How Canada is Getting Away with Exploiting India’s Poor
Every month the country is sending dead bodies back to India
On January 14 in suburban Vancouver, the body of a 19-year-old Indian international student was found in the Fraser River underneath the Alex Fraser Bridge. The cause of death was not determined but the signs suggest suicide.
This would be another suicide in the endless number of Indian international students taking their lives in Canada. While community advocates struggle to address this problem, Canadian institutions will not acknowledge a problem exists.
Systemic issues affecting minoritised groups are not always easily seen. This is why they are capable of inflicting such awesome damage. Canada’s international education system is one example.
Many young Indians are pursuing higher studies abroad for a better future. Canada has benefitted immensely from this migration, where international education has become a major industry and India the largest source country.
However, the greed driving Canada’s international education system, and its harmful affects on India’s vulnerable, must not go unnoticed.
Canadian post-secondary schools squeeze as much money as possible out of international students. They pay exponentially higher tuition fees and account for an increasing proportion of revenue for universities and community colleges. India accounts for over one-third of all international students, and 67% of international students attending college.
Why pay so much to attend a Canadian college? Many young Indians are looking for a path out of the country due to declining economic opportunities, and a study visa for a Canadian college is that pathway out.
Punjabi University academics examined the socio-economic profile of Indians planning to study abroad. The majority of those surveyed were from working poor farming families with little knowledge of Canada. Many of these families plan to fund their children’s expensive Canadian education by taking a loan or selling farmland. This suggests many Indians leaving to study are under-informed, ill-equipped, and vulnerable.
This desire to leave India makes the country fertile recruiting grounds for colleges hunting for revenue. In fact, these colleges have an insatiable demand for international student bodies.
To attract students, Canadian colleges provide agents a commission for every student recruited. To sustain their revenue many of these agents engage in questionable recruitment practices including misleading marketing. In essence, colleges are using a disreputable recruitment industry to purchase students: consumers.
What is the result of this twisted model?
To avoid destitution in Canada many Indian students work underground as low-skill labourers. And stories of student migrant labourers being underpaid, overworked, and thrown aside, are uncomfortably common. Canada’s international education model has essentially created a bonded labour economy of migrant workers, a system that is picking up people from the margins of India and placing them in the underclass of Canada.
Most unsettling is the plight of vulnerable Indian female students. Many of these young women are sexually exploited by those they are economically dependent upon. An even more alarming concern is that Indian female international students being increasingly targeted by pimps and trapped in sex trafficking rackets.
Unsurprisingly, there is a mental health crisis among Indian international students where a survey found that 6 in 10 students suffer from poor well being. In fact, the plight of Indian students has become so dire that every month Canada is sending dead bodies back to India.
Canada is extracting great economic benefit from international students while they are alive. International education has outpaced traditional industries bringing in over $20 billion annually. And while colleges have been increasing their intake of international students, provincial governments have been reducing their proportion of funding for higher education. The country is essentially using the working class from the developing world - mainly India - to subsidize higher education. Consequences be damned.
Decision makers’ scant regard for these migrants is evident in their neglect. Since 2015, findings from multiple government reports and studies have highlighted problems associated with international education. This includes international student graduates having worse economic outcomes compared to domestic students.
The Auditor-General of Ontario criticized public colleges for becoming overreliant on Indian international students for revenue and for their poor oversight of private colleges. In Quebec, private colleges have been under investigation and gone bankrupt leaving many Indian students stranded. These stories exemplify how Canada has allowed an unscrupulous college industry to emerge that is using education to make money off immigrants.
Advocates have been voicing the issues in public forums, roundtables, and protests, but politicians turn a deaf ear. It has become a familiar debate, whether Canadian politicians lack the mental capacity to understand the problem or the moral courage to do the right thing.
In unguarded moments politicians do reveal true motivations and their disconnect from reality. When asked why so many international students are coming to Canada, Liberal MP Ruby Sahota explained that “post-secondary institutions argued for it.” Another Liberal MP, Sukh Dhaliwal, in a committee meeting was bootlicking the former Minister of Immigration, Marco Mendicino, as they both extolled Canada’s international education model.
Government ministers and college executives will never face the consequences of the human suffering they have created. Indeed, they are receiving handsome salaries for upholding the status quo. The consequences are a burden for the counsellors, social workers, and community volunteers.
In the end, Canada’s international education system is another example of a systemic issue hurting the vulnerable but benefitting the privileged. While many of the privileged believe in equality in the abstract - they will not give up their benefits to achieve true equality.
Balraj S. Kahlon is a member of One Voice Canada and author of The Realities of International Students: Evidenced Challenges