In line with what is happening in Australia the second and third favorite destinations for Bhutanese students is also tightening student visa rules and conditions due to a housing crunch, cost of living and uneasiness over the large numbers of migrants.
The second most popular destination after Australia and an emerging destination for young Bhutanese is Canada. However, here too things are getting more restrictive as Canada deals with a large migrant influx especially through international students and the resultant impact on housing and cost of living.
On 7th December Canada’s Immigration Minister said that students have to prove they have $ 20,635 in available funds, on top of tuition and exclusive of any fees for other family members coming with them to Canada.
This is double the amount that students were required to have in savings at about $10,000.
The government raised this amount as international students are finding it increasingly difficult to survive due to high rentals and cost of living that some say are even higher than Australia.
In fact, food banks in Canada meant for the poor are seeing large numbers of foreign students coming to them for food.
The minister warned education institutions to only accept students they are able to provide for in terms of housing or off campus housing as housing costs and high rental becomes a major issue in Canada, just like in Australia.
The minister threatened to even restrict educational visas saying ahead of September 2024, they are prepared to take necessary measures, including significantly limiting visas, to ensure that designated learning institutions provide adequate and sufficient student supports.
He said “Enough is enough. If provinces and territories cannot do this, we will do it for them and they will not like the bluntness of the instruments that we use. Our aim is to strike the right balance between welcoming in students and making sure they all have what they need to thrive…. Provinces have a number of tools at their disposal — namely the regulation of the designated learning institutions, that in some cases just need actually to be shut down.”
Canada’s unlimited working hours has been extended till 30 April 2024 but after that a cap of 30 hours per week will be put in place.
So far international students have been provided the ability to extend their post-graduation work permit by 18 months due to pandemic related worker shortages, but this will no longer be given after 31st December 2023.
In 2024 Canada will roll out the Trusted Institution Framework to rate educational institutions against criteria that demonstrates that they are reliable partners with regard to sustainable intake, identifying genuine students, monitoring and reporting on their compliance, and providing a safe and enriching experience for their international students.
The minister also recently announced that out of 38,000 visas for India and other nationalities (including Bhutan) IRCC will only be able to process 20,000 resulting in longer processing time.
The minister has also said that being an international student is not a guarantee of Permanent Residency or Citizenship. He said that part of the fraud is that agents entertain false hope and in reality, there are only limited pathways to getting PR.
In some ways, the harshest measures against foreign students has been implemented by the United Kingdom more than even Australia and Canada.
The UK has announced that starting from 1st January 2024 foreign students can no longer bring in dependents like a spouse or children unless they are doing a PhD or post graduate research program.
This means if you’re doing a regular course, Bachelors or Master’s degree, your family cannot join you. This rule will also apply for those moving forward from the student visa on to the graduate visa.
Also, students cannot easily switch to a UK work visa but will have to first complete the course of study and then have a job start date after the completion of the course.
The ones studying a PhD need to show they studied at least two years before getting a skilled worker visa.
More drastic changes could be in the offing as the Home Secretary James Cleverly asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to prevent abuse, to protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector.
Media reports in the UK suggest that this could lead to the current 2-year post study work visa being reduced to 6 months only which was the earlier practice under former Prime Minister Theresa May.
Brexit in the UK led to a sharp drop in European students for UK educational institutions and so it relaxed work rights to two years in 2021 which lead to an increase in enrolments by non-European students.
However, in the UK too there is a backlash against migration and foreign students are seen as a part of the migration problem.
It also runs counter to the anti-migration stance of the current party in power and could hurt them in future elections.
Like in Australia and Canada there are concerns on the impact on the local infrastructure by migrants.