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On January 22, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that Canada will reduce the number of new international student permits by 35% this year as part of a temporary two-year cap on foreign enrolment – with the 2025 limit on new applications to be reassessed at the end of this year. [1] The allocation of cap space will be determined by province based on population; New Brunswick can expect a steep reduction of nearly 4,000 international students allowed in the province next year under this formula. The duty of distributing this cap between schools within the province will fall to the provincial government, while the federal government will continue to work with the provinces to refine the policy.[2] The message from the federal government is clear – provinces are expected to act and make positive changes to be relieved of the cap beyond this year.  

Minister Miller stated that this change was intended to address intuitions and “bad actors” who had charged exorbitantly high tuition fees for international students while increasing the number of international students they are accepting. The minister stressed that “International students are a valuable asset to this country,” saying “They are bright, young individuals that enrich our communities and bring significant social, cultural and economic benefits.” It is clear that they “deserve (the) world-class academic experiences that they sought out and hoped for. And Canada is renowned for that.”[3] 

We certainly agree. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has advocated extensively regarding the positive impact of international students within our community and had hoped that a one-size-fits-all policy would not be applied to our region, specifically Fredericton, which boasts so many examples of positive integration and supports for international students. University of New Brunswick president Paul Mazerolle stated that the University of New Brunswick is “committed to recruiting international students in a responsible and sustainable way”[4] – we support this continued commitment.  

In response to this cap, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is now looking to the provincial government for the necessary and timely actions to support and protect our universities and colleges which have exhibited a history of sustainable growth in our community. Although we still advocate for adjustments to this two-year policy to allow for the realities of New Brunswick and the Atlantic provinces generally to be taken into consideration, we also call for a proactive approach from the provincial government – that includes post-secondary institutions as partners and collaborators – to deal with the immediate consequences of this cap and vigorously support our educational institutions.  

How did we get here? The cap will result in 364,000 new approved permits in 2024, a number close to 2014 levels at 330,000. By 2022, that number had risen to 805,000, with only 40% of this number at universities. This rapid increase is demonstrative of a situation where we may have started with the understanding that “Canada could offer a high-quality education at a globally competitive price in a safe country that valued international students”, but within this rapid rise in numbers, numerous examples exist in which necessary and expected supports, such as adequate housing, educational facilities, and applicable uses for degrees did not live up to this foundational belief. This not only represents a danger to the students enrolled, but it is also hazardous to the future of Canadian institutions as well.  

Despite the mistakes made by some “bad actors”, whether intentionally or unintentionally, during a period of steep growth in the international enrolment sector, it remains true that “International students play a pivotal role in bolstering the economy in contributing over $22 billion a year to our country. Their contributions are vital in sustaining local labour markets, increasing diversity and meeting the demands of high-growth sectors.”[6] 

Locally, the programs that accept and educate international students in our community have acted as a vital pipeline to global talent, for all sectors, but especially for our internationally-recognized IT sector and knowledge economy. Let’s be clear, international students are not the cause of housing shortages, or inflation issues in our country and certainly not in our community, but that doesn’t mean that this two-year period of reform doesn’t offer an opportunity to help focus our commitments to bettering these issue areas.  

With the responsibility to act, our provincial government must recognize and re-invest in the central role higher education plays in our local economy and ensure that it not only can maintain its traditional roles but develop deeper connections and play a stronger role within pressing issue areas. We must use this unfortunate challenge to properly target our solutions, to advance reforms within this specific stream of immigration, and utilize the opportunity to extend learned benefits to our entire immigration system.  

Universities, colleges and other educational institutions with a proven track record of responsibly accepting international students must be engaged by the province in the permit process to assure it is an inclusive and acceptable application of the new cap. The institutions must recognize the realities of today, and continue to develop new supports for all students, both domestic and international, such as adequate housing, academic instruction and work placement for successful career development. These institutions cannot achieve all this alone, however, as they need the support of all levels of government, including provincial and municipal.  

Post-secondary educational institutions also need the support and innovative engagement of the business community. We as a business community can directly help and benefit from the development of educational placement programs. Not only do students gain practical experience and learning opportunities through these placements, but they also engage in networking opportunities to make strides into their future careers and increase the chances for long-term retention. Businesses benefit by training their workforce of the future, creating connections and identifying future talents, while introducing their organizations to different perspectives and worldviews. In many cases, this form of placement for international students would require special federal work permits in addition to their regular study permits[7], so this is just one area where changes are required based on collective alignment of needs and solutions.  

What can the provincial government do? Let’s look at our neighbours in Nova Scotia. On February 2, the Government of Nova Scotia announced a funding agreement MOU between the province and 10 universities. In return for the province providing a 2% increase in annual operating grants for most universities, the universities are required to meet specific incentive targets including a tuition cap for students from the province of 2% compared to the previous 3%. Additional funding is also tied to a requirement to fill health program seats to an average enrolment rate of at least 97%, a requirement for institutions to develop international student sustainability plans outlining how these students will be recruited, housed and connected to the labour market.  

We view this form of incentive-based funding as appropriate given the actionable items are within such identified areas as domestic tuition costs, health care, housing, and labour market needs. This then appears to be a proactive government measure made to quickly provide support to their universities, while simultaneously addressing some of the stressed social areas of concern, for students both international and domestic.[8]  

This form of immediate support and proactive target-based assessments seems to be a productive reaction, but only if the institutions are brought in as a form of partnership with the government to identify targets and agree as to what those tangible results would look like.  

The Government of New Brunswick must not let this moment pass – it is an opportunity to proactively prescribe and affirm that higher education is an essential resource and partner in both our growth as a province, serving a function as a talent pipeline, and as indispensable resource to affect tangible change within numerous issue areas such as health care, housing, innovation and security, and far beyond. We encourage the government to work with these institutions to design new policies to protect our valued systems and build new stronger supports for students to help grow our communities.  

Morgan Peters is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited business organization with more than 1,000 members, that is an actively engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the local business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’. 









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