A Win-Win Situation: Post-Secondary Education as one of Canada’s Key Immigration Mechanisms

I recently reviewed three policy documents – one from earlier this year, the other two from 2011 – looking for existing and potential linkages between immigration and post-secondary education in Canada. More specifically, to what extent can international students use their studies in Canada as a vehicle for becoming permanent residents and, later, citizens of this country.

I expected that there must be some evidence linking these phenomena – on the one hand, the desire to emigrate to Canada and identify best mechanisms to achieve this goal and, on the other hand, the existence of a variety of post-secondary programs that can be accessed by international students. What I did not anticipate was to discover how widespread is the idea of encouraging international students to study in Canada specifically for the purpose of making them citizens of this country.

International students

International students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(i) British Columbia’s (BC) International Education Strategy (2012) indicates that the province’s “emerging labour market challenges [i.e., not enough people entering the labour market] make international education even more important, as we anticipate significant shortages of skilled workers in certain fields.” The BC strategy points out that the engine of the province’s jobs plan and the economy is people – out of an estimated 1 million job openings over the next decade, immigrants are expected to fill a third of these positions.

British Columbia makes it crystal clear that, in order to “gain the greatest possible benefits from international education, we must make it easier for international students to move into careers in BC and take advantage of residency options after graduation. These improvements must in turn be communicated to potential international students.” To create “smoother transitions” for international students who wish to remain in the province after graduation, the BC Government plans to work closely with private sector employers, business associations, settlement organizations and – very importantly – the federal Government to help these students gain work experience and meet the requirements for Canadian residency.

(ii) The second document reviewed is An International Education Marketing Action Plan for [Canada’s] Provinces and Territories (2011) that makes virtually the same point. Even more significantly, this document is written and signed by provincial and territorial Ministers of education and of immigration – a very important group to push such an action plan. They indicated that one of the key expected outcomes of an international education plan for Canada is “a greater number of international students choosing to remain in Canada as permanent residents after graduation.”

The provincial and territorial Ministers plan to work alongside the federal Government to “ensure that annual immigration-level plans allow room for students who wish to remain permanently in Canada” and to “expand opportunities for international students to work off-campus and after graduation.” This document refers as well, just like the BC strategy, to Canada’s demographic pressures and the need to fill job vacancies – this time at a national level – through immigration. The plan focuses on improvements to foreign-qualifications recognition, extending post-graduation work permits and simplifying the process of obtaining visas and residency papers.

(iii) Finally, the report International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity (2011), prepared by a national Advisory Panel on Canada’s [future] International Education Strategy, is equally direct: Canada’s “specific goal is to double the number of quality international students within 10 years, from 239,000 today [at all levels], with a focus on attracting top talent who will either decide to make Canada their home or return to their home countries as leaders of the future.” To assist with this approach, the Panel suggested, Canada will need to further increase the amount of graduate and post-doctoral scholarships supporting international students.

The provincial and territorial ministers’ action plan (referenced above) highlighted that more than 71% of all foreign students in Canada (2008 figures) were studying at the post-secondary level or training in the trades, and 45% of international students at the post-secondary level originated from Asia. The distribution of international students in Canada by country of origin reveals that most of them originate from China (23%, 2010 figures), the United States, France, India and Mexico.  Other countries of origin include: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

Overall, these policy documents point out to a strong desire on the part of Canadian private corporations, educational institutions and public authorities to address demographic challenges and labour market shortages through a determined effort to attract international students to Canada. This is definitely a win-win situation: Canada benefits from an influx of qualified and talented individuals, while the latter can pursue their careers and life goals in a very desirable corner of the earth.

Canada Strengthens Integrity of its International Student Program

The following are excerpts from the Canada Gazette (Vol. 146, No. 26), Part I, June 30, 2012. Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) requests written comments from all interested parties on a proposal to introduce new requirements and conditions for foreign nationals who seek to study in Canada:

“The proposed regulatory amendments are intended to ensure that foreign nationals who obtain study permits enter Canada for the primary purpose of study. CIC seeks to deter foreign nationals from applying for a study permit if their intentions are disingenuous, and prevent foreign nationals from remaining legally in Canada on a study permit should they abandon their studies. These measures are also intended to ensure foreign nationals who hold study permits are studying at educational institutions eligible to host international students.

“These regulatory amendments would support the Government of Canada in improving the integrity of Canada’s immigration system, enhance accountability both to international students and Canadians, and improve Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for studies abroad.

“Compared to its key competitors for international students, Canada is the only country that has not put in place an International Student Program integrity framework that requires international students to pursue study after entry, and that limits the types of educational institutions that are eligible to host international students.

