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International students enticed to Canada on dubious promises of jobs and immigration

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Dilpreet Kaur’s parents were worried it would be difficult for her to find a job in her home state of Punjab, India, where her father toils long, lonely hours as a rice and wheat farmer. She, too, felt there was no future for her there.

So last year, her dad sold two trucks for $28,000 and mortgaged the family’s land to raise money for her to come to Canada, rent a room in a shared apartment in Toronto’s east end and pay $16,000 in international tuition fees for the first year of a two-year college program.

Kaur, 19, told CBC’s The Fifth Estate that she consulted with a college recruiter, one of a legion of freelance agents operating in an unbridled market in India who earn commissions by signing up students to attend Canadian colleges — sometimes by painting a distorted picture of the education on offer and the ease of life in Canada. The recruiter directed her to Alpha College, a school she’d never heard of before.

“I don’t know why she just suggested this college,” Kaur said in an interview. Nevertheless, she enrolled in a computer systems technician course at Alpha.

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“Before coming here, it was kind of, in my mind, ‘Canada is so beautiful. I’m going to come here, just earn well, live a life, have fun at the weekends,’ like we saw in the movies,” she said.

“When I came here it was different, it was completely different.”

Dilpreet’s father and grandmother. Her father sold two trucks for $28,000 and mortgaged the family’s land to raise money for her to come to Canada. (Gurmeet Sapal)

Increasing numbers of Ontario’s international college students come, like Kaur, from India, where it’s not uncommon for rural families such as hers to literally bet the farm to raise enough money to pay for a daughter or son’s education, hoping they’ll eventually land a decent job and be able to remit money back home to repay the debt.

Drawn by Canada’s reputation and the potential to gain permanent residency, tens of thousands of foreign students enrol every year in Canadian post-secondary schools. The vast majority head to universities and public colleges.

But a subset, about 25,000 students as of last year, had been enticed to enrol at private career colleges in Ontario that partner with public colleges — colleges that have grown dependent on the international students’ much higher tuition fees, typically four to five times what a domestic student pays. Critics told The Fifth Estate those colleges are packing pupils into classrooms — real or virtual — with little regard to government rules, student wellbeing or anything beyond the bottom line.

International students are shown protesting outside of Alpha College, located in north Toronto, in May 2022. (Naujawan Support Network)

Since the pandemic began, Alpha, a private career college in partnership with public St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., has more than doubled its enrolment, to 4,900 students, whereas its two-storey building at Kennedy Road and Passmore Avenue in Toronto has a capacity of just 420, according to the Toronto fire department.

“They just want us to give money, again and again. And get rich, filling their pockets, and don’t really care about us at all,” Kaur said of her experience.

A report from Ontario’s auditor general last December found that the province’s smaller public colleges, particularly the ones in smaller or northern communities where domestic enrolments have been declining, “have become highly dependent financially on international students but increasingly face challenges in attracting these students to their home campuses.”

As a result, 11 of them have entered into partnerships with private career colleges in the Toronto area, allowing students to live in or around Toronto but take courses toward a diploma from a public college located in Timmins or North Bay, for example.

The auditor general’s report found that the tuition revenue from these partnerships single-handedly meant the difference between running a deficit or a surplus for five of the six public colleges that had them in place as of 2019-20, and is also lucrative for the private career colleges, with net profit margins ranging from 18 to 53 per cent.

“With reduced funding from government, international students have become bread and butter sustaining these institutions,” said Earl Blaney, an advocate for international students and a registered Canadian immigration consultant based in London, Ont.

“Their appetite is insatiable. They’re doing everything they can to find more ways to bring in more students… whether it is increasing class sizes, whether it is irresponsibly bringing in students that they don’t have enough support to offer. I mean it doesn’t matter. What matters is numbers.”

Recruiters make questionable claims

Education recruiters represent the first step in the chain from farmer’s field to classroom. It’s a cutthroat industry in India, where thousands of independent agents compete to earn around $2,000 for each student they recruit for a Canadian college with which they have an agreement.

Alpha College, for example, got 100 per cent of its international students in its most recent academic year through recruiters, according to documents obtained by The Fifth Estate.

Ontario’s public colleges paid more than $114 million in commissions to recruiters in 2020-21, according to last year’s auditor general report; the total paid by the private career colleges isn’t tracked.

Since the pandemic began, Alpha, a private career college, in partnership with the public St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., has more than doubled its enrolment, to 4,900 students. The building has a capacity of just 420, according to Toronto Fire Services. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

The Fifth Estate‘s investigation went undercover in Punjab state, using hidden cameras, to see what recruiters are telling potential students. A father and his 19-year-old son interested in a Canadian education agreed to wear a hidden camera while meeting with several recruiters in Jalandhar, the state’s third-biggest city.

In one of their meetings, the recruiter outlined that tuition would cost around $17,000 for the first year.

