Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News : Wednesday, August 01, 2012 8:39 AM
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OTTAWA — The federal government wants to toughen the rules surrounding student visas in the hopes of cracking down on fraud and human smuggling — even though it's not clear just how big a problem this is.
Quietly published in the Canada Gazette late last month is a proposal to weed out international students who arrive on a student visa as a means of gaining access to Canada's labour market and don't actually enrol in school. There are also concerns that some are ending up at sub-par institutions that ultimately hurt Canada's credibility on the international stage.
Citing anecdotal evidence relayed by some ethnic communities, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he also worries human smuggling groups are helping young people obtain student visas only to pull them into the sex trade once they arrive.
"This is a loophole being allegedly used by some criminal operations to bring potentially vulnerable young women to Canada to face exploitation," Kenney said in an interview.
"We don't have much in the way of hard data on this. It's a concern that's been raised and I think it's a legitimate one and we think this underscores the need for us to better police the program."
Noting both Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom have introduced similar changes in the wake of widespread fraud within their student visa programs, Kenney said Canada is the only like-minded country that still has no checks to ensure those who arrive on student visas are actually enrolled at legitimate institutions.
"That's why we're proposing to have provinces submit to us a list of credible post-secondary institutions which should benefit from the student visa program so that we can distinguish those institutions from schools that may not actually be offering quality programs," he said.
"Our broader concern is to ensure the integrity of the student visas that we issue."
Eligibility criteria will be determined based on consultations with the provinces, territories and stakeholder institutions and those not on the list will no longer be allowed to accept international students. Student visas will be issued on the condition that individuals enrol in and pursue studies at an approved institution and compliance will be monitored.
According to the proposal, student visas will no longer be available to people enrolled in courses that are less than six months long. Student work permits also will be restricted to valid student visa holders who are taking part in off-campus or co-op programs specifically designed for international students.
Like other temporary foreign workers, foreign students will not be able to work as exotic dancers or escorts thanks to other measures the government recently adopted.
While stakeholders generally support the initiative, they have raised some concerns.
Some provinces, for instance, worry they'll be stuck sucking up most of the costs associated with monitoring and reporting compliance to the federal government.
"The administration of a meaningful designation process will have policy and operational implications for provinces and territories. Provinces and territories will need to design designation policies and processes which will have resource implications to develop and monitor," said Gyula Kovacs, an official with Ontario's ministry of training, colleges and universities.
"The federal government has not determined whether it will be providing funding to support the initiative."
Eric Johansen, an official with the Saskatchewan government, suggested one way of minimizing the costs to the province would be to have institutions report directly to the federal government without having to first go through the province as an intermediary.
While Saskatchewan sees the value in changes that will create a "stronger international student program," he argued allegations of visa fraud is "primarily a Citizenship and Immigration Canada concern."
Serge Buy of the National Association of Career Colleges said he supports the move to tighten up the rules. That said, he's hopeful provinces and territories will give equal consideration to private career colleges when they establish their lists of eligible institutions.
He's also hoping that the new rules will also mean international students who attend legitimate career colleges that are on the list will be able to obtain postgraduate work permits, which is not the case for most now.
Buy raised further concerns about barring people enrolled in programs that are less than six months from obtaining student visas. Many career college courses are condensed and students that may need to retake some classes will be adversely affected if they're forced to leave the country and return on a new tourist visa.
Last year Canada issued more than 98,000 student visas, a 34 per cent increase over 2007. A study released last week also found international students contributed nearly $7 billion annually to the Canadian economy, created more than 81,000 jobs and generated more than $445 million in revenue for the government.
Kenney said he does not expect the numbers will go down as a result of the changes.
Read it on Global News: Global News | Feds to crack down on fraud, human trafficking among international students