Here’s why Indian students come to British Columbia – and Canada – in their thousands

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Karan Singh says his parents decided to send their son to Canada because they thought he would fight back home.

The 20-year-old, who is studying criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in Surrey, British Columbia, is from the small village of Bakipur in the northern state of Haryana. India.

He said his parents thought he would be safer halfway around the world because of the turbulent political environment in India.

“There are not many opportunities for young people [if] we are comparing to Canada,” Singh said. “The political situation in Haryana at the moment is not very good.

Singh is one of hundreds of thousands of Indian students choosing to live in British Columbia and Canada, which has led to a surge in new student visa applications since 2015.

While Singh cites personal safety as the main reason to come here in December 2021, experts say there are specific circumstances that have recently triggered a large influx of Indian students.

Karan Singh, 20, is from the state of Haryana in India. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Indian international students in Canada, part of a trend that has continued since 2015. (Sarbmeet Singh/CBC)

India and South Asia have historically been major contributors to Canadian immigration — more than five percent of British Columbians speak Punjabi natively.

However, the main driver of immigration recently has been post-secondary education and the promise of the canadian dream.

In 2015, student permit applications from India were nearly on par with those from China.

Seven years later, applications from India accounted for almost half of all student permit applications between January and June, while those from China – the second largest contributor of international students – remained relatively stable.

There were nearly 509,000 university students in British Columbia in the 2020/21 academic year, according to a ministry spokesperson. Of these students, 151,185 were international students.

A report 2017 estimated that a quarter of all international students in Canada were in British Columbia

Youth unemployment and the rise of the middle class

Henry Yu, a history professor at the University of British Columbia, said in an email that the surge in applications from India can be attributed to a growing middle class in the country that can afford to send their children abroad.

Research shows that the Indian middle class has increased considerably since the implementation of economic reforms in the 1990s, with a consequent increase in purchasing power.

Shinder Purewal, a political scientist at KPU, also says that the various fields of study offered in Canada are attractive to young people in India, especially given the high youth unemployment rate.

“Keep in mind that India has the largest population under the age of 25 or younger in the world,” he said. “Employment opportunities for such a large number of people are rather limited in India.”

Purewal also says India’s rapidly growing private and tech sectors don’t offer the job security or benefits that Canadian employers do.

For Sana Banu, who came to Canada in 2018 to study advertising at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, the promise of permanent residence and the ability to contribute to Canada’s diverse workforce was a big draw.

“Canada needs skilled immigrants and skilled workers to drive its economy forward,” she said. “I found that Canada has a very tolerant culture.”

Sana Banu smiles in a selfie.  She wears a shirt that says
Sana Banu, from Hyderabad, India, has applied for permanent residency in Canada. (Submitted by Sana Banu)

Disparity in fee structure

International education is seen as a skill markeraccording to researchers, leading to a shadow economy in India that seeks to send students abroad.

Tashia Kootenayoo, secretary-treasurer of British Columbia Federation of Studentssays that many of these students come here under unstable circumstances.

“In our data and surveys…nearly half – 47% – of international students do not have strong financial resources,” she said. “Most students report being surprised by the cost of living here in BC.”

Kootenayoo says the federation has found that international students make up about 20% of an institution’s overall student population, but they paid almost half total tuition revenue.

“Their fees are used to fill in the gaps in [university] operating budgets,” she said. “This is an issue that the provincial government needs to address.

According to Kootenayoo, the students surveyed – many of them from India – reported an increase in food bank use in recent years.

“The province allows institutions to exploit these students. It’s a very unfair and unjust system,” she said.

Kootenayoo and the federation are asking more public funding for British Columbia institutions, as well as regulations freezing and capping fees paid by international students.

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