Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with B.C. Premier David Eby on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Jan. 29.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier David Eby is pressing the federal government to bend on its new cap on international students, after learning of the significant reduction in the number of foreign postsecondary spaces that his province will be able to fill in the coming year.

He said the province wants some exemptions to allow more international students in some high-demand fields such as truck drivers, nurses and early childhood educators.

“We can’t have this cap impacting our health care system or the availability of childcare, or the ability to build the homes that we need,” he told reporters.

Last week, the federal government imposed an immediate cap on the number of international study visas that it issues, saying the number of foreign students in Canada has become unsustainable, putting pressure on services such as housing and health care.

Mr. Eby told CBC News on the weekend that he had been informed how much his province will have to reduce its intake of new students. But speaking with reporters on Monday, ahead of a meeting in Ottawa with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he would not provide that figure.

“This is the first stage of a discussion that we’re having with the federal government about the number itself as well as any other areas that might be carved out for areas of particular needs,” he said, noting the province is struggling with significant labour shortages in some sectors.

The Premier said he agrees with Ottawa that there are too many international students coming to Canada, but he wants the reductions made “in a way that minimizes harm to the overall provincial economy, to postsecondary institutions, and to international students themselves.”

In 2015, there were 352,325 foreign students in Canada; by the end of 2023 that had soared to 1,028,850. The cap means there will be no growth in the total number of international students in Canada, so the government will grant visas approximately equal to the number that expire. The policy is to be applied equally across provinces on a per capita basis. But Ontario and B.C. will face greater challenges in adjusting because they have a higher number of foreign students.

British Columbia has 545,000 postsecondary students and almost one-third of those came from outside Canada to study. The province has both public and private postsecondary institutions that cater to the lucrative international student market – charging as much as 10 times more than the tuition fees paid by Canadians.

Across the country, universities have argued that international students benefit both schools and communities, including a $22-billion annual contribution to the economy. Ontario’s colleges, which account for about 40 per cent of international study permits, warn that the cap will create chaos for students and financial hardship for the postsecondary sector.

But Ottawa has been critical of the regulation of some schools, which is a provincial responsibility. Immigration Minister Marc Miller has decried private colleges for churning out foreign graduates like “puppy mills” and providing a subpar education.

Both B.C. and Ontario have responded by promising to impose stricter measures on the postsecondary sector. Selina Robinson, B.C.’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, announced changes on Monday that are meant to eliminate exploitive practices by “bad actors” in the system.

B.C. will not approve the creation of new private postsecondary institutions that cater to international students for a period of two years. While that moratorium is in place, the province will develop new standards to ensure students get the education they paid for, have access to housing and social services, and do not face unexpected tuition fee hikes after they begin their studies.

More than half of international students in B.C. attend private postsecondary institutions, the target of the province’s reforms.

“We do need to stop the bad actors from misleading the students,” Ms. Robinson said. “We are taking action to increase higher standards and stronger enforcement for institutions that enroll international education students here in British Columbia.”

She said the new oversight will include more frequent inspections of private postsecondary institutions to ensure that new quality standards are met. B.C. will set higher standards for private degree programs, including higher assessment criteria. Private colleges will have to demonstrate there is a labour-market need for graduates. The province is also setting minimum language requirements at private training institutions.

Ms. Robinson said Monday she could not say how many fewer international students B.C. will be able to accept under the federal cap. “We will work with public and private institutions to set appropriate limits on international enrolment,” she told reporters.

In a statement, Mr. Miller promised to work with B.C. on implementing the cap. He did not say whether Ottawa will consider exemptions.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe