BC immigration policy change sparks protest among international students

International students have expressed discontent after the provincial government announced new permanent residence restrictions through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

The changes to the PNP will take effect in January 2025, impacting current and incoming UBC students.

Under the new rules, graduates with master’s degrees must secure a one-year job offer in a skilled profession, pass an English language proficiency test and compete among each other to be nominated for permanent residency.

On March 23, hundreds of international students protested against these changes in downtown Vancouver demanding a transition period for the policy.

“I couldn't believe the policy changed so quickly,” said Ariel Xu, an incoming Chinese American UBC student who attended the protest.

Xu recently accepted her offer for UBC’s master's of food and resource economics program. She said she fears she will have to leave her program, forfeit her first semester of tuition fees and stay in her current job to maintain her status in Canada.

“By the time I finish my program, I’ll have only two months left on my work permit. I’ll be forced to leave or find somebody willing to give me a one year job offer,” said Xu.

Since it was established in 2010, the International Postgraduate stream of the PNP has granted access to permanent residence for graduates of natural, health and applied sciences master’s programs. Over 5,000 graduates have been nominated since 2016.

“It has caused me a lot of anxiety," said Hailey Wu, a UBC master's of engineering leadership student. Wu quit her job in China to study at UBC and has been living apart from her husband and son.

“When I chose this program, one of the most important factors was that it is enrolled in the BC PNP. It gave me certainty that as a family we could settle down here,” she said.

More than 2,800 students have signed a petition, Promise Made, Promise Kept: Secure Future Paths for BC PNP International Master Students, that calls for the provincial government to honour the original policy conditions they relied upon when deciding to study in BC.

According to the BC government, the new policy is necessary to “protect international students from predatory institutions and recruiters.” Similarly, in January 2024, the federal government capped the number of new international students at post-secondary institutions across Canada.

Wu said the new PNP policy could deter prospective students from choosing BC institutions, including UBC.

“If I was a student coming to Canada, I would be directly drawn to other provinces like Ontario, which has very good universities and also more job opportunities,” said Wu.

The specifics of the new PNP policy, including the competitive points system, remain unclear, with full details expected by the end of 2024. Amid this uncertainty, students like Hailey Wu and their families face the tough decision of whether to stay in BC.

"It's like we're catching the last train and even if we can catch it, we don’t know if we will like the destination,” Wu said.