Life Beyond Borders

International students leave their home countries to pursue their dreams — and education — in Canada, but once they arrive, many are faced with a harsh reality. Housing, employment, and issues around recruitment that don’t surface until they are already thousands of kilometres from home leave many international students in precarious situations.

The photo shows three international students interviewed in the article. There are graphics in the background like beaver, travel luggage, pen, and maple leaf.

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I remember looking around the airport and feeling an ache after realizing I had just travelled nearly 12,000 kilometres away from the Philippines — my home.

I arrived in Winnipeg after a 15-hour flight to become an international student in Canada on August 15, 2022. It was a long, tiring, and stressful trip. During the flight, I had been overthinking and playing scenarios over and over in my head, wondering what the future would hold.

Leaving my parents back home was hard, but I found comfort in knowing I was venturing into new — and hopefully exciting — opportunities.

Each year, many international students arrive in Canada with a similar mix of emotions. Canada has become a popular destination for international students. Between January and August 2023, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received more than 600,000 new study permit applications. This figure marks a significant increase over the same period in 2022, when they received 470,000 applications.

The bar graph shows how the number of study permit holders in Canada has increased from 2019 to 2023.
The number of study permit holders in Canada has increased over the years, with a slight drop during the pandemic. (Danna Bianca Carreon)

The year I arrived, Canada welcomed more than 800,000 international students, with about 22,000 of them studying in Manitoba. I was not surprised to learn that in 2023, there were already more than a million study permit holders. But over the next few years, Canada — and Manitoba — will be seeing significantly fewer international students on its campuses.

In January 2024, the federal government announced a two-year cap on study permit applications. In the announcement, they said that several institutions has been accepting too many international students in order to increase their revenues, which was putting pressure on housing and other services. Starting this year, the federal government will only approve about 360,000 study permits. Each province and territory will be limited to a certain number of international student intakes. The government will announce the exact number of study permits they will issue in 2025 by the end of 2024.

Several learning institutions, provinces, and territories in Canada had mixed reactions regarding the change.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew said in a press conference that the federal government’s decision may affect and possibly increase tuition costs in the province. He said he is still awaiting answers to the questions the provincial government raised to Ottawa about the policy update.

On its website, the Province of Manitoba lists the advantages of studying in the province:

“Manitoba offers you the opportunity to access world-class education in leading-edge facilities with affordable tuition fees. Our standard of living is high and our costs of living, housing and transportation, are lower than other major cities in Canada.”

The province does provide opportunities for international students like me, such as quality education and a diverse cultural experience. However, along with these opportunities, international students also face significant struggles when they come to Canada. In addition to the expected stresses of going to school and navigating a different culture, international students often face unanticipated challenges in finding housing, applying for jobs, and dealing with agents issuing fake documents.


Before moving to Canada, I planned to live with my brother and his family. Knowing I had a place to stay was reassuring, especially because my brother’s house is only a 20-minute bus ride to my campus.

Other international students do not have that advantage.

Tracy Karuhogo arrived from Uganda alone in August 2019. She is an international student and president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU).

Adapting to a different culture, meeting new people, and becoming involved in the community have been a big part of her life since she moved here, but she faced major challenges finding safe and affordable housing — and she’s not alone.

The housing shortage has affected many individuals and families across Canada. Property values and rental prices have increased due to high demand. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported that by 2030, approximately 3.5 million housing units will be required to restore affordability. 

International students are among those affected by the housing crisis.

“I’ve been here for four years, but I’ve already lost count of the number of places I’ve stayed,” Karuhogo said.

In her first three days in Canada, she had to stay in a hotel since she had not looked for a place to live before leaving Uganda.

“The first hotel turned me down because they didn’t have space for me, so I had to look for another.”

She then decided to stay in one of the residences at the University of Manitoba — the Mary Speechly Hall. However, since she was required to pay the full amount for her accommodations and tuition, Karuhogo couldn’t afford it and had to move out after her first semester. She needed to look for a place that could offer her a better payment plan rather than being required to pay the full amount up front.

