I see them everywhere, waiting tables at restaurants, flipping burgers, serving French fries, washing dishes, pumping gas, stocking shelves at mom and pop grocery stores, driving for Uber, and on other minimum-wage-unskilled jobs. Many of them don’t communicate as expected due to their newness to the country, some are naive, yet others are outgoing, but all of them are courteous, pleasant and upbeat.
They are young students, fresh out of college, many with degrees, and few others with just college entry credentials. They are from all over the world, however, India provides most of the international students to Canada. There are many from Kerala as well: they belong to various echelons of society. Some of them have never seen the inside of a kitchen, or worked in a factory, or farm, or washed dishes as everything was provided for them by their well-to-do parents. Here they seemed happy to work and earn a living despite the living and working conditions. Sometimes, I wonder how their parents think about their sons and daughters in such basic circumstances. Class-conscious Indian parents would not have allowed them to undertake such menial jobs back home. The social stigma and negativity towards low-end jobs are still alive in the Indian society.
Often, I talk to them as they help me to reflect on my early years in Canada. I talk to them to get to know them a bit more about their education, family, aspirations, expectations, aims, and before and after impressions of Canada. They sound happy even though they are overwhelmed by inclement weather, language nuances, homesick feelings, culture shock, differences in educational systems, and never-before-experienced job situations. However, I see they are eager to study, work, and sacrifice their back-home cozy lifestyles and struggle to realize a bright future.
Studying in Canada on a student visa is an expensive proposition. Thus, perhaps most of the students are from middle-income families with disposable incomes. Yet, others borrow monies or mortgage their properties to undertake this adventurous journey. Of course, if all goes well, it is worth the risk. They all have one common objective, study, work as much as allowed, get the work permit required for fulltime work that eventually qualifies them to apply for the coveted permanent residency (PR) leading the way to Canadian citizenship. The program allows them to study and become part of the permanent society. However, it is up to the student to navigate the paths riddled with certain pitfalls.
It is a win-win situation for everyone. For the students, the program exposes them to diversity and inclusiveness, multiculturalism, and the distinctions of the western work-life culture, thus allowing them to gain a broad outlook. It allows them to immerse themselves in the Canadian way of life as early as in their late teens or early twenties. It helps them to overcome the ‘Canadian experience’ fiasco (a catch-22 scenario) often experienced by the previous generation of Indian immigrants. Form Canada’s perspective the international student program provides a steady stream of educated and young able-bodied people into the labor market. Thus, for Canada, the students supplement the shrinking labor force while they pay tuition, taxes, and rent and buy groceries and other consumables thus contribute to the economy. Eventually, they become valuable citizens, able and willing to contribute more substantively. As the Canadian population is aging, these youngsters could very well play a role in the future of the country.
Few facts, figures, and pitfalls
The government of Canada allows qualified international students to come, study and work in Canada. There are traditional, established, colleges and universities offering programs for international students. Then, there are newly established colleges that just cater to the international student community. Several new colleges, kind of ‘diploma mills’, offering short term programs to international students have mushroomed in the past few years. Their agents recruit foreign students charging substantial commissions, bring them to Canada and churn them out work permit ready in about two years.
International students pay heavy fees from tuition to rent, and health insurance. They pay anywhere from eight to ten times the tuition fee on average when compared to their Canadian counterparts. Books, supplies, transportation, food, etc. add up the costs. There are no scholarships, bursaries or financial assistance from the government. It is entirely up to the international student to prove his or her financial ability to the authorities before coming to Canada.
In 2018, according to statistics, over half a million students came to Canada that includes about 17,000, around 30%, from India. The rejection rates for study permits to enter Canadhas also gone up during the year. Unfortunately, about 40% of the student applicants from India were rejected due to fraud, failure to substantiate financial means, and lack of clear study plans, etc.
As stated elsewhere, about 40% percent of applicants were denied entry into Canada due to many reasons including fraud. Some fraudulent agents recruit international students from across the world by giving false hopes. Some agents steadily abuse the system by falsifying documents, misinforming applicants, compelling them to sign up for courses that have no relevance to their line of study, and collecting excessive service fees. Also, some students come in the pretext of study, never attend a program and disappear into the underground labor market. According to immigration officials, about two out of five international student applicants were turned back due to many reasons. This is an all-time high compared to previous years.
Student life is not that rosy
The cost of living is high in Canada: rent, food and clothing, transportation, healthcare, etc. add up the bill. Canada’s climate is unfriendly especially in winter months, and for people from tropical countries, it is a kind of depressing. Especially for students, scarcity of funds, loneliness, homesickness, and cultural conundrums. play on their emotions. Their newfound-freedom, new country, and without parental guidance lead to unforeseen situations. There are reports of alcoholism, suicide, mental illness, accidents, criminal behaviors, etc. among the international student population. Due to the scarcity of housing and high rents, students often stay together, two or more in a room, in tiny (sometimes unlicensed) rooming houses. I heard stories of squalor living conditions and meager existence. Some of them have difficulty in shaking off the old habits and accepting new norms of cleanliness and hygiene. Perhaps, it may take them a while to understand and fully immerse themselves in the new environments.
Not all are lucky to stay in Canada permanently
There are definite rules and guidelines for international students to follow. Students can only work limited hours while studying. After the prescribed study period, they may apply for a work permit making them eligible to work fulltime. Then after a prescribed time, they become eligible to apply for permanent residency provided they satisfy the requirements. Unfortunately, not all students make the cut, many fail to get permanent residency and ended up going back to their native lands. As the international student population increases the permanent residency application rejection rate rises as well. It is somewhat a risky venture; however, it can yield respectable results. It is not a ‘pie in the sky’ scenario, a new future with greater opportunities is attainable through dedication and hard work.