Languages Canada fights damaging ISP rules

26 February, 2014

Languages Canada, representing ESL and FSL member schools in the country, has cemented its intention to lobby against legislation damaging business for members through the launch of a new action plan.

Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada, was keen for members to unite.

Presented at the association’s 7th Annual Conference in Toronto, ON, last week, one of the immediate aims of the ‘Strategic Direction’ is to lobby federal government on a new rule in the International Student Program (ISP) that will prevent language schools from offering work co-op programmes from June 1. Members voted unanimously in favour of the plan.

Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada, predicted that the country could lose 12,000-to-15,000 language students per year through this new regulation after accusing attending government representatives of “biased and unfair targeting of our segment”. The new rule aims to provide Canadian nationals with further job opportunities, but Peralta said that language co-op students only represent three per cent of Canada’s international youth population. Other programmes allowing overseas students off-campus work rights, he continued, account for a more sizeable proportion.

One of the main foci of the Strategic Direction “is to create a position for government members to work with us on a federal and provincial level”, said Gonzalo. “We will conduct research and hire consultants for strategic and lobbying purposes, and hire a communications officer to increase media visibility.” He also told Study Travel Magazine that he is soon meeting with Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to lobby him in regards to language co-op programmes.

“It isn’t easy to change the regulations but we can change the interpretive documents behind them,” he said. “It’s not that co-op programmes will stop within the language sector, there are flexibilities to explore,” he continued, with Jonathan Kolber from Ilac in Toronto, ON, and Vancouver, BC, explaining that partnering with career colleges is an option. These are institutions regulated by the provinces that are allowed to offer off-campus work rights.

Melissa Fama from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) told Study Travel Magazine that the governmental department is working to publish further clarification on some of the rules towards the end of March, such as whether unpaid language co-op programmes will also be curtailed. Fama, along with her colleague Martin Mundel from CIC and Paul Bailey from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), took criticism from the delegation, although they acknowledged that some new rules, such as the introduction of co-op programmes in the secondary sector, are beneficial.

Under the ISP rule that individual provinces must create a list of designated schools allowed to issue study permits by June 1, representatives also explained that visa approval rates should increase from 1.9 million in 2013 to 2.57 million in 2014. However, not all provinces have made the same level of progress, with Peralta explaining that alongside British Columbia and Nova Scotia, Ontario has made strides in meeting this deadline, but is bogged down by a strict financial auditing process.

Another part of the Strategic Direction includes the introduction of tiered membership fees for private sector members, with those reporting a higher number of student weeks paying a higher fee. Public sector fees remain unchanged due to other fiscal commitments including membership of other associations, Peralta said, reminding delegates that it is a “game changer” when public institutions are involved with lobbying government at provincial level.

The Strategic Direction was welcomed on the whole, with John Taplin, President of Global Village English in Calgary, AB, and Victoria, BC, telling Study Travel Magazine, “Regarding the AGM and conference in general, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen Languages Canada members more united. Despite the challenges that we face in the language industry, our public and private sector members emerged from the conference with a new sense of mission.”

In other news, Languages Canada signed partnership agreements with ICEF and StudentMarketing at the event. The partnerships will see the association continuing to receive market intelligence from StudentMarketing, as well as host two agent fam trips scheduled around ICEF Vancouver. The first, starting May 7, will allow agents to visit member schools in Toronto, while delegates on the second trip beginning on May 15 will visit members on the West Coast. “By visiting our language schools and programmes, the cities and local attractions, the international recruitment agents will get a real feel for what it is to study English or French in Canada, making them more efficient spokespeople and brand ambassadors,” said Guillaum Dubreuil, Manager of International Affairs and Marketing for Languages Canada.

Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, also passed on a message. “I would like to congratulate Languages Canada for its professionalism,” he said, thanking members for their advice regarding a plan to double student numbers by 2022. “Please note that you have a firm partner in government when it comes to providing a top quality Canadian education,” he added.

While many delegates were of the view that the strategy to increase student numbers conflicts with certain ISP rules, Peralta said that Fast’s message is a sign that there is government support. “2013 was a rude rude awakening,” he said, mentioning some ISP rules and strikes at visa offices as a big challenge. “When one is awakened rudely it hurts but we have to wake up. The winds have changed and the time when we could fly under the radar has passed.”

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