crack down on post-secondary intuitions that collect high fees from international students and offer a poor education in return. Those schools garnered harsh words from federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller during his January announcement.

“It is not the intention of this program to have sham commerce degrees or business degrees that are sitting on top of a massage parlour that someone doesn’t even go to and then they come into the province and drive an Uber,” Miller said.

The cap is also being allocated based on each province’s population. That provision strives to make it so jurisdictions like B.C. and Ontario don’t get to accept more students than they can handle while smaller provinces end up with enrolment shortages.

Williams suggested that intuitions should be audited to keep them in check.

“There are colleges in Canada that have an inordinate number of international students, which is a major source of revenue for them, which also means that these visas are going to them and they’re now being evenly distributed across the country.”

READ MORE: UVic cuts budget by $13M citing declining international student enrolment

About the Author: Ella Matte

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