By Surbhi Gogia
Canada has been hosting international students for many years. Youth from across the world come to study, live and make a future here. India is one of the leading countries to contribute to this growing chunk. But more recently there has been an exponential growth in the number of international students from India. According to IRCC China remains the top country of origin representing 28% of inbound students followed by India having almost doubled with 25% in 2017.
You can see a lot more young energetic international students from India on Canadian roads and public places. Since they are allowed to work part-time, they are taking your orders at your local coffee shop, working in the construction industry serving food at the parties or delivering your pizzas.
With such a large presence and impact of these youth, one would think the local Indo-Canadian community living here must be feeling proud of a generation that shares their origins, and which is well informed, tech-savvy, young and all set to conquer the Canadian economy, following the trail-blazing path set by their seniors and peers.
However, over the past few months, there has been a simmering reaction of anger and protest by the Indo-Canadian community especially of Surrey against these students. There are YouTube videos made by the Indo-Canadians displaying the behaviour of the students unhygienic lifestyle, criticizing them for their focus on earning money instead of studies. A few are leaving studies altogether to enter illicit activities like drug trading.
There is also passive-aggressive protest by the South Asian society by not co-operating with them when it comes to renting basement suites. Even if they find a basement, the rules set for them especially girls are much stricter than the general renters’ bylaws. For example putting restriction on whom they invite at home or even what time they come home.
After hearing many stories from the Indo-Canadians, Desi Today decided to dig deep into the matter and talked to the international students, community leaders, and even education institute representatives to find more about what is making this young generation display this behavior? Is it a generation gone awry or is it a generation that has become the victim of circumstances?
And the response was unanimous. It was felt that, due to a bunch of international Indian students who are not following Canadian manners and system, and have wandered off from their path with a greater inclination to earn money than towards their primary goal of studying, a larger international student community is bearing the brunt. That their reputation is at stake. As a consequence, the rest of the international students from India have to fight an additional battle of proving their worth be it in classrooms, residences or at workplaces – especially if their employer is a South Asian.
On the other hand, community members, education representatives and even immigration consultants feel these problems of international Indian students should not be ignored. Even that small bunch of international students displaying ‘such behavior’ is an alarming situation. The problems are warning signs of an immigration system that is struggling to cope with the heavy influx of students. If nothing is done in time, the situation can have a negative impact on opportunities for future students.
The Heavy Influx and its Impact
Rakesh Sharma of Alliance Immigration points out the reasons behind this mass influx. He says two simultaneous situations have pushed this growth. Canada was one of the popular destination amongst Indian students looking to study abroad but not the top. Many other popular education destinations like Australia, New Zealand, UK, and even US have actually made visa rules very strict for Indian students and also stopped giving immigration on work basis. On the other hand, Canada has made the process of immigration smoother and a bit liberal for international students contributing to the enormous growth of international students.
Dr. Gagun S. Chhina, sociology instructor at Langara College, recently completed a research projectfunded by the Langara Research and Scholarship Activity Fund (RSAF), to understand the experiences and struggles of Indian International students. His research has gained interest from the Canadian Anthropological Society and the BC Council for International Education.
Dr. Chhina says that the surge is specifically due to the change in the PR rules of immigration. “Canada is currently one of the simplest developed nations to obtain permanent residency. I do want to make clear that obtaining PR in Canada is still is not easy, however, the rules regarding student visas and PR was changed in about 2012, which has led to the current increase.”
Sharma, on the other hand, feels the education institutes are definitely getting the revenue but they are unable to manage such heave influx. It is the students who are suffering in this system. They are ending up in courses they don’t want and a lot more are not getting the admission in the courses.
He points out that an international student gets PR only based on the open course graduate work permit after a completion of their studies. Also, a student can only be a part-time student in the last semester to apply for a work permit. A lot of students are not able to be get registered in the course even in the first semester and now immigration officers are refusing work permit to part-time students. There is a big confusion.
