TRU doesn't expect to learn extent of new federal permit cap impact until spring

TRU impact not yet known

Thompson Rivers University officials don't expect to know the extent of the impact of new federal limits on international student permits for a period of months, when the provincial government is expected to allocate a limited number of permits to B.C. universities.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller announced Monday a two-year temporary cap on international student admissions, which would cap the number of study permits issued in Canada to 364,000 this year, marking a 35 per cent decrease from the nearly 560,000 permits issued last year.

Individual provincial and territorial caps have been established based on population which the federal government says will result in more significant decreases in provinces where the international student populations has seen "the most unsustainable growth." Details about those limits are not yet known.

The cap will only apply to post-secondary undergraduate students and will not affect visas for graduate programs, doctoral degrees or elementary and high school students. Study permit renewals will also not be impacted.

Reuben Onyango, associate director of international student services at TRU, said it’s currently too early to tell how the university will be affected until they learn more from the ministry on how they intend to allocate study permits.

“The president mentioned [during Monday's meeting of TRU's senate] — he said that limits will likely impact the makeup of the students we see on campus and TRU’s bottom line. I don't think we can shy away from that,” he said.

“Until we get that study permit allocation, to be honest, we don't know. The provincial governments have been given until March 31 to figure that out.”

TRU currently has a little more than 4,600 international students on campus for the winter 2024 semester, up from the university’s goal of keeping international enrolment to 4,000.

The university was expecting to end the year with a 16 per cent increase of on-campus and open learning international students compared to last year.

Fall 2024 international applications and admissions are down 34 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, compared to the same time last year. The decrease is due to efforts to manage the Kamloops campus' international headcount to around 4,500 students the next academic year.

According to a report presented to the university’s board of governors in December, tuition for on-campus undergraduate international students brought in $56 million for the university during the 2022-23 academic year. Total revenue during the academic year was $262 million.

Prior to the permit cap, TRU's second quarter forecast was predicting the university would end the academic year with $70 million — more than $10 million above the approved budget and climbing $3.5 million from the first quarter.

Onyango said the university’s enrolment has been “fairly healthy” and he thinks the university will “do well” despite the permit cap.

“Yesterday the Minister of Post-Secondary Education for B.C. mentioned that we don't see public post-secondary institutions being impacted — so that was encouraging,” Onyango said.

“TRU has been preparing for this. So, I think regardless of what that number ends up being, we are positioned to adjust accordingly.”

He said the university first heard of a possible permit cap last summer from previous immigration minister Sean Fraser. He said the university has “built some pretty resilient systems.”

Miller said the temporary cap is meant to address mounting affordability and housing pressures, saying immigration has played a role in both. Onyango said he doesn’t foresee a change in the Kamloops housing market anytime soon.

“There's a lot of students on campus already right now and the majority of them are in two to four year programs. So I think a decrease may impact housing over time, but as of right now we have lots of housing on campus and we continue to build more,” Onyango said.

“I think, again, only time will tell, but we'll have a pretty good idea this fall — I think that will be our first little test.”

Baihua Chadwick, TRU’s vice-president international, told Castanet Kamloops in December the majority of international students seek off-campus housing despite below-market and on-campus alternatives.

Onyango said the university is focused on supporting students throughout change, noting the many International students in Kamloops contribute to the community economically, socially and culturally.

“Many of them will become future Canadian permanent residents and citizens. So I think we need to treat them well while they're going through the education system,” he said.

“I think change can be unnerving at times, but sometimes it's necessary and sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches and we are ready to do that.”

TRU's students' union said there has been a "mixed response" to changes to cost of living requirements for international students.

The new requirements mean study permit applicants will need to show proof they have $20,635, up from $10,000. The new requirements came into effect on Jan. 1.

TRU’s board of governors is currently considering a five per cent international tuition increase. The tuition increase would be part of a three-year plan to set a guaranteed-fee model by 2026.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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