In the news this week was our federal immigration minister talking about putting a cap on the number of international students that are allowed in some provinces. The reasoning behind this is that there is growing discontent with the housing market and the lack of supply, and the numbers of both temporary workers and international students has jumped significantly.
While I’ll agree there’s an issue with housing, I don’t know that we can blame this on immigrants as much as lack of policy and wisdom from both the federal government and the provinces when it comes to housing issues. While some like to target the increased numbers of permanent residents, and others, like our immigration minister, like to target international students who have no voices, the bulk of immigration in Canada is that of the “International Mobility Program for Work Purposes”. This is really just the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program you’ve likely already heard about on steroids, as it lets businesses hire without having to do a labour market impact assessment as the TFW program requires. The numbers of those are almost three times the number of international students, but nobody seems to be mentioning them. A Statistics Canada report indicates that, in 2020, the employed share of the people brought for the International Mobility Program for Work Purposes was about 70%.
For work purposes. 70%. Meanwhile, in 2020, the average unemployment rate was about nine and a half percent. So fewer of the people brought, specifically, for work purposes were employed than the general population. Is it just me or does this program perhaps need to be re-evaluated? The international students are nothing. They keep our universities funded when we refuse to do so through our tax dollars, they take back connections and good will (hopefully) with us, and they bring us their distinct experiences and impressions, and let our own young adults gain experience with them, hopefully working to thwart later xenophobia.
Unfortunately, the housing problems exist now. They are a combination of a multitude of factors including developers realizing better profits converting two or three rental units into a single condominium unit, AirBNB professionals essentially running hotel like businesses without having to pay hotel taxes or meet hotel standards of regulation thus taking more homes off the market for very temporary people (and damaging our hospitality industry at the same time), and, of course, a lack of supply brought on by a combination of supply chain issues since COVID, increased regulation and restrictions on building, and, honestly, a lack of trained tradespeople as we all go into university. Fixing any of these issues isn’t easy or quick. Fixing all of them quickly enough to beat the next election date isn’t possible. So we’re starting to see the blame game being played, and universities don’t tend to donate (with good reason) as much as private companies do to election campaigns, so it’s understandable that on one hand we see some parties going after international students, on the other going after permanent residents, but neither wanting to touch the temporary worker programs that allow businesses to keep cheaper labour and places no requirements on employers having to ensure there’s housing for who they need.