Ottawa, is there a problem? International student numbers, job experiences and pathways to permanent residency

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Ottawa, is there a problem?
         International student numbers,
         job experiences and pathways to
         permanent residency

           SERIES REPORT - 6


     Nahid Sultana*, Francine Schlosser**and Valerie Preston***

                                                 May 2021

*Nahid Sultana is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Odette School of Business at the
University of Windsor and Windsor City Network Coordinator for the BMRC-IRMU
** Francine Schlosser is the Odette Professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Odette
School of Business, University of Windsor.
***Valerie Preston is Professor of Geography at York University and Principal Investigator
for the BMRC-IRMU Partnership.

The COVID 19 pandemic provides                                      Rho, Migrant Student Worker Organizer,
opportunities for policymakers, educational                         Migrant Students United, MWAC; and Leah
institutions, settlement agencies, and                              Nord, Senior Director of Workforce
immigrant and ethnic communities to                                 Strategies and Inclusive Growth, Canadian
recognize the unique circumstances and                              Chamber of Commerce examined policies
vulnerabilities of international students, in                       related to international student numbers, job
particular, those who desire to transition                          experiences and pathways to permanent
to permanent residence in Canada.                                   residency in Canada.1 Moderator, Francine
International students have become an                               Schlosser, Odette Professor in
integral part of Canada's postsecondary                             Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the
landscape, an important supply of workers,                          University of Windsor, prompted each
and a source of substantial revenues that                           panelist to highlight their perspectives on the
boost the Canadian economy. However, the                            problems and opportunities associated with
growing number of international students                            the growing number of international
that wish to become Canadian citizens                               students in Canada.
present urgent challenges concerning the
admission of skilled workers and the                                COVID 19, INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS,
provision of settlement services. In a public                       AND CURRENT INTERNATIONAL
forum the issues related to international                           STUDENT POLICY
student numbers, job experiences and
pathways to permanent residency in Canada,                          Canada aimed to support international
six panelists; James McNamee, Senior                                students affected by the COVID 19
Director, Strategic Program and Policy                              pandemic with several new policies, for
sector, Immigration, Refugees and                                   example, by allowing international students
Citizenship Canada (IRCC); Kareem El-                               to learn remotely during the pandemic.
Assal, Managing Editor of CIC News and                              Remote learning creates disadvantages for
Director of Policy & Digital Strategy,                              international students that may heighten
CanadaVisa; Robert Falconer, Researcher,                            economic disparities between them and
School of Public Policy, University of                              domestic students after graduation from
Calgary; Mikal Skuterud, Professor,                                 Canadian universities and colleges. With
University of Waterloo, ON, Canada; Sarom                           extremely limited social interactions with

1 We are grateful for the assistance with planning and organizing   Gabriel, and L. Veronis, Mr. R. Shahbazi, Ms. S. Shankar, and Ms.
the webinar provided by the BMRC-IRMU International Students        S. Fakim.
Working Group; Profs. M. Walton-Roberts, F. Schlosser, C.


other students and their instructors,
international students struggle to develop a     Sarom Rho reminded the audience that
sense of belonging and face additional           surveys, online information sessions, focus
challenges attending courses in different        group discussions, and polls have identified
time zones and in a new language. Social         international students’ five main priorities:
inclusion is a major concern for international   1) expand and simplify pathways to
students. They worry that completing degree      permanent residency for all international
requirements online may diminish the value       students, 2) fix rules around work (for
of Canadian post-secondary education,            example, remove the time limit on work for
reducing their ability to compete for jobs in    study permit holders as they are not able to
Canada. Studying remotely, students miss         work more than 20 hours per week during
opportunities to develop career and social       regular school terms), 3) unite families, 4)
networks and cannot easily gain experience       lower tuition fees for international students,
in Canadian workplaces. International            and 5) provide full immigration status to all
students encounter challenges learning and       migrants, refugees, students, workers, and
studying in English or French when               undocumented people and ensure a single-
interactions with instructors and peers are      tier immigration system so that all persons
limited. Other communication challenges          have equal rights and protections. While
associated with learning in different time       National Occupational Classification (NOC)
zones, technical difficulties, pre-recorded      C and D skill level jobs are essential to
audio/video lectures, inability to               sustain the economy, international students
communicate online with instructors,             with experience in these jobs cannot apply
classmates, and staff due to language            for the Federal Skilled Workers Class or the
barriers, and inability to access many on-       Canadian Experience Class via Express
campus and off-campus resources may also         Entry. Migrant Students United called on
affect international students ' educational      policymakers to make post-graduate work
outcomes and future labour market                permits renewable, to lower the points
integration. To combat these disadvantages,      required to qualify for permanent residence
Robert Falconer called for policies and          in Express Entry, and to count semi-skilled
programs that will address students’             work (NOC level C) and unskilled work
concerns and increase economic equality          (NOC level D) as relevant Canadian work
between international students who desire        experience.
permanent residence in Canada and their
Canadian-born peers.


