Canada has prided itself on being a welcoming haven for students from around the world. But beneath the surface of this inclusive narrative, a troubling resentment is brewing.

A wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric has cast a shadow over international students, turning their pursuit of knowledge and cultural exchange into a complex challenge. The surge in hate crimes against South Asians in Waterloo Region aligns with the significant increase in the number of international students in Canada, especially those from India.

Advocates argue that anti-immigrant sentiments, worsened by economic struggles like housing and job shortages, could be fuelling this rise in hate crimes. The crisis highlights the interconnectedness of social, economic and demographic factors in shaping community dynamics and attitudes towards immigrants.

Numbers rising

With the rise of international student enrolment in Canada, educational institutions and local communities, through enhanced engagement, tend to foster cultural diversity with international students that reap mutual benefits.

Nevertheless, the increasing numbers of international students have led to growing concerns about the capacity of educational institutions to adequately support and integrate them.

Over the past year, the federal government has announced changes to the international student program – most notably, a two-year cap on international student permit applications. These changes reflect the government’s effort to stabilise student numbers.

Some critics have argued that the strain on infrastructure and other related issues caused by the influx of international students could be solved by limiting immigration. Others disagree.

Reducing immigration numbers is likely a knee-jerk reaction to soften the brewing tension. Instead, I believe we should break down the dynamics of the issue and provide strategic interventions that go beyond simply closing borders.

Double-edged sword

Recent announcements from the Canadian government signal a shift in policy regarding the approval of study permits for international students. This policy change appears to have been spurred by the surge in enrolments at colleges like Conestoga in southwestern Ontario that Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller says have been motivated largely by financial considerations.

But experts argue that both public and private institutions benefit financially from the increase in enrolment numbers despite the government laying most of the blame on “bad actors” at private colleges.

As the debate unfolds about the implications of reducing international student permits, it’s worth noting there are positive and negative impacts of the government cap.

On one hand, capping international student study permits could provide relief for major student destinations like the Greater Toronto Area, which is currently struggling with resource and infrastructure issues.

It may also address concerns about job competition and housing shortages, potentially easing economic resentment and anxieties among certain segments of the population in those cities.

However, the decrease in numbers could lead to a decline in revenue for educational institutions and businesses that rely on student spending in other communities.

These students contribute substantially to the economy through their tuition fees, expenditures related to accommodation and total spending on goods and services. The economic contributions made by international students shouldn’t be overlooked.

Restricting international student numbers could also end up tarnishing Canada’s global reputation as a welcoming and inclusive destination. This could have long-term implications for the country’s competitiveness in the global education market and its ability to attract top talent from around the world.


Reducing international student numbers does not necessarily address the challenges faced in Canada, but instead oversimplifies a complex issue.

The International Student Program, which was revitalised in 2014 under the previous federal Conservative government, aimed to attract these students and their spending dollars, but clearly didn’t anticipate these contemporary challenges.

Rather than focusing solely on numerical reductions, a strategic approach is crucial for a sustainable solution.

Some provinces like Ontario have a well-established reputation as a destination for international students, but the increased numbers of students in these provinces has led to challenges that cannot be ignored.

To tackle these issues, the government must reconsider their marketing strategies and actively promote the advantages of studying in other provinces. Targeted marketing campaigns can be launched to raise awareness among prospective international students about the benefits of studying in various provinces beyond major cities.

This may include promoting the affordability of living and studying in smaller cities and towns, as well as showcasing the quality of education and support services available in these areas.

Proactive steps

There have been reports of recruiters misleading students about the programmes and the cost of living in Canada amid the nationwide explosion of international students prior to the cap being put in place.

Educational institutions must therefore take proactive steps to address the concentration of students by collaborating with governments and community agencies to promote regional dispersal.

This strategy would complement the recent implementation of the cap on international student enrolment and would direct prospective students to less populous areas.

An added bonus of this approach is that students applying to schools in communities with fewer housing and infrastructure challenges could potentially receive their study permits more quickly compared to those aiming for major cities like Toronto.

It goes without saying that these regional institutions must invest in infrastructure and support services to accommodate and integrate students effectively. But their local economies would benefit from those investments for years to come.

Communities should also promote to residents an opportunity to learn from and experience young, educated people from other cultures so that their own communities become inclusive places that foster understanding, equity and harmony.

George Kofi Danso PhD Student in Human Geography, Queen’s University, Ontario.

This article was first published on The Conversation.