“At the University of Manitoba, it’s more expensive to stay on campus than it is to stay off campus,” Karuhogo said.

The University of Manitoba houses about 1,350 students on campus every year. In 2023, around 26,000 students were vying for available rooms, making it challenging for many to secure a space to live.

Karuhogo said a landlord once showed her a picture of a room, but when she visited the place, it looked totally different from what she had expected.

“It looked like it had bedbugs, so I had to leave and stay with a friend,” Karuhogo said.

Such experiences are common among international students.

In Karuhogo’s conversations with other students, she learned that others who tried booking rooms before they moved to Canada would often become victims of fraud.

Some students would find a place to live before they arrived, and then when they got to Canada, they would find out that the addresses did not exist or someone was already staying in the places they paid for.

As a student leader, Karuhogo knew she had to step up and help other students. One of the campaigns she led in 2023 was Know Your Rights, where UMSU informed students of their housing and employment privileges. They held information sessions about topics concerning health care and legal protection.

Karuhogo said it is alarming to know that the housing issues she experienced in 2019 are the same issues many international students still face now. She believes the government should invest more in student housing, either on or near campus.

“We are definitely asking the provincial government to build more student-oriented housing, but we are also asking both the federal and provincial government to create their own student housing strategies,” Karuhogo said.

She further encourages the government to take students’ concerns seriously.

“We are trying to open their eyes to the fact that students are also a vulnerable group when it comes to housing,” Karuhogo added.

Tracy Karuhogo is wearing a red top and a pearl necklace, and there is a graphic quote with the words, "We are trying to open their eyes to the fact that students are also a vulnerable group when it comes to housing."
Tracy Karuhogo, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, at her office. (Danna Bianca Carreon)

Several student clubs in Manitoba help international students with their concerns, like finding a home. One is the Newcomer Connections Support Club at Red River College Polytechnic. Roma Mendoza is the club’s founder and president. She said most of the challenges the members share with her are about housing, the immigration process, and job searching.

She said an additional worry for international students is assuring landlords they can pay their rent.


Another challenge international students face is finding a job to help them pay rent. Mendoza said that many international students struggle to find work even after sending out many resumés.

“I believe a big reason for this is a lack of connection, a poorly written resumé, and a lack of soft skills,” she said.

Roma Mendoza is wearing a white jacket, and there is a graphic quote with the words, "I believe a big reason for this is a lack of connection, a poorly written resumé, and a lack of soft skills."
Roma Mendoza is president of Newcomer Connections Support Club at Red River College Polytechnic. (Danna Bianca Carreon)

Hearing this from Mendoza, I had a flashback of my failed attempts to get a job during my first few months in Canada. I lost count of the job applications I submitted. Whether I applied to be a cashier in a bakery, a sales associate in a clothing store, or a clerk at a grocery, the responses were the same: We are looking for folks with a bit more experience, and we will keep your resumé on file and call if we have an opportunity that’s a better fit.

After feeling discouraged, I decided to just focus on school and rely on my savings. I created weekly budgets, kept track of my spending, and made sure I had enough to get by until I got a job. It wasn’t easy. 

In the spring of 2023, I started applying for jobs again and was finally accepted to work at a fast-food restaurant, where I met Oliver Dave Mag-uyon.

Mag-uyon was a college instructor at the University of San Carlos, Philippines, before he came to the province as an international student in December 2022 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Manitoba. Unlike many, adjusting to life in Canada was not difficult for him because his parents and siblings were already here.

He recognized it might be more challenging for some of his peers at the university.

“Since they don’t have any family here, it’s much harder for them compared to my case,” Mag-uyon said. “I get to spend some time with my family during the weekends. We travel outside Winnipeg or go to other places.”

