Friday, February 15th, 2013
If properly implemented, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) “proposed changes to Canada’s International Student Program” projects to both curtail and police student visa abuse. The goal is to insure the integrity of the future of the student visa program. It may also scare the heck out of several Canadian universities and colleges. Why ? Because simply put, it proposes to make them accountable !
For years Canada’s universities and colleges have been handing out visa invitations around the world – that’s what an offer of admission amounts to in terms of entry to Canada. Very few institutions actually know for sure who they are admitting to Canada, and far too many openly engage with conduits to Canada which are highly unscrupulous. For those institutions, foreign students mean a lot of instant cash, even if there is significant abuse going on in with their help or in their name, and whether they know of it or not.
Give the Canadian government some credit here. They see what’s coming and don’t want just a tsunami alarm system, they want to prevent a big wave of visa abuse before it even hits Canadian shores. Australia and the United Kingdom have already been heavily damaged, and so much so that their federal governments are fed up, drastically reduced student visa opportunities to their countries. Foreign students head counts are way down in those nations, and now that gathering tide is looking for someplace else to land. This is what is building the momentum of the global student movement to Canada – and not that the world suddenly woke up and realized they want a quality Canadian education.
Sure Canada wants students, but supposedly it wants real students with genuine intentions to study. So the federal government is making it both easier and harder to come. It’s easier in terms of the new visa protocols and processing systems for applicants and potentially tougher in terms of identifying where the system is being abused and taking a strict stand against it.
Canada’s government proposes its academic institutions to be required to report on who comes to study and who does not. Citizenship and Immigration calls it “a back-end compliance mechanism to capture study permit compliance information.” The proposal adds that “institutions may also pro-actively identify students who don’t show up, or, CIC may initiate targeted requests.” The plans calls for a third-party technology mechanism, likely a web-based portal, to be set up for universities and colleges to report on status of their students and the government would analyze the data.
Basically this in some way regulates institutions to be responsible for international students they invite to Canada. This is where the squawking starts. When it comes to accountability, few institutions in society have as free a rein as universities and colleges. They have enormous operating budgets, relaxed demands on productivity, very little public and media scrutiny, and unlike politicians do not have to stand for re-election. In the past, calls by government to report on students’ status has been seen as a invasion of privacy. But then are institutions not responsible for invitations to students with no follow-up as to whether or not they are in the classroom they are in the classroom ? Are institutions simply absolved of any awareness or care of the activities and representations made by third party providers of students in their name ?
In the UK, we saw last year all the screaming when the British government decreed London Metropolitan University (LMU) lost its right to host international fee paying students, due to the claims it has hosted far too much student visa abuse. London Met and many of its institutional colleagues protested loudly. They decried racist government policies to block Asian students, but one never heard LMU own up to its accountability for its own role in abetting visa abuse.
Rather than refer to non-compliance, the Canadian government uses a carrot instead of a stick to encourage institutions to cooperate. The CIC proposal states:
“Institutions whose recruitment practices result in high levels of compliance would also benefit, as visa officers would have access to quantifiable indicators on risk levels to facilitate processing.”
What happens to those who don’t comply and report on their international students is one question. What happens to those institutions found to have significant no-shows and connections to student visa abuse is another.
Perhaps a more fundamental query is will the Canadian government have the actual teeth to
implement and insist upon its call for accountability, where historically there never has been.