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Canada: int’l students less likely to work during studies, earn less than Canadian peers

International students in Canada are less likely to work during their studies and earn less than Canadian peers with similar educational background six years after graduation, a new report by Statistics Canada has found.

Difficulty with official languages may be one of the obstacles to successful employment for international students. Photo: Life-of-Pix/Pixabay

International students were found to have generally higher graduation rates than Canadian citizens and permanent residents

The report analysed the graduation rates, in-study uptake of part-time work opportunities and long-term labour market outcomes of three groups: international graduates, Canadian citizens and permanent residency holders.

While a larger influx of international post-secondary students may result in increased availability of skilled labour, the report stated, the process depends in part on how they integrate into the labour market – an important focus being the ability to combine studies and work.

“These challenges are amplified with the transition to full-time work since these students lack the professional connections”

International students were found to have generally higher graduation rates (64%) than Canadian citizens (59%) and permanent residents (57%).

However, when looking at their ability to combine studies and work, international students fared less well.

While 86% of Canadian citizens and 73% of permanent residents combined school and work, only 49% of international students reported doing so. The gap was narrower among doctoral students.

“International students may be less likely than Canadian students to combine school and work because of the work restrictions imposed by their study work permits which determine how much time a student can commit to working while studying,” Larissa Bezo, CBIE’s president and CEO, told The PIE News.

According to a 2018 CBIE international student survey, 57% of respondents were unemployed, with 56% claiming they were having difficulty finding work.

The most commonly cited challenges of respondents when approaching the labour market were that they lacked work experience, followed by not finding appropriate jobs for their skill sets, and finally struggling to fit employment into their study schedule.

“These challenges are amplified with the transition to full-time work since these students lack the professional connections and the work experience being sought by employers,” Bezo added.

“This could potentially lead to a situation where international student graduates are underemployed, finding it more challenging to find employment in their area of education.”

The report’s findings on the long-term labour market outcomes of the graduating class of 2010 – 35% of whom filed tax forms in Canada six years after graduation – seem to indicate that international students can encounter difficulties in their post-graduation employment.

As a whole cohort, international students earned more than their Canadian counterparts, but slightly less than permanent residents. However, this may be because as a whole international students have more characteristics associated with higher pay than domestic students.

For example, international students are overall more likely to be master’s or PhD graduates or graduate from fields such as business management and STEM  – fields associated with higher pay.

But when outcomes for students with similar characteristics (for example educational background and work experience) were compared, the picture changed: international students were on average earning CA$5,833 less than Canadian peers with the same background six years after graduation.

“Let’s not forget that international students as a whole face culture shock”

The report cited a 2018 paper offering possible reasons for the relatively poorer labour market outcomes found by the analysis: job search challenges because of weaker social networks, discrimination from employers, and language difficulties.

“The reasons are multifactorial,” immigration consultant Dave Sage told The PIE, adding that the results are not surprising.

“Let’s not forget that international students as a whole face culture shock, adjusting to a new education system, language difficulties, immigration problems, and lack the same support network of peers, mentors, and professional acquaintances.”

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