“Will he be able to find a job for the second year?” the father asked.

The recruiter replied that “it is very easy for students to pay their second-year tuition fees.”

In fact, as The Fifth Estate found, many international college students struggle to earn enough money in Canada to pay their living expenses, much less tuition for their second year.

Last Friday, the federal government temporarily lifted the cap of 20 hours of off-campus work a week that international students had previously been limited to during school semesters. At minimum wage in Ontario, the limit meant international students couldn’t expect to earn much more than about $22,000 a year — not enough to cover $16,000 or $17,000 in tuition and have funds left over for rent, food, utilities and other essentials. And that’s while also studying full-time.

During the meeting involving the father and his 19-year-old son, the father asked about a well-established public college in Toronto. But the recruiter directed him instead to a little-known private career college.

“There is a college called Cambrian at Hanson,” he said, referring to private Hanson College, which is tucked away in a strip mall in Brampton, Ont. Hanson has had a partnership since 2005 with Cambrian, a public college based in Sudbury, Ont., 350 kilometres to the north.

When contacted by The Fifth Estate, a Hanson College spokesperson wouldn’t confirm whether the school had a relationship with that particular recruiter, but did say the college works with “recruitment agents across various regions globally, including Indian agencies,” and that the students they sign up account for about 30 to 35 per cent of the school’s enrolment.

The auditor general noted that because recruiters’ commissions are a percentage of the tuition fees paid by the students they sign up, “recruitment agencies are incentivized to enrol as many students as they can in the programs that charge the highest tuition fees.”

Dubious claims about visas

At another recruitment agency, the father expressed concern that after his son graduated, it might be hard to get permanent residency in Canada.

“Definitely not,” the recruiter said. “It’s easy for students to get permanent residency.”

In reality, a Statistics Canada study last year found only about 30 per cent of people who come to Canada on a student visa had obtained permanent residency within a decade.

Even after the father and son left the agents’ offices, they were approached on the street by recruiters for another agency offering to charge less for their services and to provide a more personal relationship.

 

Education recruitment agents caught misleading student and father in India

 

The Fifth Estate went undercover in India to reveal the pitch made to some students planning to attend Canadian colleges. The father and son in this video are interested in a Canadian education and agreed to wear a hidden camera as they met agents.

The Ontario auditor general’s report found similar examples of dubious claims made by college recruiters, including agencies that promised “100 per cent visa success” and others that advertised “guaranteed scores” on English aptitude tests.

In recent years, a new type of recruitment has cropped up. A number of “edu-tech” companies in Canada, Australia and Singapore have created online platforms to connect the millions of potential students in other countries with the thousands of recruiters and educational institutions in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Ireland.

But critics like Blaney, the international student advocate and immigration consultant, said these so-called aggregator companies only put more distance between colleges and the recruiters who are signing up students for them. “Ten thousand-plus sub-agents on the ground … have absolutely no direct connection with the college. The college has no ability to screen them, they have no ability to review their work or conduct with the student, promises made, advertising, you name it,” Blaney said.

Colleges exceed provincial enrolment limits

Blaney said the volume of foreign students coming to Canada really picked up starting 10 years ago, after the federal government declared the country needed more skilled immigrants. A federal advisory panel also recommended doubling the number of international students to more than 450,000 in total by 2022. Canada sailed far past that target and had 621,000 people on student visas as of Dec. 31, 2012, according to federal data.

The crush of students coming from abroad opened up more opportunities for the province’s public colleges to enter into partnerships with private career colleges; nine such deals have been signed since the 2012 report.

All those international tuition fees now provide more money to Ontario’s colleges — $1.7 billion in 2020-21, according to the province’s auditor general — than the provincial government’s total funding of $1.6 billion, which is the lowest amount of per capita government funding of any province in Canada.

Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities officially caps the number of international students that a public college can have at one of its private career college partners. The quota is a maximum of two times the number of international students enrolled at the public college’s home campus.

But the provincial auditor general found a number of colleges have exceeded those limits in recent years with seemingly no consequences. North Bay-based Canadore College’s private partner had 8.8 times the number of international students as the college itself; at Northern College in Timmins, Ont., the ratio was 8.6. Alpha College is at about 4.5-to-1 compared with St. Lawrence College’s home-campus enrolment, or more than twice the allowed ratio.

Earl Blaney is an international student advocate and immigration consultant. He said the volume of foreign students coming to Canada really picked up about 10 years ago, after the federal government declared the country needed more skilled immigrants. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

“The focus has been numbers-driven,” Blaney said. “That’s all, literally, that anyone cares about … how many international students can we pack in, and how much money can we get.”

A Ministry of Colleges and Universities spokesperson told The Fifth Estate that colleges “are separate legal entities and are responsible for both academic and administrative matters — including enrolment and capacity.”

Neither Alpha College nor its public partner, St. Lawrence College, would agree to an interview.

