International Students Grapple with Housing Crisis in British Columbia


The British Columbia housing market, plagued by scams, excessive paperwork, and sky-high rents, has grown increasingly inhospitable over recent years, according to students and advocates. In their desperate search for a place to call home, many students find themselves accepting substandard living conditions.

Amy Choi, an international pupil studying at The University of British Columbia, recalls, “Last year, I had a massive leak in my ceiling, and my landlord disclosed nothing about the house’s issues. I had to endure it during finals week because I was so desperate to secure housing.”

Although Choi is a returning student, she is yet to find long-term accommodation. “Everyone is competing fiercely, and they’re even producing references for housing which, in my opinion, is unnecessary. Plus, everything is prohibitively expensive,” Choi expressed her concerns. She admitted that securing affordable housing was more challenging than she had anticipated.

There is a general gratitude among students for having a place to stay and being able to commute to campus conveniently, Choi notes. Yet, she reveals that some of her peers live at distant lodgings, forcing them into hours of daily commuting.

The struggle to find adequate housing extends beyond Choi alone. Advocates assert that the prevailing housing crisis leaves international students in a particularly fragile position, with many of them getting swindled out of thousands of dollars or succumbing to hazardous conditions. Sarom Rho of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change highlights, “Approximately four to five per cent of migrant students are homeless, and considering that Canada houses nearly 1.1 million migrant student workers, we’re looking at tens of thousands of affected individuals.”

Rho points out these international students, many of whom come from working-class families, are often pressed into low-wage service sector jobs just to get by. “Between paying high tuition to maintain their immigration status and working low-wage jobs while vulnerable to exploitation from employers, these students are caught in a vexing bind,” she says.

In 2022, a record-breaking number of 551,405 new study permits were granted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. To alleviate the mounting burden on the housing market, Ottawa is contemplating an intake cap on international students, a move endorsed by housing minister Sean Fraser.

However, assistant professor Dale M. McCartney, an expert in international student policy at the University of the Fraser Valley, staunchly believes that immigrants should not be the lightning rod for the housing crisis. McCartney argues, “International students are vulnerable and end up being scapegoated. Capping international student numbers won’t miraculously solve the housing issue – the real problem lies with our housing policy.”

In response to these challenges, advocates are pushing strongly for permanent residency for all international students along with increased legal protections, thereby attempting to give these students more power in a society that often marginalizes them.


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