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Canada: new PM pledges to ease citizenship path, stakeholders optimistic

Earlier this month, Canada’s Liberal Party displaced Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, swinging to power on a platform that included a promise to ease the route to permanent residence for international students. Though the party hasn’t yet been officially sworn in, international education stakeholders are optimistic about what the change in leadership might bring for the sector.

Newly-elected Prime Minister Designate Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party and his wife Sophie. Photo: Flickr/Renegade98.

Trudeau has also promised to form a better relationship with the civil service, which “should in turn support better and faster visa processing"

“It’s an exciting development certainly,” Jennifer Humphries, vice-president, membership, public policy and communications at the Canadian Bureau for International Education, told The PIE News. “PM Designate Trudeau’s party platform indicated a number of reviews and changes that would impact international students.”

Trudeau has pledged to “remove barriers” to international students applying through the Canadian Experience Class programme

Crucially, the newly-elected Justin Trudeau has pledged to make the path to Canadian citizenship easier for international students and to “remove barriers” to international students applying through the Canadian Experience programme.

The party has not yet defined how this will be executed, but has also promised to give international students and temporary residents credit for time already spent in Canada when applying for permanent residence.

Currently, applicants must have lived in Canada for four of the six years leading up to their application. However, time spent studying in the country does not currently count towards this.

As well as policies specifically directed towards international students, there are a number of Trudeau’s other election promises that may positively affect the sector, according to Randall Martin, executive director of the British Columbia Council for International Education.

The Prime Minister Designate “promises a return to much-vaunted Canadian values on the world stage” including multilateralism, positive engagement with world bodies, diplomacy, equitable immigration policies and support for refugees, Martin told The PIE News.

One policy that may positively impact the industry is Trudeau’s proposed removal of the visa requirement for visitors from Mexico – something Martin said has “not been helpful to the sector”.

Trudeau has also promised to form a “healthier and better relationship” with the civil service, where dramatic cuts have damaged morale, Martin added.

“This should in turn support better and faster visa processing than we are currently experiencing as well as support for our valuable trade commissioner service,” he said.

Though these promises are encouraging, stakeholders are quick to note that it is too early to predict exactly how the change in government will affect the international education sector.

“It is early days, however, and there will likely be a good deal of pushing and pulling on immigration priorities”

“I am certainly hopeful that they will act on the promise that time spent as a student in Canada will count towards permanent residence,” Geoff Wilmshurst, director of Camosun International at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, told The PIE News. “This kind of change would be helpful for both the Express Entry requirements and the Canada Experience Class.”

“It is early days, however, and there will likely be a good deal of pushing and pulling on immigration priorities, including the refugee file, for the Liberals to consider.”

Changes in policy will be shaped by the new cabinet, which will be appointed after Trudeau is officially sworn in next week, and Martin notes that many of the newly elected MPs are “largely untested”.

Meanwhile, Humpries at CBIE expects that new policies “will take some time to materialise”.

“I think it is too early to tell what will happen,” added Martin, but added that “the mood in the country is one of optimism in many sectors”.

Meanwhile, Trudeau himself may help to create a broader appeal for Canadian education, he added.

“As apparently the only world leader with a tattoo and with a promise to legalise marijuana, his words may resonate with mobile young people a bit more than those of the outgoing government,” he noted.

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