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Cap on international students poses potential threat to B.C. businesses

Surrey Board of Trade will host a roundtable discussion next week to address concerns and possible disruptions.
The Surrey Board of Trade and Greater Vancouver Board of Trade are expressing concerns over caps on international students attending post-secondary institutions announced this week by Ottawa.

Industry experts are warning that a new cap on international students attending post-secondary institutions in Canada could have a negative ripple effect on Metro Vancouver’s economy.

For the Surrey Board of Trade, concerns are grave enough that they have scheduled a roundtable discussion for Feb. 1.

“It will impact consumer spending for businesses, and it will impact the bottom line of these private and public educational institutions that are at the heart of driving our economy forward,” said Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the organization.

She described the cap as a “huge issue in Surrey.” 

International students across the province added $4.15 billion in spending in 2017, created 31,400 jobs and contributed $2.37 billion to the provincial GDP, according to 2019 data from the B.C. Federation of Students (BCSF), which represents 170,000 students at 14 universities.

In addition, decreased enrolment in 2020 related to the pandemic caused a loss of roughly $7.3 billion in total student expenditures and a $1.2-billion loss in provincial GDP.

While it is still too early to understand the direct impact of the international student cap on Metro Vancouver businesses and labour, there is a clear threat, according to Huberman.

The federal government announced earlier this week that they would be placing a two-year cap on international students that come to study in Canada. Ottawa said it would only approve 360,000 undergraduate study permits in 2024, representing a 35 per cent decrease from 2023.

“It is important to align the capacity of our post-secondary institutions with the needs of our provincial labour market, while continuing their vital role as catalysts for innovation and research,” said Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, in a statement.

“The international student pathway is a key route through which many immigrants come to Canada and choose to stay, playing an important role in the cultural and economic fabric of B.C. and the nation.”

While these limits on students have the potential to shake up local businesses and labour availability, Anderson said it is important to acknowledge the “integrity of our post-secondary education system and the critical imperative to align overall population growth with our infrastructure needs, particularly in areas like housing, health care, and transportation.”

Concerns about the monetary impact of this cap are not exclusive to the local economy, there is also a threat to the bottom line of post-secondary institutions.

“Schools are starting to be very over-reliant on international student tuition fees to fund their shortfalls, due to less funding from the government over the years,” said Jessie Niikoi, secretary-treasurer for BCSF.

“Right now, we are in a very sensitive time in our economy. For businesses and our educational institutions, that uncertainty even for two years is really going to create an impact to our economy and to our businesses,” Huberman said.

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