We would often have a chat during our short breaks at work. Mag-uyon said he needed a job to support himself and pay his bills. He is also preparing for his wedding with his fiancée in the Philippines and is determined to save money for it. With this in mind, he applied to more than five job postings in industries like manufacturing, production, fast food, and meat processing.

Mag-uyon met a challenge he did not expect — many employers wanted previous experience working in Canada.

He also noticed the differences in the process of applying for a job in Canada compared to the Philippines.

“I think it is more difficult here because everything has to be in Canada’s format, even the resumé and experience,” Mag-uyon said.

Oliver Dave Mag-uyon is wearing eyeglasses, a hat with a logo, and a red uniform. There's also a graphic quote with the words, "I think it is more difficult here because everything has to be in Canada's format, even the resumé and experience."
Oliver Dave Mag-uyon’s first job in Canada was at a fast-food restaurant. (supplied by Oliver Dave Mag-uyon)

I struggled with that, too.

Whenever I came across job postings, most required a year or two of Canadian working experience. How could we have that qualification if we were new in Canada? What qualifications could we present to be considered for a job? It was difficult to get hired.

Nathan Hew wrote an article for Study International, an outlet sharing the latest information about international education. In his piece, he listed three reasons why international students find it challenging to get a job, based on his interview with Re-Defined founder Ritika Saraswat. Re-Defined is a non-profit organization supporting people from marginalized communities, like international students in Canada.

One of the reasons Hew listed was the lack of Canadian experience. Although many people arrive in Canada with previous careers, their credentials are often disregarded because they don’t have any experience working here.

Saraswat said some international students have different assumptions about what it is like working in Canada.

“The North American job market operates differently, emphasizing transferable skills and soft skills like communication and leadership,” she said.

Hew’s article highlighted how some Asian and African countries prioritize academic qualifications over soft skills. International students often overlook the importance of showcasing their soft skills.

In addition to the difficulty of finding a job, international students must adhere to rules set by the federal government on how many hours they are allowed to work. In previous years, international students were only allowed 20 work hours per week.

There were temporary changes in the policies concerning work hours in 2022. Some international students can have more hours if they meet certain conditions, like if they applied for a study permit before or on October 7, 2022.

International students must meet all the requirements to work off-campus. These conditions include getting a Social Insurance Number and enrolling at a designated learning institution (DLI), a school authorized to accept international students.


Some challenges that international students face begin way before they have to worry about housing or finding a job. The recruitment process for international students is riddled with issues. Some say that students don’t find out about the problems until long after they have settled into their new life as international students.

Just last year, the federal government issued deportation orders to dozens of international students. The students were said to be involved in a foreign acceptance letter scam. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) formed a group to investigate the incident.

CBC reported about Karanveer Singh, one of the many international students who received a letter from CBSA accusing him of using a fake acceptance letter. When he learned about his alleged use of a fake document, Singh had already completed his two-year program and applied for his post-graduation work permit.

However, Singh said he did not know that his agent in India used fraudulent papers for his application. The same goes with other international students. Many of them were unaware their agents issued fake documents. Singh mentioned he had taken legal action against the agent.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, in a statement, wrote, “The Task Force will review cases to identify victims of unscrupulous actors and intervene as appropriate.” In addition, “IRCC will identify students who have no links to criminal activity and are believed to have been duped and victimized by unscrupulous actors.”

The reports of fraud have sparked questions and discussions about how and why the fake acceptance letters went undetected and called into question the overall integrity of Canada’s international student recruitment process.

International students are particularly susceptible to scams because of their limited understanding of the application procedure.

In a news release from October 27, 2023, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced new policies to protect international students from fraud and avoid the same issues that took place with the acceptance letter scam.

Designated learning institutions at the post-secondary level will now need to verify each applicant’s acceptance letter directly with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada beginning December 1, 2023. Institutions that have shown a higher standard of services and support for international students will benefit by being given priority processing.

In Manitoba, there are 47 designated learning institutions, including the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, Assiniboine Community College, Booth University College, and RRC Polytech. Each learning institution has different processes for recruiting and welcoming students from various countries.

