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International students more likely to live in unsuitable housing: StatsCan

Aneet Kaur tries to spend as much time out of the house as she can. The 32-year-old international student from India shares a two-bedroom basement suite with five other people in the Surrey, B.C., neighbourhood of Fleetwood.

She shares her room with two other students.

“The room size is too small. How can three people live there?” she said. “There is no storage capacity in there. How can I put more stuff in there?”

Between a lack of privacy, unannounced visits from her landlord and cost of living challenges, Kaur told CBC News she’s struggled with her mental health.

“Depression is the worst thing that I get in the two months [since I came] to Canada,” said Kaur, who is currently enrolled at University Canada West.

“I was a happy person in India.”

A South Asian woman in a black sweater stands in front of a chain link fence in a parking lot. She is framed in the image as though she's doing a TV interview.
Aneet Kaur says she shares a two-bedroom basement suite with five other students, with three people sleeping in each room. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Kaur’s situation is far from unique. According to a Statistics Canada report, international students were more likely to live in unsuitable housing in 2021 than Canadian-born students.

In the ten Canadian municipalities with the largest number of international students, 25 to 63 per cent of them were living in unsuitable housing.

By comparison, the rate of students living in unsuitable housing was 13 to 45 percentage points lower among Canadian-born students aged 18 to 24. 

One of the requirements for suitable housing, according to the report, is that adults should have their own bedroom, if they are not part of a couple.

The study, which was based on the most recent census data, found country of origin accounted for most of the variation between municipalities in rates of housing suitability among international students.

Notably, Indian students were more likely to live in unsuitable housing than students from other countries.

In Brampton, Ont., and Surrey, the municipalities with the largest proportions of Indian students, more than 60 per cent of international students were living in unsuitable housing.

Meanwhile only 16.6 per cent of Canadian-born students in Surrey lived in housing considered unsuitable by the statistics agency.

The number of international students has only increased since the data was collected.

Students are pictured on campus at University Canada West in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, May 23, 2024.
Statistics Canada found about two thirds of international students living in Surrey lived in unsuitable housing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Federal and provincial officials have raised concerns over the sharp rise in international students in Canada, including added pressure on the housing market, as well as the affordability challenges students face themselves.

In 2023, there were more than one million international students in Canada, a 29 per cent increase from the previous year.

The federal government announced earlier this year that it is imposing a two-year cap on study permits to curb international student enrolments.

B.C’s international students weigh in on Canada’s decision to cap new international student permits

4 months ago

Duration 7:32

According to the province, 175,000 international students study at public and private colleges. That number is set to drop following Ottawa’s new two-year cap on international student study permits. Our Jon Hernandez went out to learn more from the very people at the heart of this story — students.

Housing pressures and rental rights

Aneet Kaur says upon arrival in Canada, she struggled to find anything she could afford.

“I was facing so many big issues, because if I’m asking any landlord for a one-room basement, they’re charging so high to international students, because they know we don’t have much knowledge,” she said.

She said between her current landlord showing up unannounced and sharing her room with a pair of other students, she feels like the unit offers little security for her personal belongings.

“Due to this reason, I always carry my important documents to my university or to my job,” she said.

Raman Kaur, a former-student-turned-outreach-worker at Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society in Surrey, says these types of living situations are far too common.

“When I was a student, sometimes the landlord would just knock on the door and enter — not even ask permission,” she said.

PICS is launching a welcome centre to help students better navigate the local housing market and help them understand their rights as tenants.

“Most of the students, they don’t know,” said the outreach worker. “We’ve never [rented] back home.”

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