Senior Research Associate and
Senior Network Manager, Immigration
This op-ed was originally published in Canadian Immigrant on March 28, 2018.
Canada has experienced a huge surge in its international student population in recent years. International students contribute more than $15 billion to our economy each year, which supports 170,000 Canadian jobs. On first inclination, one might think that the anti-foreigner sentiments in other countries have contributed to this surge, but this is an oversimplification.
The latest federal government data shows that Canada had just fewer than 500,000 international students at the end of 2017. To put things into context, Canada’s international student population has nearly tripled over the past decade. In 2014, the federal government set a goal of having 450,000 international students in the country by 2022. Canada has achieved this target five years earlier and now ranks fourth behind the U.S., U.K. and China.
Canada’s rising intake corresponds with sky-rocketing demand for international education. Increased wealth in emerging markets has led to many citizens from the likes of Asia, Africa and the Middle East looking abroad to complete their studies.
Now, why are students coming to Canada?
True, Canada’s reputation as an open and welcoming society does help. In fact, it’s the second main reason international students come here, according to the annual survey conducted by the Canadian Bureau for International Education.
Canada also offers one of the world’s most competitive packages to international students. Many international students are eligible to work here part time to subsidize their expenses and gain work experience.
Upon completion of their studies, many go on to obtain post-graduate work permits, which allows them to apply their education in the Canadian labour market. International students are offered a suite of immigration pathways to encourage them to build a new life here. This makes perfect sense. They are statistically proven to be among the best candidates for immigration due to their high levels of language proficiency, good quality education that is automatically recognized by Canadian employers, and their experience working and living in Canada—which speeds up the integration process.
That said, the main reason international students choose Canada is due to the high quality of education offered by our colleges and universities. Moreover, international student tuition, which may seem expensive when compared with what Canadians pay, is globally competitive. The weak Canadian dollar also helps as it makes our institutions even more affordable than those that charge tuition in U.S. dollars, British pounds and Euros.
A skeptic may argue that Canadian institutions are pursuing international students because they are a huge source of revenue. While revenue from international students is important, there is more to the story. Often, tuition paid by international students is meant to cover their full costs for participating at our institutions. Canada’s youth population is shrinking and so institutions need to recruit abroad to ensure they remain educationally and financially viable—which is to the benefit of Canadian students. And welcoming bright minds to Canada enriches the learning experience at our campuses, provides students and faculty with international perspectives, and strengthens our economic and social ties with the rest of the world.
From students to immigrants
So, where do we go from here? According to the Conference Board of Canada’s research, more could be done to build awareness amongst international students about Canada’s immigration pathways. Our country has more than 50 immigration streams, which can make navigating the system daunting for international students. Finally, with more international students becoming immigrants, we need to identify how we can deliver cost-effective settlement supports to them to facilitate a seamless integration process. The research is clear: the earlier the settlement intervention, the more likely that an immigrant will thrive in Canada.
May 30–31 (Ottawa): Canadian Immigration Summit 2018: Strengthening Our Economy & Settlement Program