International students have chosen Canada as their study destination for years and years. It’s no wonder, as the Great White North has always had a roster of aces up its sleeve – excellent education, career opportunities, a high standard of living, and a diverse and inclusive culture. According to ICEF Monitor, “[o]ver the past decade, international student enrolments in Canada have increased much more quickly than in any other major study abroad destination. Canada hosted 808,000 foreign students in 2022 – a 179% increase over 2013.” Adding to this, CBC News notes that according to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), a record of 550,150 international student study permits were issued last year, which is a 75% increase from just five years ago.
While the heightened interest in Canada as a study destination is great, the unexpected increase in the international student pool has directly and significantly affected the country’s housing market. The influx of international students coming into the country has caused the demand for accommodation to exceed way past the existing supply.
The housing crisis has become a cycle; first caused by the volume of international students, and then now affecting these students’ way of living. CBC News shares stories from different groups and individuals, such as that of incoming George Brown international student Harshal Bhasgauri, who shares the struggle to find, afford and secure a safe place to live in Toronto this school year given the ongoing housing situation.
Given the impact of the crisis, the government has of course begun to discuss possible solutions. According to CBC News, “Addressing the housing crisis is one of the main goals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet as it meets for the traditional retreat before Parliament returns next month. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), Canada needs to build 5.8 million new homes — including two million rental units — by 2030 in order to tackle housing affordability.”
One of the considerations of the federal government with regards to the matter is imposing a cap to regulate the number of students coming into the country. CBC News says that “[e]xperts note there’s currently no cap on the number of students coming here, and no requirement by provincial or federal governments to make schools build corresponding housing. The IRCC says it’s reviewing its international student program, with the federal housing minister saying the federal government is considering a cap on the number of international students to ease the pressure on the housing market.”
Federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser confirms this, saying “I think that’s one of the options that we ought to consider,” at the Liberal cabinet’s retreat in Charlottetown. Fraser acknowledged that Canada has “temporary immigration programs that were never designed to see such explosive growth in such a short period of time[.]” According to Reuters, “Canada, which has a population of around 39.5 million people, plans to take in a record 500,000 new permanent residents in 2025. Fraser said limiting the number of newcomers was not the answer.” He does add that the government has not arrived at a final decision regarding the cap just yet.
Beyond the possibility of a visa cap, there are many other potential solutions being considered by various groups involved in the matter. CBC News reported that national organisations like Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) have asked for expanded eligibility in funding programs through the National Housing Strategy to help get more housing projects off the ground.
Fraser states that finding solutions will first mean consulting with universities and colleges to understand their circumstances. He says the government’s goal is to work closely with educational institutions to “make sure if they’re going to continue to bring in record numbers of students, they are being part of the solution as well by making sure that they have a place to live.” Post-secondary institutions say they’re already building housing, but need more support from the federal government to match demand.
Furthermore, Mateusz Salmassi, the director of advocacy for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) says that their alliance is “calling on the government to not only collect more data on the state of the student rental market, but also to invest billions of dollars into dedicated student housing,” as they believe that this will “create safe and affordable housing for the students who need it, and it will also ease the pressure on the rest of the housing market off campus.”
Given the complexity of the matter at hand, and the many different players lobbying together to create solutions, we can gather that events will still continue to unfold in the following months. One of the most important things we can do at the moment is to stay aware and keep aspiring students well-informed about the situation and further updates, so that they’re able to anticipate possible outcomes and prepare ahead of time.