In a recent development, Housing Minister Sean Fraser has indicated that changes might be made to the international student visa and temporary foreign worker programs in response to unprecedented immigration levels and a pressing housing shortage. This announcement aligns with the government’s revival of a World War II-era housing strategy to accelerate home building across Canada. Concurrently, Immigration Minister Marc Miller has warned of potentially stringent limitations on visas for international students by next fall, should provinces and educational institutions not address related challenges.
Minister Sean Fraser, in an exclusive interview with Global News, emphasized the necessity of reforming temporary residency programs. He highlighted the considerable growth in international student and temporary foreign worker programs in recent years, suggesting that these increases could be contributing to current housing issues.
From July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, Statistics Canada reports that nearly 1.2 million individuals were granted entry into Canada under both permanent and temporary immigration programs. This number includes a significant proportion of international students, with Miller revealing that up to 900,000 might be admitted this school year. However, he has recently raised financial requirements for these students, potentially in response to housing pressures.
Currently, there are no caps on the number of international students admitted to Canadian post-secondary institutions. Miller, addressing this, stated that indiscriminate admission of international students without adequate support, especially in housing, is imprudent. He stressed the responsibility of educational institutions to ensure adequate housing for the students they admit and warned of federal intervention if provinces and territories fail to address this issue.
At a Liberal cabinet retreat in Charlottetown, Fraser suggested that implementing a cap on visas for foreign students could be considered to mitigate housing demand in areas with dense student populations. However, in his interview, he focused more on the government’s plans to work alongside educational institutions and provinces to increase housing availability before resorting to caps.
Minister Marc Miller, speaking with Global News, likened a potential visa cap to a blunt instrument but did not rule out its use if necessary. He described it as a drastic measure, reserved for use if discussions with provinces on addressing housing issues are unproductive.
Housing experts, including Bob Dugan, Chief Economist at Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation, have linked the Liberal Party’s immigration policies to the escalation in housing costs and rents. Dugan warned that Canada’s current construction rate is insufficient to keep pace with population growth, predicting a shortage of 3.5 million homes by 2030 if building rates do not increase.
Doug Porter, BMO’s Chief Economist, has extensively studied the relationship between immigration and housing prices, finding a strong correlation between population growth and real home prices. He remarked that these issues stem from a tight supply situation coupled with high demand, lamenting the delayed attention to housing affordability.
Toni Gravelle, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, echoed these concerns in a discussion with the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. He acknowledged the positive impact of immigration on economic growth and workforce expansion but also pointed out its contribution to increased housing demand, explaining the persistent rise in rent and housing prices in Canada.