New student visa rules in Canada: UAE parents debate impact on finances, need for Plan B

The cost-of-living financial requirement will apply to new permit applications received on or after January 1, 2024

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Ajanta Paul

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Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 5:01 PM

Last updated: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 9:09 PM

The dream of studying in some top-notch colleges and making it big in Canada is becoming pricey for international students. Canada's immigration minister on Thursday (December 7) announced a slew of new requirements for students wanting to go to Canada for higher education.

Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), announced that starting January 1, 2024, the cost-of-living financial requirement for study permit applicants will be raised so that international students are financially prepared for life in Canada.

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Starting next year, students will need to show they have access to $20,635 instead of the $10,000 requirement that has been in place for two decades (early 2000s), in addition to paying for travel and tuition. According to the minister, the new policy will help prevent student vulnerability and exploitation.

This threshold will be adjusted yearly when Statistics Canada updates the low-income cut-off (LICO). LICO represents the minimum income necessary to ensure that an individual does not have to spend a greater than average portion of income on necessities.

International education accounts for more than $22 billion in economic activity annually. While official statistics for 2022/23 are not out yet, the trend observed from 2019-2021 indicates a consistent rise in the number of students migrating to Canada from the UAE.

Rashmi Menon, Director of Admissions at UniHawk, a student mobility platform in the UAE, said, "On average, over 1,400 students travel to Canada each year from the UAE, and the number is only increasing annually.

"The new policy has the potential to disrupt the plans of numerous parents, especially those contemplating Canada as a prospective location for future immigration. However, for families solely prioritising the quality of education, this development may not be perceived as a setback."

She added, "We have over 250 applicants to Canada alone for the Fall 2024 intake from across GCC. A few worried parents who are quite cost-sensitive got in touch with us, and we have provided them with alternate destinations as backup plans. Also, the idea that if living expenses are higher, maybe the tuition fee itself needs to be lower has been discussed."

Saurav Banerjee, an Indian expat living in Dubai for 13 years, plans to send his daughter to pursue engineering in Canada. Expressing his perspective on the recent policy changes, he said, "Proof of funds, while a momentary requirement reflected in the bank statement, should not be the primary concern for parents."

The 45-year-old explained, "Parents should focus more on the overall education expenses. On average, sending a child to a decent university incurs annual fees ranging from Dh100,000 to Dh120,000 and monthly expenses ranging from $1,500 to $2,000. In my opinion, if parents can afford and sustain this amount throughout the entire college term, the new $20,000 proof of funds should not pose a significant issue"

Long-time Dubai resident Jogiraj Sikidar, whose son is a freshman at the University of Toronto, said, "Both students and parents have to invest a lot of time to study and find all aspects of different universities across countries. They should keep their options open regarding subjects, universities and even countries. Hence, it is always advisable for parents to keep a Plan B and Plan C ready when scouting for universities for their children's higher education."

Subhashish Gupta, an Indian expat who has considered Dubai his home for the past 20 years, offered a different perspective. His son has been studying at the University of Waterloo for four years and Subhashish views the new policy as a positive move. He said that many students encounter significant challenges, including housing issues and financial constraints while pursuing their studies in Canada. He believes the proof of funds requirement will serve as a safety net for students who often rely on odd jobs to sustain themselves.

He added, "Students end up spending around $2,000 monthly on food, transport, and accommodation, among other things. That amounts to $24,000 annually, which is still less than the new stipulated amount."

Subhashish further notes, "I do not believe it will have a substantial impact on UAE residents. If a parent can finance $30,000 for a single term in a university, I am confident they can meet the new required fund in the account."

Rashimi from UniHawk said, "Students who are on a tight budget and were also hoping to work while studying and cover their living expenses will be impacted by this new policy.

"There are changes to the weekly work hours that a student is eligible for. The waiver that allowed students to work unlimited hours off campus will only be extended till April 2024. This will also put a lot of Graduate students at a disadvantage."

Policy updates

Minister Miller also provided an update on 3 temporary policies affecting international students that were all set to expire at the end of 2023.

— A waiver on the 20-hour-per-week limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work off campus while class is in session will be extended to April 30, 2024. International students already in Canada and applicants who have already submitted an application for a study permit as of December 7, 2023, will be able to work off campus more than 20 hours per week until that time.

— The facilitative measure that has allowed international students to count time spent studying online towards the length of a future post-graduation work permit, as long as it constitutes less than 50% of the programme of study, will continue to be in place for students who begin a study programme before September 1, 2024. This measure will no longer apply to students who begin a study program on or after that date.

— In response to labour market disruptions during the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery, a temporary policy was introduced on 3 occasions to provide an additional 18-month work permit to post-graduation work permit holders as their initial work permit was expiring. Foreign nationals with a post-graduation work permit expiring up to December 31, 2023, remain eligible to apply. However, this temporary policy will not be extended further.

Foreign student population soars

Data from IRCC showed that from January to June 2023, more than 280,000 new study permits were issued in Canada, a 77% increase compared to the same period in 2022.

In 2022, Canada welcomed a record 551,405 international students from 184 countries. In addition, as of the end of 2022, 807,750 international students held valid Canadian study permits. Both of these were all-time high numbers.

With the rate at which study permits were being processed and issued this year until September 2023, it was expected that the number of study permits issued will hit a new record with 600,000 permits in 2023, according to an article by ApplyBoard.

According to data from IRCC, Canada's international student enrolment and study permits are projected to maintain its acceleration. However, doubling fund requirements starting in 2024 will likely slow down the pursuit of some students' dreams.

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