‘An enormous crisis that's getting worse’: Region asks federal & provincial governments to fix broken system for international students
The Pointer files

‘An enormous crisis that's getting worse’: Region asks federal & provincial governments to fix broken system for international students

On September 6, the City of Brampton’s Council received a correspondence from Nando Iannicca, the Region of Peel Chair, dated August 21, 2023. It highlighted the desperate situation faced by more and more young people studying here from abroad, often without proper shelter, precarious access to food and little support from the private colleges and public post-secondary institutions that gladly take their money.

The sometimes tragic consequences have previously been reported.

“We’re finding that the number of student deaths has increased, not only in Brampton but across Canada. We see it across Canada,” Kamal Bhardwaj, the owner of Lotus Funeral Home and Cremation Centre, located near the border of Toronto and Peel, near Pearson International Airport, told The Pointer in 2021, highlighting the alarming reality more and more international students find themselves in, sometimes deciding to take their own life. “We have relationships with the Indian consulate, so when an international student passes away, then we’re notified, then we have to [help] out the families, usually bring their bodies back to India.”

Bhardwaj said, at the time, at least five bodies were being sent home every month.

Iannicca is calling on the federal and provincial governments to address the need for stronger support systems for international students in Peel. The letter frames how students are continuing to struggle against “inadequate funding and resources to support newcomer learning, lack of access to safe and affordable housing and income opportunities, impacting their overall health, safety and quality of life.”

For these students, their issues are not new. The disparity in access to existing supports and even ability to seek help has plagued these young learners for decades in Canada. The cost of their education here is significantly higher than what their Canadian peers pay (as much as four times more) and they often struggle with receiving accommodation amid Canada’s ongoing housing affordability crisis. But both public and private colleges in Peel gladly grant admission to international students in droves without meeting even basic levels of support. Meanwhile, many students from cultures and families that place enormous expectations on their shoulders, after the burden of excessive fees often creates financial hardship on both sides of the ocean, succumb to a range of overwhelming forces. Social services organizations have delegated at local councils, describing female international students falling victim to sex trafficking in Peel, others who are desperate lured by organized crime rings and, tragically, some who take their own life.

The numbers of international students being granted a study permit are staggering. According to federal government data, 549,260 study permits in Canada for international students became effective in 2022 alone, compared to 219,035 in 2015. In just the first seven months of this year, almost 290,000 study permits for international students have become effective.

Students from India, last year, accounted for 225,940 of the study permits issued in Canada (more than 41 percent) with local reporting by Peel-based social services agencies highlighting that, largely due to the demographics of the region and the explosion of private career colleges here, a significant portion of these international students end up in Brampton or Mississauga. 

The Pointer reported that, as of 2021, 68 private career colleges were registered in the city, most catering to international students, and many that operate under little regulation by Ottawa or Queen’s Park.  

A report by Peel Newcomer Strategy Group titled International Students Needs Assessment identifies some of the gaps and barriers in services and resources facing international students in the Region with the goal of enhancing support systems. The report highlights how international students usually do not have access to services of settlement agencies, highlighting that they are often limited by funding provisions and requirements.

“In theory, most of their support and services are provided by on-campus providers, and paid for through their student fees,” the report reads. “This segregated approach to service delivery runs counter to community integration as one of the primary goals of international student recruitment.” 

A report by Apna Health, a collaboration between Indus Community Services and Punjabi Community Health Services, titled Invited and Forgotten: International Students in Crisis, breaks down the many issues uniquely affecting international students in Peel Region. It provides a look into the systems in place to support international students as well as the gaps in service and their implications on the students’ health, quality of life and safety, among other things.

The report highlights financial issues facing international students, including how some international students are overworking in order to try and afford their student fees. Since international students must work within a maximum of 20 hours per week during their academic years, excluding time outside of their academic year (during winter, spring and summer breaks), these students overwork themselves during the break in their studies in order to try to make up enough money for their student expenses.

