Students who have landed fresh from India are lugging their bags and going door to door in residential neighbourhoods in Canada’s Ontario, seeking spaces on rent from absolute strangers. The desperate move by the students, without a roof over their heads, isn’t welcomed by most residents.
Around 30 students, mostly from India, who joined the Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario, protested outside its campus in the first week of September as they were left without shelter. The institute provided the Indian students with just two days of accommodation and then left them to fend for themselves.
The Canadian dream is turning into an unimaginable nightmare for Indians, mostly students in their 20s. Behind this is a housing crisis and a lack of part-time jobs that students bank upon to sustain themselves thousands of kilometres away from home and family.
In 2023, Canada is on track to welcome 500,000 permanent residents on top of a staggering 900,000 international students. One of the key reasons for the Canadian government to bring in immigrants is to drive economic growth and resiliency.
The drive, though, comes at a time when Canada is witnessing a housing crisis.
There is abysmally low construction of houses and the record-high interest rates have made new housing units beyond the reach of common Canadians and new immigrants.
There is a shortfall of at least 3,45,000 housing units across Canada, according to government data.
House rents have skyrocketed too, pushing students to cramped basement setups where their safety is compromised.
Why so many students flock to Canada every year is not because of education. It’s because the student visa provides what is thought to be an easy route to Canada, and then a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship. The student visa route is one of the main channels through which foreign citizens emigrate to Canada. Indians make up the bulk of the foreign students in Canada.
In 2022, 2.26 lakh students out of 5.5 lakh international students, or 40 per cent of the total, were from India, according to Canadian government data. And there were 3.2 lakh Indians staying in Canada on student visas.
INDIANS STAYING IN MOTELS, BASEMENTS
The deluge of people coming into Canada is making matters worse, Gaurav Bhatt, a journalist with The Canadian Press, tells IndiaToday.In.
“Indian students who have recently landed in Canada are going around residential neighbourhoods in Ontario’s Kitchener, lugging their bags, pressing doorbells to know if there is any space available to be rented out,” says Bhatt. He says such door-to-door survey by strangers isn’t something that is accepted there.
The Indo-Canadian journalist says that house-hunting is just the beginning of the nightmare for Indian students.
“They end up sharing a store room in some basement of some house and pay $600-650 as rent. The entire $650 given as part of the GIC [guaranteed return by the Canadian government for $10,000 compulsory investment] goes into paying rent. How will the students pay for grocery and phone bills,” asks Bhatt. Part-time jobs, which were used earlier by students to stay afloat, are few and far between these days, he says.
A student from India who doesn't want to be identified tells IndiaToday.in that he shares a basement in Kitchener in Ontario province with six others. He says his rent comes to $450 a month and total expenses, including grocery and phone bills, were $700. This excludes his college tuition fees.
“Some students are living in cars, while others are forced into expensive motels that can cost up to $100 per day. This financial strain adds to the existing challenges of adjusting to a new culture and educational system,” Khushpreet Singh, a student from India, was quoted by BayToday, a local North Bay news portal.
A desperate Khushpreet Singh, who was part of the campus protests, fervently appealed to North Bay residents to help the homeless students by renting out spare rooms.
This isn’t just about Candore College. The situation is the same in most private institutions in Ontario, the largest Canadian province in terms of population. Ontario also sees the highest inflow of international students.
Students told local media that they were unable to afford high housing costs, which at times run to $1,600 per month, after paying monthly tuition fees of $14,000.
Living on donated food, another student, Jaskirat Singh, said had he been aware of the ground reality, he would never have boarded the flight to North Bay.
But for most students, the realisation comes very late.
The flood of students is fuelled by the greed of private colleges in Canada.
“The rise in international students in Canada hasn’t matched with the provision of basic resources, including housing, mental wellness, basic health care among others,” Manan Gupta, a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, tells IndiaToday.In.
Gupta says that international students are seen as lucrative sources of revenue for colleges and universities and they are charged three to five times in tuition fees as compared to Canadian students.
“It’s high time to stop treating international students as cash cows,” says Gupta, who runs Skylake Immigration in Brampton, Ontario.
IS CANADA BUILDING ENOUGH HOUSES?
The Globe and Mail in a report blamed the “presence of more than 800,000 foreign students in Canada in 2022 for exacerbating the housing crisis”.
But is it really the foreign students to blame? Why is Canada inviting such a large number of students if it can’t provide basic amenities such as shelter, ask some.
The government is considering placing a cap on international students to ease pressure on the housing market.
“However, this step alone is not sufficient to solve the housing crisis in Canada. The need of the hour is to mandate educational institutions to build more students' housing to match growth in student recruitment numbers,” says Manan Gupta.