Bryan Meng, RRC Polytech’s manager of global engagement, talked about the college’s recruitment process and support for international students.

The image shows the Exchange District Campus of RRC Polytech on a bright, sunny day.
Red River College Polytechnic Exchange District Campus (Danna Bianca Carreon)

Meng said recruitment officers from the college travel overseas about two to three times every year to attend education fairs and expos. He added that the recruitment officers work with education agents who are authorized to represent the college.

Whether based in Canada or abroad, an education agent can be an individual or an organization that markets and promotes learning institutions to prospective students.

According to Meng, about 70 per cent of the college’s international students were recruited by education agents.

He said that from April 2022 to March 2023, RRC Polytech welcomed 2,374 students from 62 countries. Using the college’s most recent data, Meng listed India, Nigeria, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam as the top five countries most international students come from.

Meng shared some services the college offers to international students.

“We provide intercultural training to many international students because many of them are coming from the non-Western culture,” Meng said.

He said RRC Polytech offers international students housing, counselling, and integration support as well. A good example of this support is giving free admission tickets for students to attend community events, explore the city, and meet new people.

Meng said the college “has to provide outstanding support services to earn the credit and to build that confidence amongst students that they trust our reputation and brand name as a polytechnic institution.”

When I was applying for a study permit, I decided to do it independently. I thought I could save money if I were the one to do it because my budget was limited. I was also uncomfortable asking for an agent’s help with my application.

However, I knew a lot of international students who sought the help of education agents and were successful in their applications.

There are some ways study permit applicants can detect whether an agent is a fraud or not. Some warning signs are asking for money before completing the application process, using social media to ask for payments, and having a suspicious website, which may contain grammar and spelling errors.

Study permit applicants can check government, college, or university websites to confirm whether the information provided by their agents is accurate and reliable.

The image shows an iceberg illustrating the realities of international students.
The realities of being an international student aren’t always visible. (Danna Bianca Carreon)

International students’ challenges in housing, employment, and recruitment demand attention and solutions. Each year, international students add over $22.3 billion to Canada’s economy and pay tuition and fees up to three to five times higher than domestic students. International students also serve as a major source of labour, contributing to the workforce even with their limited work hours.

They also bring their culture, traditions, and practices from their home countries, sharing their perspectives and experiences, which enhances the learning environment for all students. They contribute to their communities by buying local businesses’ products, supporting causes, and sharing their time and talents in various initiatives.

With all these contributions, Canada — and the institutions they come to study at — have a responsibility to address international students’ challenges and set them up for success.

At this moment, I am no longer imagining scenarios in my head. I am currently living the dream that I once had, but I’m also very aware of the realities of being an international student in Manitoba. The uncertainties I felt during my flight over 18 months ago seem like distant memories. While I have found new and exciting opportunities by coming here, I have also met many other international students who have struggled in ways that could be mitigated through better support and policies.

Whether the changes to international student policy will be good or bad for international students on the whole remains to be seen. Taking steps to weed out fraudulent acceptance letters by improving the verification process is positive, but the new policy also adds barriers to those who wish to study in Canada. Financial requirements have been increased, making studying in Canada out of reach for more people. Addressing Canada’s housing crisis is also crucial — many international students face housing issues when they arrive in Canada.

While I am close to graduation, my journey is far from over, and I — like many other international students — will continue to face uncertainty and unexpected challenges along the way. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful. My next step is to apply for my post-graduation work permit. I hope to settle in Canada long term, but getting there will likely have lots of stops and starts.

I hope that the country I aspire to someday call home permanently will find ways to support future international students who — like me — have dreamed of life beyond borders.

Headshot of Danna Bianca Carreon

Danna Bianca Carreon

Danna (she/her) was born and raised in the Philippines before moving to Winnipeg. A lover of silence and libraries, she has a keen eye for details and enjoys observing everything around her. Danna is happiest when she’s crossing off tasks on her to-do list.
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