“The number of international students choosing Canada as a study destination has been on the rise in recent years. In 2011, 98,378 international students entered Canada, an increase of 34% since 2007. A 2010 study commissioned by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada found international students contributed more than $6.5 billion to the Canadian economy in 2008.

“Despite these successes, the International Student Program continues to be vulnerable to fraud and abuse from those who would exploit either study permit holders or the program itself for personal gain. An evaluation of the International Student Program released by CIC in 2010 concluded that gaps in the Department’s regulatory and policy framework leave the International Student Program vulnerable to potential misuse.

“Currently, study permits can be issued to students attending any type of educational institution, regardless of whether it is accredited, or regulated or overseen by a provincial/territorial ministry of education, or accountable to a recognized standard-setting body. As a result, the educational institutions that currently host international students vary widely in terms of quality and accountability.

“In some cases, these institutions take advantage of international students by offering sub-par education, or promise courses or programs of study that they are unauthorized or unequipped to deliver. Such activities hurt Canada’s international reputation amongst prospective international students and may discourage them from choosing Canada as their destination for studies abroad.

“Under current regulations, study permit holders are not required to pursue study after they arrive in Canada. While foreign nationals must meet certain regulatory requirements in order to be eligible for a study permit, a prospective international student must only demonstrate the intent to study in Canada. In other words, there is no requirement for international students to actually enrol in or pursue a program of study at a Canadian educational institution after arrival.

“Those foreign nationals who hold a valid study permit but who fail to enrol or pursue their course of study cannot therefore be reported under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and can remain legally in Canada until the expiration of their study permit. Additionally, while current regulations allow genuine students to access limited work opportunities during studies under international student work permit programs (On-Campus, Off-Campus and Co-op/Internship Programs), in some cases, disingenuous study permit holders use their study permit as a primary means to gain full access to the Canadian labour market. Further, some study permit holders in Canada who fail to study after arrival in Canada may have more unscrupulous intentions, including engaging in illegal work and/or criminal activity.

“The purpose of this Notice of Intent is to signal an intention to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations for the purpose of ensuring that study permit holders are genuine students who will study in Canada and that they are attending educational institutions that are eligible for this purpose. The goal is to strengthen the integrity of Canada’s immigration system by reducing fraud in the international student movement, while improving Canada’s standing as a desirable study destination.

“A new regulatory requirement is proposed that would limit the issuance of study permits to educational institutions eligible to host international students. CIC is working in collaboration with provinces and territories, respecting areas that fall under their jurisdiction, on a proposed approach that would guide the eligibility of educational institutions for the purpose of hosting international students.

“Additionally, new study permit conditions would be put in place requiring students to enrol in and actively pursue a course or program of study after arrival in Canada. The current provision that allows a foreign national to apply for a study permit for programs of less than six months would be eliminated in order to ensure that study permit holders only pursue studies at eligible institutions. Foreign nationals may, however, continue to enter Canada as visitors for the purpose of undertaking programs of study of less than six months in duration.

“Foreign nationals who wish to apply for a study permit to attend an authorized school after they have entered Canada as a visitor would be authorized to apply for a study permit from within Canada in order to reduce barriers to study in Canada and facilitate pathways to further education.

“Access by international students to work permits will be limited to eligible study permit holders, and these work permits would be limited to work permit programs specifically designed for international students (such as the Off-Campus Work Permit Program and the Co-op/Internship Work Permit Program). Eligible study permit holders who want to take part in these programs would need to be in compliance with the conditions of their study permit in order to qualify for a work permit, and to maintain its validity.

“These regulatory changes will provide CIC and CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] officers with the clear authority to take enforcement action against a foreign national who fails to actively pursue studies at an authorized educational institution after arrival in Canada, potentially leading to the loss of their temporary resident status and revocation of their study permit.

Canada Border Services Agency

Canada Border Services Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This Notice of Intent is an opportunity for the public to provide early comments and input into the proposed regulatory amendments described above, before the regulations are prepublished in the Canada Gazette. The prepublication process will provide an additional opportunity for public consultation on the proposed regulations.

“Additional public consultations with key stakeholders on a proposed approach to the designation of educational institutions for the purpose of hosting international students will take place later this year.

“Anyone (including immigration lawyers, stakeholders, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, interested groups, and the general public) may, within 30 days of this notice [June 30, 2012], provide their comments on this Notice of Intent, in writing, to the person named below at the address provided.

“Questions and requests for additional information, as well as comments on this Notice of Intent, may be directed to Philippe Massé, Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Programs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 365 Laurier Avenue W, 8th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1, 613-957-0001 (telephone), 613-954-0850 (fax), philippe.masse@cic.gc.ca (email).”