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 Ponders Tuition Cuts for International Students, Highlights Economic Benefits

Minister Fast meets with Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming

Canada’s Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Ed Fast, released a report showing that international students contributed more than CDN $8 billion to the Canadian economy in 2010, up from $6.5 billion in 2008.“The Harper government is committed to continuing to attract the best and brightest students to Canada,” said Minister Fast. “This study reaffirms our government’s commitment to international education. That is one of the reasons we are committed to refreshing our government’s Global Commerce Strategy and to developing a comprehensive plan to entrench educational links between Canada and international institutions for Canada’s long-term prosperity.”

The report found there were 218,000 full-time international students in Canada in 2010, up from 178,000 in 2008 and more than double the number of students in 1999. It estimated that international students supported 86,000 jobs and contributed $445 million in tax revenue.

“I am delighted that Canada is a destination that is growing in attraction for international students,” said Minister Fast while visiting the University of British Columbia. “The presence of international students and researchers taking advantage of Canada’s world-class facilities creates jobs and economic growth and contributes to our people-to-people ties with other countries,” such as China, France, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United States.

“Outstanding international students and researchers not only enrich our campuses but make Canada more competitive by sharing knowledge and expertise both during their time at university and afterwards,” said Stephen Toope, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

A commitment to refresh Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy was announced in Economic Action Plan 2012. A more powerful international education strategy will help strengthen Canada’s engagement with emerging economies and ensure greater collaboration between Canada and institutions while boosting this country’s economic prosperity.

International news agencies, such as AFP, highlighted one of the recommendations in the report: Canadian post-secondary institutions may want to stop charging foreign students higher tuition fees than Canadians pay.

“Canada’s educational expertise is a valuable export that can be measured in comparison to other goods and service exports,” the report noted. “International students can also become a valuable source of highly skilled labor to our economy at a time when the western world is facing potential labor shortages, especially among top talent.” The authors of the study pointed out that, “given the competition in the global international education market, educational policy makers may need to re-examine the practice of differential tuitions and fees.”

To learn more about these findings, visit Attracting the Best and Brightest Students to Canada on the website of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. An analysis of China as Canada’s strategic educational partner can be found here.

China: Canada’s Strategic Educational Partner

  • China is by far the leading country of origin for international students in Canada. It has kept this position for over a decade – and the gap between China and the countries on the 2nd and 3rd place (South Korea and the United States, respectively) keeps growing.
  • In 2004, Chinese students represented close to a quarter (23%) of the total number of post-secondary (university) international students in Canada [Source: Statistics Canada]. In 2008, Chinese students accounted for 24% of foreign students in Canada, at all levels: secondary, post-secondary, and trades [Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada].

English: International Students

  • International students generated more that CDN$5.5 Billion to the Canadian economy in 2008. “Nearly 40 percent of that revenue came from two countries – China [CDN$1.3 Billion] and South Korea [CDN$846 Million]. As of December 2008 there were 42,154 Chinese and $27,440 South Korean citizens in Canada undertaking a formal education” at all levels [Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and RKA Inc.].
  • While the proportion of Chinese students (at all levels) remained stable between 2004 and 2008, at about 24% of Canada’s entire international student population, the proportion of students from other Asian countries (e.g., South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) decreased. The only exception is India, a country that only accounts however for about 4% of international students in Canada – significantly below its demographic potential [Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada].
  • A comparison of international education services with other top exports from Canada reveals that, as of 2008, education services ranked no. 1 in Canada’s exports to China, at CDN$1.3 Billion. It is followed by exports in goods such as acrylic alcohols ($869M), chemical wood pulp ($858M), rape/colza seeds ($782M), unwrought nickel ($704M), etc. Educational services “contribute substantially to Canada’s total export to countries such as the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia” [Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and RKA Inc.].
  • The share of Asian students in Canada reached 53% of international students in 2008. Students from Europe accounted for 18% (downward trend from the late 1990s), while students from Africa accounted for 12% (downward trend as well). Most international students study in three Canadian provinces: Ontario (34%), Quebec (26%), and British Columbia (19%) [Source: Statistics Canada].
  • An analysis by China Daily indicates that, given the global economic and financial crisis, “more Chinese students are expected to head overseas because of the pressure to find work and the appreciation of the Chinese currency” [Source: Tan Yingzi, China Daily]. An assessment by University Affairs points out that “leading Canadian universities are now well-placed to fill gaps in the international market caused by the international fiscal crisis” [Source: Leon Trakman, University Affairs].
  • From K-12 to the post-graduate level, online and in a typical class-teacher setting, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, Canada presents a tremendous potential to attract thousands of students from all corners of the world. China is and will continue to be, for the foreseeable future, a strategic partner in the educational field. Canada needs to invest energy and resources in attracting similarly large numbers of international students from other Asian nations, and from around the globe.