May 21, 2016
Vancouver Sun | Postmedia reporter Cassidy Olivier recently discovered that the person listed as the new owner of a $31-million house on Vancouver’s west side is a “student.”
Metro Vancouver has far more international students per capita than the rest of Canada.
B.C.’s minister of advanced education, Andrew Wilkinson, recently boasted in a Sun opinion piecethat the province, but mostly Metro, now hosts about 110,000 foreign students, about one third of the national total. The largest group is from Mainland China.
Although B.C.’s Liberal government continues to refuse to provide the information that would allow a researcher to ascertain whether any house buyer, including Tian Yu Zhou, the new owner of the $31-million mansion, is a foreign student, migration specialists say that’s likely the case.
Well-off foreign students are increasingly coming to Canada to obtain a variety of advantages, including for their families.
The most obvious reason they are applying to Canada — at increasingly younger ages — is the traditional one. Their families want them to obtain an English- or French-language education at a Canadian school or institute of higher learning, hoping it will help advance their careers.
But there are at least two other major motives for foreign parents to send their children to Canada.
One is to assist in the global transfer of money.
The second is to prepare the path to a Canadian passport, including for the entire family.
Immigration Canada data shows about 72,000 foreign students from Mainland Chinese were accepted in 2014, 36,000 from India, 17,000 from South Korea and 13,000 from France. In total, one out of four foreign students in Canada is from China.
Canadian politicians talk in predictable ways about the increasing number of foreign students.
Wilkinson maintains Chinese and other foreign students bring “social, cultural and economic benefits.” And they pay full fees for their own educations, unlike subsidized homegrown students.
The federal Immigration Minister John McCallum often calls foreign students “the cream of the crop.”
But noted specialists in higher education, including Boston College’s Philip Altbach and Ontario’s Jane Knight, say the quality of foreign students is going down as their numbers inflate.
Most foreign students are now second tier, say Altbach and Knight. They’re generally not doing well in the schools in their countries of origin. But many have rich parents.
Given the trend, Knight argues that most Western foreign-student programs have lost their humanitarian origins and become elaborate cash grabs. They make it possible for governments like British Columbia’s to mask that they are tightening education funding.
What are some foreign students in Canada doing when they’re not studying?
Canada’s federal housing agency, looking for new methods to track foreign ownership in the country’s soaring real estate markets, has considering classifying foreign university students as foreign buyers as it steps up its investigation into global money-laundering.
Bloomberg News discovered that Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp., the Crown corporation that tracks housing data, is especially interested in how the red-hot housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver are partly fuelled by foreign students, some of whom live in multi-million-dollar homes near the UBC campus.
In a related study, urban planner Andy Yan, head of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, discovered that in a six-month period in 2015, about 70 per cent of 172 detached homes sold on Vancouver’s west side were purchased by Mainland Chinese buyers.
Yan’s research showed that, of all self-declared occupations among owners of the high-priced homes in the study, 36 per cent were housewives or students with little income.
Five of eight homes owned by “students” were bought outright with cash at an average value of $3.2 million.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, a frequent adviser to the federal parliament, said it’s clear that most children from around the world who are able to afford to live and pay full education fees in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver are from “elite families.”
One bonus of getting children into Canada as foreign students, Kurland says, is that those who are able can become players in real-estate investment. Students are being declared as property owners of Vancouver residential property because they aid in international money transfers, Kurland said.
Foreign students have the advantage of being able to appear as residents of Canada for income tax purposes, even as their declared earned income would be extremely low.
As principal resident of a dwelling, Kurland said, a foreign student does not have to pay capital gains when his or her home is sold at a profit. “Then, out of the goodness of their heart, they can send the profit back to their uncle in China,” Kurland said with irony.
In addition to aiding the movement of trans-national wealth, however, possibly the more common reason a well-off foreign family puts a great deal of effort into establishing their son or daughter in Canada is that it goes a long way to obtaining a second passport.
Canadian politicians often rank international students as prime candidates for immigration. Roughly three out of 10 foreign students have gone on to become Canadian citizens. And that proportion is expected to rise.
Kurland believes more foreign students from China are being flown to Canada at “younger and younger ages … in part because they’re a no-fit in the Chinese educational system.” They need to establish themselves early in Canada’s educational system if they’re going to make it.
The immigration lawyer, who publishes a newsletter called Lexbase, discovered that Mainland Chinese families have doubled the rate at which they’re sending their children to Canadian elementary and high schools. Four out of 10 foreign students in Canada, including those from Mainland China, now apply for “secondary school or less.”
One advantage of sending teenagers who aren’t doing well in school in their home country to Canadian schools, Kurland said, is that it should make it “more seamless” for them when they later apply to a North American university.
And, since a higher education in Canada is one of the best tickets to permanent residency for the student, they will eventually get the chance to sponsor their parents through Canada’s family reunification program (which the Liberal government recently doubled in size).
In many cases, housing will have already been arranged. The upshot of all this is that becoming a foreign student has turned into a multi-pronged enterprise with profound familial implications, especially in regards to the large numbers from China.
As Kurland says, “These are the products of China’s one-child policy. So the stakes are high for the family in China. This is their future.”