In recognition of the challenges facing         For international students who study in
international students during the pandemic      Canada, the pandemic has also posed
and their value as workers in the Canadian      challenges, especially the sudden loss of
economy, the federal government enhanced        jobs associated with the pandemic’s drastic
international students’ access to post-         economic decline that threatens their access
graduation work permits and their pathways      to jobs relevant for obtaining permanent
to permanent residency. According to James      residence. International students who have
McNamee, Canada now allows international        graduated from an accredited post-secondary
students who study remotely to qualify for a    institution are now able to obtain a one-time
post-graduation work permit (PGWP)              only open work permit for up to 18 months
(Government of Canada, 2021). Under the         to replace an expired PGWP (Government
new guidelines, international students do not   of Canada, 2021). This policy allows
have time deducted from the length of the       international students to become eligible to
PGWP for studies they complete outside          submit Express Entry profiles. Kareem El-
Canada before April 30, 2021. Even students     Assal criticized the policy change since it
who have not had an opportunity to study in     does not address the limited availability of
Canada may qualify for a PGWP. While the        entry-level professional jobs during the
work permit changes provide some benefits       pandemic. After eighteen months, many
to international students, Kareem El-Assal      students are unlikely to have the job
argued that they also pose risks. Canada is     experience required for the Express Entry
planning to welcome a large number of           Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program and
future workers who have had few                 work experience gained during the
opportunities to practice French or English,    pandemic is unlikely to be valued by
to gain professional and social networks,       Canadian employers.
and to acquire Canadian work experience
and these omissions may inadvertently           High tuition fees remain an issue for many
disadvantage international students. Without    international students. Since the 2008
opportunities to live, study and work in        recession, many Canadian postsecondary
Canada, even international students who         educational institutions have increased
fulfill the language and work experience        international student tuition fees. Between
requirements may not be as successful in        2007-08 and 2018-19, the total value of
Canada as their counterparts who studied in     tuition fees paid by international students
the country.                                    grew from $1.5 billion to $6.9 billion
                                                (Higher Education Strategy Associates,


2020). Robert Falconer pointed out that         The IRCC is creating a new pathway to
international tuition fees have an up and       permanent residency for 40,000
down relationship with government funding       international students who have graduated
(tuition increases to compensate for            from a Canadian postsecondary institution
decreasing government funding) that varies      (CTV News, April 14, 2021). Kareem El-
from one province to another. Provincial        Assal is concerned international graduates
governments do not regulate tuition fees for    who obtain permanent residency during the
international students, allowing                pandemic when jobs are scarce have
postsecondary institutions to charge what       uncertain economic prospects. Recent
the market will bear. Sarom Rho suggested       entrants to the job market are often scarred
that the federal and provincial governments     by recessions, suffering lower incomes and
need to ensure international students pay the   less advancement throughout their careers.
same tuition fees as domestic students and
have access to all services including health    INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND
care, housing, jobs, and emergency              LABOUR MARKET INTEGRATION
pandemic benefits.

