There are three basic needs international students in Canada deserve access to, according to student advocate Kairvee Malik.
These are education, housing and food.
“If you don’t have the basic needs, you lose trust, you lose interest and you are scared,” she told CTVNews.ca in an interview. “You don’t want to come to Canada anymore.”
Thousands of students come to the country each September from around the world looking for higher education and a better life, but many say they are finding the opposite.
Malik, who was an international student from India in 2010, said people are living in unsafe housing, turning to food banks and struggling to get jobs.
She works with her former school, York University, to provide free training for students to help them understand the realities of living in Canada.
What she finds through her work are international students unable to attain a good quality of life here.
“People are not expecting this when they land,” she said.
CTVNews.ca asked current and former international students what they wished they knew before coming to Canada and received dozens of replies. The emails have not been independently verified.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not respond to a request for comment by the publication deadline.
Is Canada affordable for international students?
Jesse Bautista (pictured) with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son at Chinguacousy Park in Mississauga, Ont. (Contributed)
For many, the hope of a better future was shattered when the reality of the high costs of tuition, housing and food became the norm.
Jesse Bautista wanted to give his infant son the opportunities that Canada offers: peace, prosperity and freedom.
“We expected some difficulties from the start, but we did not expect that it would be this difficult,” he told CTVNews.ca in an interview. “We are barely saving anything from rent and the cost of living and the insurance and the car payments and mobile payments…We’re doing our best to get our heads above water.”
Bautista, who moved from the Philippines, completed a certificate in Big Data Analytics at Georgian College in Barrie in 2021.
Working in the technology industry, an in-demand sector in Canada, Bautista was fortunate to gain employment with Alberta Blue Cross, an insurance provider, after graduation. He works remotely from Brampton, Ont.
Bautista, his wife and son live in a basement apartment and share a kitchen and living space with two other families.
On top of the high costs of living, the family does not have health insurance because Bautista works for an Alberta company. The coverage does not transfer to Ontario, he said.
“I love my work … It’s kind of hard for me to leave that company that gave me my first crack at the tech industry here in Canada, they took a chance on me and I want to be loyal to the company,” Bautista said.
Despite the difficulties, Bautista and his family are hopeful their work permits will be extended and they can continue building their dream in Canada.
How hard is it to find housing in Canada?
Matt Britton and his family (pictured) moved from Colorado to Victoria, B.C. (Contributed)
The housing crisis in Canada is impacting students from coast to coast and is a barrier for people trying to live and work near their schools.
For Matthew Britton, his wife and their eight-year-old daughter, the cost of housing was a shock.
“We had heard that there was a housing shortage in Victoria, but did not realize its full extent until we started looking for a place to rent,” he told CTVNews.ca in an email. “The difficulty of securing a place to live before my degree program started was very stressful, and we ended up paying more money than we had budgeted due to the shortage.”
Britton is studying for a Master of Public Administration at the University of Victoria and hopes to work in the public sector after graduation. The family moved from Colorado and wants to immigrate through the Express Entry program.
The route has been full of surprises, Britton said.
The family must rent a place instead of buying because of the Canada-wide foreign real estate purchase ban. It makes them feel like they’re losing money.
“We are not real estate investors, which the ban was enacted to discourage. We just want to live in Canada and own our own home, but we are currently prevented from doing so,” he said. “This is really frustrating, and if we had known about the ban before starting the process to move here, we probably would have reconsidered, either staying in the U.S. or moving to another country.”
Can international students get jobs in Canada?
Abhinandh Padmanabhan (pictured) is an international student from India, currently studying in Scarborough, Ont. (Contributed)
Abhinandh Padmanabhan does not regret coming to Canada from India for school.
The student in Scarborough, Ont. is pursuing education with the goal of permanent residency in Canada. He took out a $35,000 loan for school but struggles to afford tuition and living expenses.
“I have always harboured a dream of becoming a permanent resident and eventually a citizen of this wonderful country,” Abhinandh Padmanabhan, told CTVNews.ca in an email. “However, the reality now instills a sense of fear, questioning whether this dream will remain just that—a dream and not a feasible reality.”
Padmanabhan said he wished he knew how hard finding a job in Canada would be.
The journey to secure employment has been “challenging” since the first day he arrived.
Padmanabhan sent countless job applications and consistently left copies of his resumes at nearby businesses but struggled to secure job interviews.
“Currently, I’m juggling three part-time positions to not only survive but also to meet my financial obligations, including paying for my education,” he said.
Students like Padmanabhan are struggling to create a life in Canada, which forces them to question the future.
“It’s disconcerting to feel like my efforts might be in vain,” he said.