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Language school faces uncertainty over visas

Federal government changes regulations
Chris Bolster

Administrators of a language school in Powell River are holding their breath and hoping for the best as they wait for provincial government notice that their school qualifies to offer international students study visas.

“Potentially, this could mean the end of our business,” said Clas Huntebrinker, Camber College president, who estimates close to 60 per cent of the student body at the language school are living in Canada on student visas. “If we lose that there’s no point in running because we won’t be profitable anymore.”

Huntebrinker said the problem right now is the uncertainty caused by the provincial government not yet establishing a list of schools able to offer student visas as per the request from Citizenship and Immigration Canada in December 2012. The changes apply to programs over six months in length.

“Some provinces are already done and some haven’t started yet and BC is one of them,” said Huntebrinker. “We really have no clue about what is going on.”

Graham Pike, dean of international education at Vancouver Island University, said the changes may not affect the university as it already has the Educational Quality Assurance designation from the province.

International education is big business in BC. According to the British Columbia Council for International Education, a provincial Crown corporation, the number of international students is growing with an average rate of about 6.5 per cent per year. It contributes $1.48 billion in economic activity to the provincial gross domestic product ranking closely with top export sectors such as coal, lumber, chemical wood pulp and copper. There were 106,000 international students in the province in 2011/12 in both public and private schools, up from 94,000 in 2009/10. The Crown corporation estimates that spending by international students supported more than 23,000 jobs in 2012.

“The list will increase the integrity of our international education system and ensure students are protected,” said Amrik Virk, minister of advanced education, in an email to the Peak. “The province is on track to meet its target of a 50 per cent increase in the number of international students by 2016.”

Virk took over the portfolio last June after a provincial election which brought the BC Liberal Party back to form government for a fourth mandate. He explained that “the ministry of advanced education is finalizing the criteria that institutions will have to meet once the regulations take effect in summer 2014.”

BC New Democratic Party advanced education critic David Eby disagreed saying that the circumstances are leaving schools and students in limbo. “Anyone with a passing knowledge of the way colleges and universities work knows that students apply for admission well before the start date of their programs,” he said in a media release.

Eby blames the chaos in the ministry of advanced education on a change of nine ministers in the past 10 years. “Now, more than a year later, BC schools still have no idea how the new rules will be implemented,” he said. “The deadening silence from the government is feeding a sense of doom among BC schools that the government has completely dropped the ball.”

The final deadline for provinces to establish the list is in less than six months, yet BC schools still do not know what information they’ll need to provide to the province to qualify, or how long the approval process will take before they can tell students they’re on the green list, said Eby.

Virk said the province is working to ensure all schools will have an avenue to transition to the new criteria.

“Reasonable time and notice will be given to all institutions to meet the requirement,” said Virk. “Further information will be made available to students and educational institutions as the process continues.”

Eby is concerned, though, that BC’s reputation is at stake. “If the BC Liberals wait until the last minute to comply with these regulations, or create new rules that cause our schools to miss the federal deadline entirely, all of us will pay the price.”

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