One Voice Canada recently released a report that highlights challenges faced by international students in Canada.The Realities for International Students: Evidenced Challenges, outlines the main struggles faced by international students, including skyrocketing tuition costs, lack of mental health resources, and housing insecurity.

One Voice Canada, which was founded in 2019, was formed to respond to the hardships experienced by Indian international students in Canada. Since its inception, the non-profit states that it has received 47 requests for assistance for issues like housing, labour exploitation, and sexual abuse and harassment. 

A key component of the recent report includes outlining the financial burden that many international students have to bear due to continuously rising tuition costs. 

The report states that “to manage [the] financial burden many international students are working illegally. This has put them in a vulnerable position and many are victims of labour exploitation, and exploitation of international students has become prevalent in communities across Canada.”

These findings coincide with the experiences of many international students, who often are working extra jobs or extra hours in order to make ends meet, and are subjected to poor working conditions, or having to work illegally.

In one instance, an international student from India named Jobandeep Sandhu was arrested in 2019 for breaking a condition of his student visa, by working over 20 hours. 

The story made national headlines, as organizations and student groups attempted to fight the deportation order. But on July 10th Jobandeep was ultimately deported, with his only crime being “working too hard,” said his lawyer Adrienne Smith.

Smith added that the local officer who apprehended Jobandeep went “above and beyond” the typical responsibility of law enforcement while taking it upon himself to do an immigration investigation at a traffic stop.

While Jobandeep’s story is unfortunate, it is not an isolated incident.

Globally, Canada is the fourth highest receiver of international students, with Indian and Chinese citizens making up 50 percent of international students. 

Canada benefits from the higher tuition paid by international students, and also enjoys the government revenue generated by filling gaps in the labour force.\It is clear that international students contribute greatly to the national economy, and that the business of immigration is lucrative for both state and private actors. 

It is clear that international students contribute greatly to the national economy, and that the business of immigration is lucrative for both state and private actors. 

Provincially, in British Columbia, international students contribute over $1.77 billion to the provincial GDP. Despite these economic statistics, international students are left navigating this system with little to no support, and increased barriers..

They are valued for being economically productive, but despite this productivity, they are  not immune to acts of social exclusion and management due to their migrant status.

Contemporary immigration processes are also complex and involve an array of actors including universities, government, and immigration consultants, who all profit off of international students. This web of management can be described as the education-industrial complex.  

According to One Voice Canada’s report, “the education-industrial complex is when for-profit business interests become entwined with the education system and institutions. Canada’s international student program has given rise to booming cottage industries in both India and Canada. In both countries, many business interests have become intertwined in student migration and international education.”

In the context of the Lower Mainland, this is concerning considering the number of private colleges and immigration consultants that operate here.  

Based on the research examined in the report, in Metro-Vancouver, there are over 300 private post-secondary institutions. In addition to this, many of these private institutions provide general education that cannot translate into future job opportunities or permanent residency, which is a fact that is often left out when these colleges are marketing to international students.

 The lack of transparency and support from the very institutions that openly invite students into them, is a common theme. This is extremely troubling, especially when considering the impact on the mental health of international students, who are often juggling many conflicting expectations and responsibilities while adapting to life in Canada.

According to a study from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, integration is an important issue pertaining to international students in British Columbia. 

International students report that they don’t feel socio-culturally or physically supported by their educational institutions. Similarly, One Voice Canada’s report released similar findings of marginalization, which have led to an increase in suicide rates amongst international students. 

When you take into consideration the extent to which workplaces and post-secondary institutions play a role in managing international students, it creates an unstable and dangerous situation for them. This is a major concern, since many of these spaces are the primary environments for most students. 

 In its report, One Voice Canada lists a series of actionable items to better support international students living in Canada, such as regulating and reducing tuition fees, and increased funding for services within student offices. 

Additionally, a major action item includes conducting an evaluative study of the International Student Program, in terms of how it’s being marketed to potential students, and evaluating private colleges and the programs being offered.

In response to the release of this report, B.C. Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang has stated that the government is concerned for the wellbeing of all students, and that the province is working to improve the education experience for international students.

In British Columbia, many international students from India have chosen to settle in Surrey, one of the largest South Asian diasporas in North America. 

Despite the large concentration of international students who have chosen to live in Surrey and the large immigrant population who have formed a community over the years, international students still face patterns of exclusion, racialization, and social control from employers and landlords.  

Given the severity of these longstanding issues faced by international students, it is vital for all levels of government to recognize the findings of One Voice Canada’s report, as well as similar reports, that have clearly defined and documented the inequities that have and continue to take a toll on thousands of international students.


About the author: Jasleen is a writer, speaker, and educator. She is currently a Teaching Assistant and Masters student at Simon Fraser University where her research examines the intersection between media, race, and community-based educational programming in Surrey, BC. Jasleen is passionate about community building and is a graduate fellow with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative. She enjoys reading manga, binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and a good game of sudoku.

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