                                                Regardless of the class or category in which
James McNamee described how
                                                they enter Canada, labour market integration
international student enrollment in Canada
                                                is key for all immigrants. Many international
has grown significantly since 2015 when the
                                                students apply for a study permit with dual
IRCC integrated students into permanent
                                                intent to study and to obtain employment
resident pathways through Express Entry. In
                                                and permanent residency. Leah Nord (Senior
2019, over 642,000 international students
                                                Director of Workforce Strategies and
enrolled in post-secondary institutions and
                                                Inclusive Growth, Canadian Chamber of
58,520 international graduates became
                                                Commerce) noted that work and study
Canadian permanent residents (Immigration,
                                                should be separated and each should be
Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2020).
                                                clearly defined. She added that “we value
Due to the travel restrictions and delays in
                                                international students as a source of
the processing of the student visas and study
                                                potential labour and permanent residents,
permit applications during the COVID 19
                                                and we need to make it clear from the very
pandemic, international student enrolments
                                                beginning when they apply.”
in Canadian public universities and colleges
dropped nearly 17% in 2020 (IRCC, 2021).        Co-operative education and work-integrated
                                                learning are major aspects of many


Canadian post-secondary education models.       Upon graduation, international students are
They provide students with the opportunity      forced to navigate the path to permanent
to gain Canadian work experience, while         residency through post-graduate work
employers test potential new                    permits without support from their
hires. International students who are           educational institutions. As temporary
accepted directly into a program that           residents, they do not have access to
requires a mandatory co-operative (co-op)       federally funded settlement services at the
term or internship must obtain a work permit    exact time when the support is most needed
at the same time as they obtain a study         (Schlosser, Lam, Kerr, 2021). Leah Nord
permit because work visa processing can         emphasized that the services available to
take up to four months. Students need their     international students making the transition
work permits in hand in time to start           to permanent residency are limited and
internships and co-op positions. Obtaining a    employers often can’t or won’t assist
co-op position is often challenging for         temporary permit holders along their
international students due to work visa         pathways to permanent residency.
processing delays, limited co-op placements,
and lack of professional networks.              INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND THE
Moreover, much of the mandatory work            SELECTION PROCESS
experience obtained through research
assistantships, teaching assistantships,
                                                According to Mikal Skuterud, Canadian
internships, and co-op placements is part-
                                                immigration policies and programs need
time or temporary and does not count as
                                                clear goals and targets. Currently, different
work experience for immigration purposes.
                                                interest groups, for example, immigrant
Post-secondary education institutions need
                                                communities, Canadian workers, and
to rethink work-integrated learning
                                                Canadian employers promote their own
programs for international students when
                                                agenda when discussing immigration.
there is no recognition of the skills and
                                                Noting that the Canadian government is
experiences gained through co-op positions
                                                trying to achieve more than one objective
and internships during their study program.
                                                with its immigration program, he argued that
The complexities of post-graduate work
                                                there should be different policy instruments
visas also discourage employers from
                                                for each objective. The student immigration
hiring international students and limit their
                                                programs in Canada are unambiguously
prospects of entering the job market.
                                                designed to achieve the government’s
                                                economic goals. According to Mikal


Skuterud “it is not about the well-being of     challenges are often apparent in classrooms:
immigrants or helping immigrants to make        limited English or French language abilities
them better off, it is about increasing the     and low grades. Although both factors
economic well-being of the people who are       influence labour market outcomes, grades
already here in Canada.” International          are not considered in Express Entry.
students apply for permanent residency
mainly through the Express Entry
system that uses a points-based system for      RECOMMENDATIONS AND MOVING
screening applicants. The point system is       FORWARD
derived from a statistical analysis that
predicted immigrants' earnings in the first
                                                Sarom Rho stated that the pandemic has
ten years after their landing in Canada.        exposed the vulnerabilities of international
IRCC is selecting people who would              students recruited to study in Canada
maximize their earnings and help to raise       without many basic rights and only limited
Canada’s GDP per capita. With this goal in
                                                access to services such as health care, family
mind, international students represent a win-   unification, jobs, and basic labor protections.
win situation for Canada. Canadian-             She recommended that Canadian screening
educated immigrants have higher earnings        and selection policies should (1) credit part-
than foreign-educated immigrants and post-
                                                time as well as full-time educational
secondary institutions benefit from             enrolment, (2) make post-graduate work
international students’ tuition fees. The aim   permits renewable, (3) remove time
of Express Entry is to increase Canada’s        limitations and industry restrictions on study
economic prosperity, not improve the
                                                permits, and (4) lower the points required to
wellbeing of international students.            qualify for permanent residency. Sarom Rho
Mikal Skuterud suggested that if we would       advocated a single-tier immigration system
like immigration to raise economic growth,      that offers permanent residency for all who
we need to do a better job of screening and     are already in Canada and for everyone who
selecting applicants. Welcoming well-           will arrive in the future and ensures equal
educated, international students seems to be    rights for all. Over 400 groups have
the right policy direction; however, many       endorsed Migrant Students United’s
international students experience integration   statement demanding full and permanent
challenges and have lower than expected         status for all (
economic outcomes. Long before they enter
the labour market, two major integration