The report references a CBC article from 2019 that quotes a student who reported working 164 hours in two weeks. According to the federal government, international students can only work 20 hours per week outside of scheduled breaks, and working more than that violates the student’s study permit conditions. “You can lose your student status for doing this, and may not be approved for a study or work permit in the future. You may also have to leave the country,” a Government of Canada webpage highlights. 

The report goes on to highlight another key issue facing international students in Peel—housing exploitation and availability. It references a study from the 2016 Canadian Journal of Higher Education, titled International Students Attending Canadian Universities: Their Experiences with Housing, Finances, and Other Issues, which found affordability to be the most commonly reported problem in the survey the authors conducted. They also found that, “32 students spent more than 30% of their income on accommodation; 15 also experienced suitability issues such as overcrowding or substandard housing; 6 students experienced adequacy issues such as lack of access to water or privacy.”

Indus Community Services’ CEO, Gurpreet Malhotra, spoke to The Pointer about the issues international students face in Brampton and Mississauga, highlighting how they pay a significantly higher rate of tuition for the same education as domestic students, and that many of these student choose colleges in Peel because their long-term goal it to achieve citizenship and live in Canada, something the government is failing to properly support.

“They don’t want to further put their financial pressure on parents back home, so they don't, as a rule, go to the school, the administrator, and say ‘I’m having this problem,’ because they're worried the administration will say.. ‘We’ll send you back,’” he said. He referenced how Lotus Funeral Home has spoken out about the high number of bodies being sent back to India to families of students who came to Canada to secure an education.

“My question for the federal government would be, Why don’t you allow settlement agencies to provide settlement support to these young people,” he said, saying that international students are not spending the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on Canadian colleges for the program itself, but for their hopes of settling in Canada through their studies. 

Malhotra called out the federal and provincial governments for bringing in international students who are charged by colleges in Peel for educational fees without monitoring their quality of life. He said the colleges are also not making sure the students are properly accommodated and can actually afford their schools when they are accepted into their programs.

“It’s horrible watching all these people set these kids up for enormous pain,” he said. Malhotra also raised concerns about international students passing through the system without having proficiency in English enough to actually be able to hold jobs after they graduate. “There’s a lot of profs that sort of look the other way or design courses that have [such] minimal standards of actual academic rigor that they’re able to go through.” 


Sheridan College, located in Brampton, has been criticized for not supporting the large numbers of international students it takes money from annually.

(The Pointer Files)


This past August, federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser said that capping the number of international students allowed to study in Canada could be one of a number of possible solutions to the housing affordability and rental availability crisis that the country is experiencing. Malhotra says that capping should be considered since currently the upper levels of government are accepting international students without providing the necessary services to accommodate them. “This is an enormous crisis that’s getting worse, and I think that one of the mechanisms that will get everyone's attention is, How about we cap it ‘til we fix it?” Malhotra said.

The Region of Peel’s letter, which Brampton City Council received during their September 6 Committee of Council meeting, asks the federal and provincial governments to respond to five goals outlined in the Brampton Charter for Improving the International Student Experience, an initiative by Sheridan College and the City of Brampton. The five goals are listed below:

  1. Upholding ethical recruitment standards and practices;

  2. Creating academic and wrap-around supports for learners;

  3. Promoting safe and affordable housing and financial stability;

  4. Providing opportunities for legal and reliable work; and

  5. Championing well-defined and transparent pathways to citizenship for international students.


The letter highlights that many of these objectives fall under the provincial and federal governments jurisdiction and that their support is “crucial to advancing and meeting these goals.”

“In the absence of improved partnership and coordination between the federal and provincial governments, as well as Peel Region and its local municipalities, our ability to successfully retain and support the wellbeing of international students will fall short,” the letter reads. The Pointer reached out to Region of Peel Chair Iannicca about any response to his letter from Ottawa or Queen’s Park. He was “not able to provide any information" on a response regarding his request for the supports in Peel that are badly needed to help thousands of international students currently in the region.


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