The implications of doubling cost-of-living requirement for new international students are straightforward as the motivations
On December 7, 2023, the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced that starting January 1, 2024, the cost-of-living financial requirement for study permit applicants will be doubled, with the stated justification being so that international students are financially prepared for life in Canada.
As per the previous requirement which had been in place for two decades, international students had to show a balance of $10,000 in their bank accounts along with one year of tuition fees and travel expenses. Under the new requirement, prospective students will have to obtain more than double the previous basic amount. Miller said the reason for the change is that the financial requirement hasn’t kept up with the cost of living over time.
In CTV News coverage on December 7, 2023, Miller stated that the government is “moving to a more accurate cost of living level that helps international students arrive with necessary resources to live and study in Canada.”
“Future increases will be tied to the low-income cut-off Statistics Canada announces every year.”
Therefore, beginning January 1, 2024, international students applying for new study permits will need a base $20,635 in their accounts to be eligible for study permits. The amount represents 75 per cent of a low-income cut-off (LICO). Statistics Canada describes LICO as their established approach to defining an income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income to the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing than an average family would.
Al Parsai, Adjunct Professor at Queen’s University, and author of “88 Tips on Immigration to Canada,” further explains that LICO for immigration purposes represents the poverty line in Canada’s urban areas with a population of half a million or more. The Canadian government uses that LICO to calculate the annual income necessary for an individual to remain independent and not use social assistance.
Using a LICO isn’t the only way to ascertain that a student can remain independent in Canada, but it remains the main government tool for this purpose. It is likely that relying on LICO and making such a large immediate adjustment could be a hardship on international students coming to Canada from diverse financial backgrounds. As Wanda Cuff-Young, vice-president of operations at international recruiting agency Work Global Canada, said to CTV News, “Canada needs students.” But doubling the amount of money needed all at once may be too much when it could have been phased in.
Indeed, Canada needs students, and diversity. In an increasingly globalized community, it is also increasingly important to foster international relationships. In the UR International “Message from the President,” Jeff Keshen described these relationships as “meaningful connections and mutual respect between people from different cultures and countries.”
“These connections bring diversity as well as different worldviews and perspectives that add to the strength of our University and wider community.”
Keshen further referred to UR International as deeply committed to “supporting, guiding, and promoting the success of these students by offering academic, social, life skills, and language services to help them make the most of their University of Regina education.” Likewise, Canadian students and researchers are supported in gaining experience at an international level.
Yet, Minister Miller seems to have other thoughts on his mind. In a confusing reversal to the Government of Canada press release regarding the cost-of-living requirement increase, in which Canada’s academic institutions were praised, he issued vague threats to restrict visas for provinces that refuse to assist with student housing, or to shut down educational facilities that, in his opinion, shouldn’t be operating.
“There are, in provinces, the diploma equivalent of puppy mills that are just churning out diplomas, and this is not a legitimate student experience,” Miller said in a CBC News report from December 8, 2023. “There is fraud and abuse and it needs to end.”
Miller did not elaborate on the specific institutions that he believed were abusive and fraudulent, instead passing the responsibility on to the provincial governments. This move may come as a reflexive federal response to Canadians growing concerns about the rapidly rising cost of living and widespread affordable housing shortages in Canada. CTV News reported that the ministry also announced a new framework to recognize learning institutions that provide international students with high-quality services and support, including housing.
“It would be a mistake to blame international students for the housing crisis, but it would also be a mistake to invite them to come to Canada with no support including how to put a roof over their heads,” Miller said.
“That’s why we expect learning institutions to only accept the number of students that they’re able to provide for, able to house or assist in finding off-campus housing.”
Further deflecting any real responsibility, the federal government also recently extended the waiver on the 20 hour per week limit on off-campus jobs for international students. The waiver was supposed to end in 2023, but was extended until April 30, 2024, for current international students. Miller also said that the government is considering expanding the off-campus work hours for international students to 30 hours per week while class is in session. Miller claimed that allowing 40 working hours per week would give people reason to come to Canada and not focus on their studies.
However, according to the government’s own data, 80 per cent of international students work for more than 20 hours per week. Advocates like Jawad Chowdhury, executive director of campaigns for Memorial University’s Student Union, point out that the larger work week is not necessarily a negative thing. The ability to work full-time hours is often required to keep students in Canada.
“A lot of international students over the past year have gotten managerial positions, have gotten supervisor positions that require them to stay […] permanent and full time,” he said to CBC News on December 9, 2023.
“We don’t want international students losing those positions because there’s a reduction in their work hours.”
Chowdhury also believes that the increased cost-of-living requirement may be a step toward being open and transparent with students looking to study in Canada. To CBC News, he said, “We’re no longer promising students something that they can afford [when they actually] can’t afford housing and, you know, groceries and all the necessities that you need.”
“But on the flip side, I also think it’s going to significantly reduce the amount of international students coming into Canada.”
Ultimately, the position of international students continues to be confounded and complicated from multiple directions, often at the extreme end of the spectrum that domestic students experience. Things like the recent cost-of-living requirement change add to the stress issues that international students face. It remains to be seen how institutions like the University of Regina will respond to these challenges, considering that UR International is advertised as a “one-stop shop” in building a better world through international education.