In the first Question Period of the Canadian Parliament’s fall session, leader of the opposition Pierre Poilievre attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the housing crisis in Canada.
“Eight years after he [Justin Trudeau] promised to make housing more affordable, he doubled the cost, doubled the rent, doubled mortgage payments, doubled the needed down payment... It took him eight years to cause this housing hell, how long will it take to fix it,” asked Poilievre, Conservative Party of Canada leader.
Poilievre said that Canada built fewer homes last year than it did in 1972 and that this year, housing construction was expected to drop further by 32 per cent.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said the country was on track to build about 2.3 million new housing units by 2030. But then it calculated that just over 5.8 million new residential units would be needed by 2030 to adequately address supply, leaving a gap of roughly 3.52 million new units.
The supply constraints coupled with high interest rates have pushed up rents by 122% in 7 years, according to experts.
In 2017, an average Canadian would pay $1,172 a month as house rent, which has gone up to $2,289 in 2023.
Canada has a three-tier governance and building new houses is the prerogative of the municipal government, not primarily of the provincial and federal governments. There is no coordination among the various layers, feel experts.
“The housing crisis in Canada is a serious problem that requires focused solutions, and policy makers at all levels of government need to put their heads together towards sustainable solutions,” says Manan Gupta.
NO JOBS FOR STUDENTS THESE DAYS
“Whatever I had thought and planned before coming to Canada, has been of no use to me as the ground reality is really different. I thought getting a room and a job would not be so difficult here, but it’s really the opposite,” Gaurav Sharma, a student from Punjab's Kapurthala, tells IndiaToday.in.
Students who are on a budget plan to take up part-time jobs as soon as they reach Canada to sustain themselves. The Canadian government had a cap earlier on the number of hours that a student could put in, but has recently removed that.
“I thought I would do mini-jobs in Canada. However, I haven’t got any mini-job till now. I vividly remember, when I called up placement agencies, their usual response was sorry we do not hire students,” says Sharma, who is based in Brampton, Ontario.
Ironically, Sharma, a recent immigrant, blames Canada’s liberal visa policy for the lack of jobs. “The main thing is the Canadian government is approving visas for everyone. So the more the crowd, the less opportunity you will get.”
The Canadian Press journalist Gaurav Bhatt also blames “the deluge of people” coming into the North American country for the drying up of the part-time jobs.
“You can see 600-700 international students queuing up outside a recruitment fair of just three companies. People are willing to stand in a queue for 3-4 hours to just submit their CVs,” says Bhatt.
Toronto-based Ritika Saraswat, in an Instagram post, identifies the requirement for “Canadian experience” as one of the reasons that prevent immigrants from landing job opportunities they are skilled for.
“And instead they [immigrants] have to take up roles in the hospitality industry or truck industry. And you tell me, is this really the Canadian dream you came here for?” Saraswat, who campaigns for “Newcomers in Canada”, writes in her post.
IS THE CANADIAN DREAM WORTH IT?
Chetan Garg, an accountant by profession on a work visa, believes the skewed distribution of immigrants is to be blamed for most of the woes. “The population of new immigrants and students is concentrated in south Ontario and around Vancouver. The situation has turned worse in the last one year,” says Garg, a 23-year old.
He says the condition of Indian students and new immigrants are particularly bad because of high inflation and as there are no jobs in Canada, which is going through a recession.
“International students, especially from India, are finding it extremely hard to find part-time work to support their studies and living expenses. It is causing financial hardship to a big segment of this demographic,” says immigration consultant Manan Gupta.
He also says that the lack of job opportunities and the tough challenges are taking a toll on the mental condition of the students.
“Higher cost of living, limited choice of affordable and safe housing, reduced job opportunities and growing incidents of violence are causing stress and numerous mental health challenges,” says Gupta.
Gupta blames the woes of the Indian students' parents who are looking at the international student programme as an easy backdoor entry into Canada and achieving permanent-resident status.
Over 72 per cent of international students plan to apply for a post-graduate work permit in Canada while 60 per cent plan to try for a permanent residence (PR) in Canada.
There are approximately 330,000 new immigrants and students from India living in Canada as of 2023.
Some Indian students, however, are now giving a second thought and asking if the Canadian dream is worth the struggle.
“I would say coming to Canada is worthless these days. It is better to invest or start your own small-scale business in India,” Gaurav Sharma, who studies business management in Brampton, tells IndiaToday.In.
“In Canada, you can purchase your dream car even if you have zero bank balance because everything here is available on credit,” says Sharma, warning of the Canadian world projected in films and on social media. “Don’t believe in your friends' Instagram posts, they are fake. He is probably poorer than you are. Believe me, it’s worthless to come to Canada for now,” sumps up Sharma.
(This is the first of a three-part weekly series on Indians in Canada)
Sep 26, 2023