How foreign students are exploited by everyone

Sabrina Almeida

The abuse of foreign students has recently been in the spotlight as several accused Canada of using them as cheap labour and then discarding them when done. But that is not news to anyone who lives in the GTA, unless they live in a bubble like the government officials who keep on increasing quotas in spite of the exploitative student immigration process!

Over the years, the struggles of international students have been well documented both by student support groups as well as the media. Unaccredited post-secondary education institutions closing down without warning, fraudulent colleges and employers, a backlog of student visas,  inhuman living and working conditions – we’ve heard it all. The most tragic stories make headlines from time to time and serve as grim reminders that nothing has changed. It’s getting worse!

The desperation to make a better life for themselves in another country makes foreign students easy targets. The exploitation begins with unscrupulous education and immigration consultants looking to make a fast buck off their dreams. The problem is compounded by education institutions who care about revenue these students generate and not about whether they will succeed.

With the education pathway to permanent residency being easier than other immigration programs, studying in Canada has become a lucrative business. So, consultants persuade students from India and other countries to sign up for any post-secondary education program. If they don’t make the cut for accredited institutions or programs of their choice, there’s plenty of other unsanctioned options thrown their way. Desperation to live an oversold Canadian dream clouds students’ judgement.

One study suggests that only 30% of foreign students become permanent residents, but the aspirants are either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge this discouraging statistic. 

Once here, they just have to make it work. With many families selling their meagre assets to send them to Canada, there’s no going back no matter how bad the situation gets. One thing’s for sure, the smaller the town the student comes from, the harder life here is likely to be. They’re also the easiest ones to trap.

Friends who teach at post-secondary institutions with large numbers of Indian students share troubling anecdotal evidence of a broken immigration system. For instance, how do students who cannot communicate in English pass the language proficiency requirements set by Canada? We all have an idea of how… but aren’t these supposed to be proctored exams? The said students were enrolled in a reputed GTA college, yet they could neither communicate nor understand instructions being issued to them. 

An individual who was contracted to transport them to and from the college, for the first week, refused to get involved in anything else. The professor who shared this first hand experience worried about how these students were going to survive, let alone assimilate and thrive. One can be sure that this is definitely not an isolated incident.

Female Indian students are the worst off. They’re harassed by landlords who demand sexual favours from them, exploited by underground employers who pay salaries way below minimum wage and bullied by misogynistic male colleagues who they may study and live with. 

Many cash-strapped female students turn to the sex trade to survive, while their male colleagues may get involved in the drug trade to make a living.

Added to their woes is the fact that these foreign students will rarely be supported by their ethnic communities. They’re often their landlords and employers who use the threat of deportation to make them toe the line.

The financial struggles for housing and food, depression and language barriers are causing an increasing number of suicides.

“We have seen a recent spike in suicides by international students in Canada, especially Punjabis/South Asians. Besides that, the number of heart attacks is also on the rise,” Jaspreet Singh from the International Sikh Student Association told a media outlet.

Harkirat Singh, Brampton’s Deputy Mayor also spoke out about the dire situation in the news report. “I’ve personally gone to many funerals myself for international students, who unfortunately have taken their own life. There is a dire need for more support for these students,” Singh said.

How can we better protect these students who prop up the Canadian economy? By fixing the broken education pathway to immigration, providing more oversight to prevent shady education consultants and post-secondary institutions from exploiting them,  punishing unscrupulous employers and landlords who take advantage of them, and offering more support at the community level.

Simply put — we must go beyond looking at them as a revenue stream!



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