Gurpreet Singh Sabharwal, Surrey Campus representative, Kwantlen Student Association, who deals with international students every day, points out the same problems. He feels that students not getting admission in their choice of course, is a serious problem. He says the blame lies with a bunch of ignorant consultants, “A lot of agents’ aim is just to send students to Canada and earn commission. They will book any course or any time for classes for students without the knowledge of the student. I have even come across cases where agents did not register a student for the course. Once the student lands here, they have to miss the semester to compromise on the course they pick.”
Tanya Sehgal, manager of international recruitment and admission at KPU, says: “Students not getting the course has been an issue from my own experience. They do have a hard time registering for classes. Even though we send multiple reminders, sometimes they are unable to register. We try to open new classes — even if it is last minute work. And if there are no classes we recommend they defer to the next semester.”
Sehgal is of the view that students struggling with registering classes are not a new trend since it is a system that might not be followed in the respective student’s home country, but a surge in international student population is making it more difficult. KPU itself witnessed a 154% increase in international student applications from spring 2017 to spring 2018. “When we saw that numbers are increasing we never expected at this level, we had to take a break to accommodate the existing students at KPU. We closed our applications for all our international students for spring 2018.”
KPU is an institute that is taking steps to match standards of services with that of the quantity. However, there are many private institutes that are not taking this into consideration. This revenue generating model might be a working for the government and education institutes but international students from India are paying a hefty price. Sharma suggests government, institutes, and students themselves need to take a more pro-active approach to know more about the system before they land here.
The Financial Struggle
Once the international students land here and do not find the right course or cannot get admission in the course, their struggle becomes even more complicated. There are always teething troubles like adjusting to a new culture, becoming independent, finding accommodation and managing finances, all at the same time. Now add the extra burden of high cost of living in the Lower mainland. While some students get the money from back home, a lot more struggle for finances. There are few who even have to send money back home since their parents have sold every asset just to send them to Canada. That pushes them to work more even beyond 20 hours.
Dr. Chinna, while explaining the findings of his research said that pressure of earning to survive is causing much larger trouble. His study consisted of 32 qualitative interviews upto three hours in length. He says, “None of these students were in trouble with the law. Although this may occur, it has not been brought up as a significant factor with legal authorities. However, many students do work above the 20-hour requirement and this has a negative impact upon their academic success. Indian international students who attend Canadian institutions are largely from rural backgrounds who do not have the financial means to pay tuition and support themselves for two years. International tuition is three to three and a half times higher for international students than it is for domestic students. Therefore, Indian international students are under extreme pressure to work in order to supplement their tuition and pay their living expenses.”
Since these students are working more hours than they are allowed and working under cash, many are being exploited by their employers.
Komalpreet, who came here as an international student from Ferozepur while recalling her story says that her consultant put her in the course that has no relevance to her career. I wanted to do nursing but my consultant did not know which path I should take, he suggested another course for me. I am not happy with what I am doing.”
She said she still had to earn money to survive. Although she gets financial support from her parents in India, she says, “I need to earn my everyday expenses. Because of the wrong course I will have to spend extra time and money to settle here, so I have to earn money”. Komalpreet says that she has worked at many places and there have been employers who did not even pay her. She says, “International students for sure are being exploited by some South Asian employers who are taking advantage of our vulnerable situation.”
She further says that she is just one example. She has a lot more friends who do not even have financial support from their families back home, and as a consequence, suffering a lot. Since they are working multiple jobs, plus studying, plus coping with pressures of a new country, there is no time to clean or even think about cleanliness. “I have seen students who are under so much pressure to send money back home that they are leaving their studies all together to earn money. But whose fault is it anyway?” she questions.
The pressure to earn money has actually forced a bunch of few to get involved in drug trading. Kal Dosanjh, founder KidsPlay foundation, a non-profit organization working towards keeping kids away from the lifestyle of drugs, gangs, and violence, says he has come across the information where international students from India have got involved in the drug trade. “They are not involved in the organized crime but are involved in the drug trade. I have received information where are they are actively involved in the dial-a-dope operation where you use cars to deliver the drugs to the customers.”
He says such students are of two categories: one who have known poverty and whose parents can only afford so much – once they come to Canada and see easy money in drug trade, they get involved. Once they get involved, education becomes secondary. The second category is of students who come from wealthy families and they want to earn more money.