Leah Nord described Canadian Chamber of                 pre-landing services available to them as is
Commerce policy resolutions related to                  done for other groups of migrants. Moving
international students in the past three years          forward, Canada must rethink the funding
that include the removal of the work permit             model for universities to reduce reliance on
requirement for work-integrated learning                international student tuition and ensure
opportunities, ensure international                     sufficient funding from governments,
students’ eligibility for national summer               research grants, domestic tuition, and other
jobs programs,2 and the recognition of all              sources.
work experience in Canada as qualifications
                                                        Mikal Skuterud argued that IRCC cannot
for permanent residency. Moving forward,
                                                        achieve its objectives with a single
the government should conduct a labour
                                                        immigration program. It needs different
market analysis with these recommendations
                                                        policy instruments for each objective. The
in mind.
                                                        IRCC also needs to consider how to attract
                                                        the top international students who often
According to Robert Falconer, international             leave Canada after graduating to take better
students have a high demand for the limited             job offers elsewhere. The small number of
services offered for temporary residents                top performers can have huge impacts on
such as help with crafting resumes, access to           innovation, patents, and startups, so
language training, support in employer-                 policymakers should find ways to attract
worker labour disputes, and assistance with             and retain them in Canada. For example,
permanent residency applications. Although              the government could waive tuition
some of the approximately 600,000                       premiums for top performers who work in
international students currently studying in            Canada for a minimum number of years.
Canada do not wish to remain in Canada,
those who use settlement services are more              Settlement services that support
likely to pursue permanent residency.                   international students are even more
Falconer recommends that policymakers                   important during and after the pandemic
increase government-funded settlement                   (Esses et al., 2021). Kareem El-Assal
services for international students and make            recommended that the IRCC work with the

2                                                       effectively transition into the labour market
  International students are not eligible for Canada
Summer Jobs, an initiative of the Youth Employment      (Government of Canada, 2021).
and Skills Strategy that intends to provide flexible
and holistic services to support all young Canadians
develop the skills and obtain paid work experience to


provinces and territories to expand             individuals to remain in Canada despite the
international students’ eligibility for         pandemic. Policymakers have tried to
settlement services. He also suggested a        respond with resilience and creativity to the
reduced work experience requirement to          unprecedented crisis posed by the pandemic.
qualify for the Canadian Experience Class
during the pandemic. This policy change         The current federal government wants to
requires careful evaluation since it may        maintain high levels of immigration and the
place international students at a               international student strategy aims to make
disadvantage in a competitive and               them a major source of talent in Canada.
challenging post-pandemic labour market. It     James McNamee attributes Canada’s largely
is important to “double down” on                positive experience with immigration to
employment integration support during and       successful immigration policies and the
after the pandemic to safeguard the             efforts of all levels of government to adapt
economic prospects of new immigrants in         them to new circumstances. The tremendous
the Canadian economy that emerges from          challenges facing many international
the pandemic.                                   students indicate more needs to be done.
                                                New interventions, adequate resources, and
James McNamee noted that current                access to relevant services are needed to
immigration policies and programs balance       minimize the damage from the pandemic
competing objectives to support the             and to avoid future challenges that the
economy, fulfill Canada’s obligations           pandemic may create for international
regarding refugee protection, enable family     students.
unification, and provide settlement services.
                                                For more information about the panel and
During the pandemic, the IRCC has worked
                                                upcoming events, please contact
with provinces and territories, education
institutions, settlement agencies, and other
nongovernmental organizations to develop
and implement new policies. For example,
on February 13, 2021, the IRCC invited
27,332 candidates to apply for permanent
residency via Express Entry (Government of
Canada, 2021). This dramatic increase in the
number of Express Entry invitations was an
attempt to find a fast track for talented

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