In an email this week, St. Lawrence spokesperson Julie Einarson said the school and Alpha College have “established and followed quality assurance protocols to ensure students who come to Ontario to study have a good experience and ultimately stay here to live and work.”

“Colleges and our partners provide a wide range of support services to international students but we know there is a lot more to do,” the email continued. “We are working collaboratively with other colleges, governments, and community leaders — and most importantly, our students — to find new solutions.”

Low-wage jobs after graduation

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said he’s convinced that certain private career colleges have come to exist just to make a buck off of international student programs. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said it troubles him greatly that “certain private career colleges, I’m convinced, have come to exist just to make a buck on the back of the international student program.”

In an interview with The Fifth Estate last week, he said, “We have concerns that it might be about financial impropriety, rather than providing a quality education to students who are coming here trying to better themselves.”

Fraser said if certain recruiters or colleges are taking advantage of students, then he needs to make it clear to the appropriate provincial government that they don’t need his permission to oust the college from the study permit program.

“It’s not what the program was designed for. It’s designed to provide an education to students and to benefit Canadian communities, not to allow sham operations to open up to financially abuse innocent students who have in their mind what Canada could be, only to be let down.”

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Canada’s immigration backlog has decreased to 2.2 million – Canada Immigration News

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Published on December 9th, 2022 at 08:00am EST

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Latest data from IRCC shows reduction in the backlog of applications

New data obtained from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reports that Canada’s immigration backlog has dropped to just over 2.2 million.

In an email to CIC News, IRCC provided updated data, which is current as of December 2.

The inventory across all lines of business has progressed as follows since July 2021:

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Current Inventories

The citizenship inventory stands at 314,630 applicants as of November 30, compared to 331,401 on October 31.

The permanent residence inventory stands at 512,342 people as of December 2, compared to 506,421 as of November 3.

Also on December 2, the temporary residence inventory stood at 1,416, 125 people, compared to 1,537,566 persons as of November 3.

Therefore, there were reductions in two of the three major categories, with the biggest reduction in the temporary residence inventory.

Immigration Category Persons as of December 2, 2022
Permanent Residence 512,342
Temporary Residence 1,416,125
Citizenship 314,630
Grand total 2,243,097

Express Entry and PNP inventories

As of December 2, there are 43,326 applications for Express Entry programs waiting in the queue, an increase of over 3,500 since November 3 data, which stood at 39,589.

Among the total people applying for Express Entry programs, there has been an increase of nearly 5,000 applications for the Canadian Experience Class over the past month.

IRCC resumed holding rounds of invitations for Express Entry candidates from all programs in July this year. Draws were limited to the candidates in the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) between September 21, 2021 and July 6, 2022 due to IRCC struggling to meet its service standard of six months or less for Express Entry applications. The pause in Express Entry invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class  candidates enabled IRCC to reduce the Express Entry inventory and the department is back to its six month service standard for those who have received a permanent residence invitation since July 6.

The PNP has an inventory of 62,343 total applications (both base and enhanced combined).

Family class inventory

The inventory for all family class immigration programs has dropped slightly to 127,091 compared to November 3 when it was 128,112.

The Spouses and Partners sponsorship program is among the largest inventories among all lines of business, at 62,106, a minimal increase compared with November 3.

The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) has an inventory of 53,770 persons compared to 55,653 persons waiting for decisions in November.

Service standards

IRCC’s webpage that tracks the total inventory of applications shows that as of October 31, 1.2 million applications are considered backlog.

Data from September 30 showed that there were 1.5 million applications in backlog, meaning that IRCC cleared over 350,000 applications from the backlog. This comes while the number of applications in inventory has risen for permanent residency.

An application in backlog means it has not been processed within service standards. These standards provide the expected timeline, or goal, for how long it should take to process an application. The service standard is different from the actual amount of time that IRCC takes to process applications. Applications not processed within the service standard for their program are categorized as backlog.

IRCC aims to process 80% of applications across all lines of business within service standards. The service standard varies depending on the type of application. For example, a permanent residence application through an Express Entry program has a standard of six months. It is longer for other economic class lines of business. IRCC states its service standard for spousal and child family class sponsorship is 12 months.

Temporary residence applications have service standards that range between 60-120 days depending on the type of application (work or study) and if it was submitted within Canada or from abroad.

Tackling the backlog

The department reports that between January and October 2022, they produced 4.3 million final decisions for permanent residents, temporary residents and citizenship compared to 2.3 million final decisions in the same period last year.

IRCC aims to have a less than 50% backlog across all lines of business by the end of March 2023. To help meet this goal, the department began the transition towards 100% digital applications for most permanent resident programs on September 23, with accommodations made for those who are unable to apply online.

This transition also includes citizenship applications, which are now 100% online for all applicants over the age of 18. IRCC is aiming to make all citizenship applications digital by the end of this year, including those for minors under 18.

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Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals

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Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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