‘Surviving on Bread, Fighting for Refunds’: Indian Students in Canada Struggle to Find Housing, Food, Jobs

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Like many others in Punjab, I also grew up with the dream of settling in Canada. As I didn’t want to waste my parents’ hard-earned money by taking a random degree abroad, I worked hard to get a masters degree and then relevant work experience so that I could pursue a second masters from a reputed Canadian university. 

But when I reached my college in North Bay, Ontario, things were very different from what I had been told. Lack of housing and jobs, broken promises by local universities and what not. We have been deceived and sold a false dream, but we are still fighting and coming out stronger.

Even before the India-Canada diplomatic row escalated, Indian students flying to Canada in the past few months have been facing the reality check of “broken promises of a brighter future.” Nearly 2,26,450 Indian students went to Canada in 2022, as per data released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The number of Indian students heading abroad has been increasing every year, making India the largest cohort of international students in the country. This, however, may have been a reason behind depleting resources for students in the country.

Accommodation issues

Some students such as Riya* (name changed on request) in North Bay, Ontario — a small town in the northern part of the province —  had to recently set up tents outside their new varsity as their university claimed it did not have enough space to house the new students.

When students reached out to the university, they did not receive any assistance. The varsity offered solutions only when the students started organising protests at the university with Montreal Youth Student Organisation (MYSO), which drew the attention of the local media.

“When I was searching for housing options from India, I was warned that there are a lot of scams going around North Bay. So I decided to not book any accommodation from India, however, when I landed in Canada on August 21, it was a shocking situation. I arrived in Brampton and searched for affordable housing in North Bay for nearly 10 days, but in vain. Then when I had to shift to North Bay for my college, I had to book a hotel for the first three days which cost me CAD 120 per day,” she said.

International students currently in Canada are facing issues of lack of available rooms and increased rent. Students of Canadore College and Nipissing University of North Bay had demanded the varsities to provide permanent accommodation to all students at affordable rates ($250 per student per month). However, students are claiming that they have to pay inflated rent, which is nearly 650 to 750 dollars per month — something that they are paying off-campus in expensive cities.

Since students had to stay in a motel for several days, they had to cut costs on other things, such as food. Riya shared with indianexpress.com that when she was staying in a motel for nearly a week, she did not have enough money to buy hot meals every day.

“We used to get complimentary breakfast from the hotel we were staying at, but that was usually an omelette and since I am a vegetarian, I was stuck with bread. In the mornings, I used to eat bread with butter or jam and then keep some bread slices aside for the day. After attending college the whole day, I used to eat those bread slices in the evening. For nearly a week, I survived just on that,” she said.

Currently, Riya is staying in a rented flat with another Indian girl where they are paying CAD 1200 per month. However, since North Bay is a small city and the number of job opportunities is limited, students are finding it extremely difficult to find a job that can help them with their daily expenses. Students like Riya are still surviving on bread, cereals and dal as vegetables are more expensive there.

Refund our fees

Riya is not alone in this struggle, there are several other Indian students like her who are facing this situation. Chiranjeet* (name changed on request) went to Canada in August with the hopes of studying and settling there, but due to “mismanagement of resources by the Canadian universities”, they are in a refund battle with their colleges.

Some students in North Bay are currently waiting for a full fee refund from their university for lack of resources. Students have urged the varsities to provide affordable housing to international students or transfer them to another campus of this university. They further demanded permission to attend online classes or/and should be exempted from the 50 per cent classroom attendance condition laid by IRCC for a work permit.

Moreover, some students like Chiranjeet had also requested a full refund of the tuition fee without any deduction, so that they can take admission in another college on time. They also asked that open work permits should be issued to the students during the time they do not get admission to any college.

Some students have also been granted permission to shift to the online medium. “On September 11th, we spoke with you about the challenges related to your residency in North Bay….. Appreciating your current circumstances, and in light of the IRCC announcement of September 1st, we have reviewed the potential of a remote delivery format for the remainder of the Fall 2023 for Second Semester students of specific Graduate Certificate programs and the courses scheduled to be in-person. Following our solutions-focused approach and your expressed needs, we have decided to provide full remote delivery for your program,” the university said in an email sent to the students.

While the university has issued refund notices for a few students, Indian students are now complaining that these educational institutes have asked for a month’s time for this refund, which is coming out as a financial burden for those who are stuck without a job.

Chiranjeet completed his masters degree in Geography from a Ludhiana-based college and then worked in a bank for a couple of years. Later, when his mother passed away, he decided to migrate to Canada to earn a good life for his father. To do so, he got admission to a PG certificate course in project management in Canada.

“After my masters in India, I was preparing for UPSC but my mother passed away. To help my father in earning a living, I started working at a private bank. While I worked there for a couple of years, I observed that the value of human life, education and hard work is more in Canada, and I decided to come to Canada to build a life here,” he told indianexpress.com.

He shifted to Canada with the help of an agent but he advises aspirants not to get trapped in their money-making business. Chiranjeet is one of those students who is currently waiting for a full refund from his university, and meanwhile, he is trying to find another university in the country which can give him an affordable education.

“I live with a friend in Brampton right now who is helping me in every possible way. After my initial bad experience, I reached out to my Indian agent. They tried hard to make me keep waiting for the university’s offer for some other alternative. Their intention was not to help me, but simply that they didn’t want to lose their commission from the university,” he said.

Like many others, Chiranjeet has now been searching on his own to get admission to some other Canadian university. “I have reached out to some agents in Canada too, and they also give me solutions that will cost me more and be profitable for them. If you don’t do your own research, they will keep taking money from you in the name of help,” he warned future aspirants.

Meanwhile, Chiranjeet has missed the September intake too, but is still hopeful of getting admission somewhere in the next intake. While he is still hopeful, some students are now regretting going to Canada for higher studies.

Let’s look for other countries

Indian students like Manjot (name changed on request) think opting for other immigration-friendly countries would be a better option right now. “Given the current political environment between the two countries and the depleting resources in Canada, I think it would be better to head to other countries such as New Zealand or maybe even some European nations where Indians are welcomed and not duped in the name of a better life. I have told my younger brother to apply for New Zealand rather than coming to Canada, and I will also try to look for jobs there after my masters degree from Toronto,” she said.

Khushi (name changed on request) who has recently completed her diploma course in Business Administration from a Montreal-based university is also not sure about staying in Canada in the distance.

While she is currently in India for vacation, she will be returning to Canada in mid-October and will soon start the process for a Canadian Permanent Residency (PR) permit. However, once she gets her PR permit, Khushi will try to shift to Australia, when possible. “There are certain rules on how much time the applicant needs to stay in the same city/ province after getting the PR. I will fulfil that criteria and then try to find a job in Australia,” she said.

In addition to the job crisis, Khushi also wants to shift out of Canada as the weather conditions are too harsh for her which can “make it difficult to go out for the job if you are lucky enough to find one. We cannot afford pay cuts or health issues there, so it is better to shift to somewhere else,” she added.

Source : Indian Express