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Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, pictured at city hall in Brampton, Ont., July 18, 2022, is asking Ottawa to cap the number of international students to help ease housing crisis.COLE BURSTON/The Canadian Press

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown is calling on the federal government to cap the number of international students it allows into Canada and to require accommodation plans before issuing visas, in a bid to tackle the housing crisis and curb unsafe living arrangements.

Mr. Brown, whose city has seen a large influx of international students, says that many people attending colleges in Brampton cannot afford rent and live in unsafe and illegal conditions. The city, which is located west of Toronto in Peel Region, has roughly 650,000 people, with a large Indian population.

The federal government has been under increasing pressure to cap the number of international students, amid concerns that they are exacerbating the housing crisis and that some of them are not here to attend school. An analysis by Statistics Canada in November found that around 19 per cent of international students with study permits did not have a record of studying at college or university here.

In a letter to the federal immigration and housing ministers last month, Mr. Brown also called on Ottawa to require a link to appropriate accommodation for every student visa it issues, co-ordinated by postsecondary institutions, and for the housing address to be in proximity to the community where the student is studying.

He also called for a more restrictive visa policy, including a cap on student permits issued annually, and to prioritize postsecondary institutions that have a housing plan. He said municipalities should also receive increased federal funding for housing infrastructure for international students.

“Data demonstrates Ontario has more international students than all other provinces and territories combined, and a substantial portion of new international students settle in Brampton where they face issues such as housing affordability and as a result, insufficient living conditions,” the letter says.

“These changes to the international student program will help alleviate the pressures international students face and municipalities like Brampton who carry the responsibility of creating conditions to help international students thrive.”

In an interview, Mr. Brown said many students reside in his community while attending colleges hundreds of kilometres away.

“It’s a massive resource drain,” Mr. Brown said. “The city gets no compensation for the fact that they’re not paying taxes. They’re living quite often 16 people in a basement apartment.”

He said he supports international students coming to Canada, but the way the immigration system is set up is not fair for either the community or the students.

“These are international students being taken advantage of. Essentially this has become an ATM for these colleges,” he said.

“You’re not coming to Canada to live in Third World conditions.”

Immigration Minister urged to crack down on international student ‘no shows’ at colleges

Immigration Minister Marc Miller has said he is considering a cap on international students, and that he plans to limit the number of temporary foreign workers coming to Canada, saying there is a correlation between them the housing shortage. He has also criticized provinces for failing to rein in “puppy mill colleges,” which churn out diplomas, and said learning institutions that are earning profits as “back-door” entry points to Canada should be effectively shut down.

Isabelle Dubois, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said the department is conducting a review of the international student program. Mr. Miller announced last month that students who want to come to Canada will need to prove they have more than $20,000 to qualify for study permits – more than twice as much as is currently required – a precondition the federal government expects to significantly cut the number arriving here.

“International students choosing to come to this country need to be aware of the costs associated with life in Canada. A student who arrives without adequate funds is more vulnerable to being exploited by an employer or might feel forced to accept a poor housing situation,” Ms. Dubois said in a statement.

“At this time, IRCC has not established caps for study permits, but as the Minister has noted, a cap is an option being assessed.”

In his letter, Mr. Brown also said public and private colleges have significantly increased international enrolment to increase their profit over the past 10 years, but have added little to no new on-campus housing. The office of Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, refused to answer questions about capping international students.

Economist Mike Moffatt, founding director of the PLACE Centre at the Smart Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa, which studies housing trends in Canada, recently presented his findings to Brampton city council.

According to Mr. Moffatt’s research, Ontario added 423,000 non-permanent residents in the past two years, compared with around 417,000 in the past 20 years, with the population boom linked to international students. Ontario now has more international students than all of the other provinces combined, with growth largely at the college level. There were more than 800,000 international students in Canada in 2022, and the federal government has said previously it expected more than 900,000 in 2023.

Mr. Moffatt said there are large numbers of international students who take classes online or in person once a week at Ontario colleges while living in Brampton.

“We know at least anecdotally that there are significant numbers of international students who attend institutions in Kitchener and Brantford and so on who are actually living in Peel Region and Brampton,” Mr. Moffatt said.

While colleges are in provincial jurisdiction, “the federal government does have a lever here, because all of these students require international student visas,” he said.

Ontario has frozen tuition fees since 2019, and a significant portion of funding has come from international students. A panel of experts, commissioned by the Ontario government, released a blue-ribbon report in November that called on the province to lift the domestic tuition freeze and allow universities and colleges to charge higher fees to address growing financial pressures.

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