He warns that drugs and their trade spare no one. It is easy to get into the trap. “If someone is approaching you – why you are working hard, come with me, there is a better way of making easy money. Don’t get into that trap. There is nothing called easy money.”
“It does not matter if you are from India, Australia or any country. Drugs and gangs do not discriminate. If you think getting into drug trade is easy money, you will soon find out the consequences. You will either end up in jail, be dead or be deported,” he warns.
Dosanjh observes that overall international students from India have been brilliant. They are good students, work hard to settle here. But this small number is destroying the reputation of good students. His advice to this bunch of students is, “If you have got a lifetime opportunity to come and settle in a great country, why don’t you do the right thing — study hard, get your education and do it the right way?”
(GNFK) which created the International Student Seva Project to help students from India facing serious hardships. This project had support from Global Girl Power Foundation and local lawyer Massood Joomratty. GNFK created this project in response to hearing stories of international students from India experiencing abuse and exploitation in the local community. Most worrisome for Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen is young women in vulnerable situations.
Since starting this project Balraj has learned many students are working more hours than they are allowed due to high tuition, high cost of living, and in some cases to send money back home. Their employers know students can get in trouble for working over their limit and decide to take advantage of them. Balraj says “While working on this GNFK initiative, I have been made aware of cases of young girls being sexually abused in the workplace. I can’t tell you how widespread all these problems are, but they require attention. I understand these are uncomfortable issues, but you can’t wish these problems away. There have been enough rallies on violence against women in our community. We need to start working towards solutions”
Balraj also adds, “The strongest criticism should be reserved for people in the South Asian community who are using and abusing international students.”
Please spare the Good Students
The international students from India too are upset about the entire situation. They feel, apart from the struggles that they have to face in a new country, the struggle to prove their worth is putting extra burden. Gurpreet says, “Some of the people in our community have put all the international students from Indian in one category and treating them the same. I agree there are few who display unacceptable behaviour , but now all the students have come under this. Even in the community there might be people who are not neat but its general human behaviour.”
He says, “Students are not getting rental basements to live in. Also a few are talking bad about the girl students from India. Where as in Punjabi we say “diaan te sab diyaan sanjiya hundiya nee” meaning daughters should be respected everywhere.
“We feel proud when we see that people from our community doing so well in Canada. Similarly, we are also very passionate and want to contribute towards our community and country. We just need support our own community,” he says.
Even Komalpreet feels the same. She says a many Indian community members are making them uncomfortable if they have boys as their company. “It is everyone’s personal decision as to how they dress up or whom they make friends with. There are right and wrong people everywhere. Even those living here have their personal follies. But everyone has a different personality. It is general human nature. You cannot label a particular human nature in a ‘student from India’ nature.”
At this point, it is not correct to point fingers in one direction only – as missteps by the innocent and desperate, as well as malice by the not-so-well-meaning people – have contributed to this problem greatly.
First, there is needs to be a critical look at the current foreign education system. According to Balraj Kahlon “So many are making money off this international student trend, but this system is putting some very young people in a very vulnerable position. There are students coming from India as young as 17 who are not equipped to be here. They have no career plan; no knowledge about the education system; no support system; and have difficulty performing in Canadian colleges.”
Balraj adds “I have concerns about the amount of money some working class families from Punjab are spending on their children’s’ foreign education and whether it will pay off for them in the long run. Let’s be honest, foreign students are being used as a major revenue source for colleges, but serious problems often occur when people and institutions are solely driven by money.”
The need of the hour is a focus on solution: overall, the entire process of international education needs to be more pro-active and be better prepared for needs and challenges of international students. A lot more training, screening, and pre-orientation on part of the government and education institutes is needed before they invite international students especially from India before it is too late. . Action is required in Canada to avoid any backlash against Indian students that occurred in Australia.
The existing community leadership needs to reach out to both parties – existing community, and incoming students, to build mechanisms of redressal and dispute-resolution, instead of looking at incoming students with a suspicious eye, and unfairly restricting their behaviour.
Solutions are the need of the hour, before the Canadian dream turns sour.