What is happening to international students? This is the only question raised when an international student commits suicide, is gunned down, meets with a fatal road accident or when a report of exploitation appears in the news.
The next question that comes up is, why has this happened to this person? And the answers to these disturbing questions are manifold.
The majority of Indian international students are from the state of Punjab.
A former Punjab bureaucrat Kahan Singh Pannu in an article said, “The youth of Punjab is angry. The exodus of youth in droves to foreign shores leaving behind their peers, parents and properties is one manifestation of the systemic malaise plaguing the state’s systems.”
A former police chief and Indian state governor, Gurbachan Jagat, in an article said, “The Punjab skyline, which had increasingly been dotted with huge mansions and marriage palaces, began to stall and the reverse trend of selling off assets had started” in the late 1990s.
As per Jagat, jobs in the government sector are still not available and no major industrial development in recent years has moved to Punjab. Whatever industry had been there was also lost during the terrorism years. On both the agriculture and the industrial fronts, there have been no major efforts by any successive governments in Punjab to bring a qualitative change. As a result of the decline in employment opportunities and the reluctance of the youth to engage in agricultural activities, the efforts by the youth to go abroad increased.
Earlier, the youth used to go abroad for higher education after graduation, but today the children are leaving on a large scale after Class XII (Grade 12), and they have no intention of coming back.
The poor and uncertain socio-economic structure of modern-day Punjab is the main reason for the exodus of the youth from there to Canada and elsewhere.
However, the rosy picture of Canada they have in their minds is totally upside down when they land here. They soon learn they are paying three to five times what Canadian students pay for their tuition. Then the room and board expenses are over their heads. They have to work on cash illegally to make both ends meet. Here they are exploited mercilessly.
Gita Abraham, a senior journalist, in another article in the New Canadian Media, mentions, “Heightened stress induced by financial difficulties, anxiety over failed exams and culture shock are among the main reasons for what some are calling a ‘disturbing trend’ of suicides among Indian international students in Canada. The COVID-19 turbulence has added to these pressures.”
The lack of risk assessment, culture shock, financial burden, over-ambitious plans, pressure from families back in India (to send money), exploitation at the hands of the employers, big difference in fee structure for international students are a few points to consider when this part of the problem is to be studied.
Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer from Calgary, says the unethical ways of some of the unscrupulous travel agents add to the worries of the international students. He says he doesn’t see the violent groups’ presence among other international students (from other Indian states). “It is the culture … and they have to understand, violence is not the solution of any problem,” Sharma says.
If the federal government gives relief to these struggling international students in their oversized fee structure, this problem, to some extent, will be moving towards a solution. More importantly, Punjab and the centre governments must look into this matter more seriously. The students must be advised and educated at their (senior secondary) school levels about the ground realities abroad. The ambitious parents need to understand that western and other developed countries do not have dollars hung low on trees. The shocks these international students have to face must be in their notebooks prior to going for higher studies.
Rishi Nagar is the news director at Red FM 106.7 in Calgary, a member of the Calgary Police Service’s Anti-Racism Committee and a member of the senate of the University of Calgary.