The 35-page report, which was marked ‘secret’ but later obtained by the Globe and Mail after nine months of negotiations, calls for an overhaul of the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program that allows international graduates to stay and work in Canada for up to three years.
The report argues that the programme is facilitating a “large pool of temporary labour, largely in low-paid positions”
Between 50-60% of eligible students applied for the post-study programme between 2008 and 2014, according to the report, which was published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now ICCRC). However, the document found that the majority of graduates on the programme over the six-year period were in low-skilled jobs in the service sector.
Median earnings for graduates on the programme were reported to be CAN$19,219 in 2010, less than half of the $41,600 earned by domestic college graduates in 2013 and $53,000 by domestic university graduates.
The report argues that the programme is facilitating a “large pool of temporary labour, largely in low-paid positions” and encouraging the development of poor quality postsecondary programmes.
Thevi Pather, executive director at North Island College International, challenged the claim that post-study work programme encourages poor quality postsecondary courses.
“This would suggest that some of these programmes were recently implemented to respond to international students,” he said, explaining that institutions in his province of BC “must adhere to strict Ministry guidelines for new programming”.
A spokesperson for Universities Canada also stressed that universities “are deeply committed to ensuring their students’ and graduates’ success”.
“When looking at the impact of this particular program, it’s more useful to compare employment outcomes of international student graduates versus the results of new Canadians from other immigration streams,” they argued, saying that international students who take part in the PGWP have “far better” employment outcomes than their counterparts who do not.
They also noted that it is unclear what level of postsecondary education the report was examining.
“When looking at data around employment for these graduates, this information is significant,” they commented. “It’s also important to know whether the report was looking at data about only those in full-time employment, or a mix of those in full-time and part-time employment.”
Post-study options for international students have come under scrutiny in the last year as the Express Entry programme, which began in 2015 as a route to permanent residence for international students and other immigrants, has garnered a mixed response.
“I suspect it has to do with the difficulty of applying for a job in a culture where you don’t know the norms as well”
Earlier this year, the government announced changes to Express Entry that it said will ease the path to citizenship for international students, including increasing the credit given in the application process for time spent in the country.
At the time, John McCallum, minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship, described international students as “the perfect candidates to become Canadian citizens”, adding that “it makes no sense for Canada to punch them in the nose” by making it more difficult for them to stay.
However, the latest report raises questions about whether international students are being rewarded in the labour market.
The report does not give a reason for the pay gap it highlights, and Tina Bax, founder and president of the pathway provider CultureWorks, suggested international students themselves were unaware of the discrepancy.
“I suspect it has to do with the difficulty of applying and interviewing for a job in a culture where you don’t know the norms as well as you would in your own culture,” she said, adding: “So many stories about students never ask the students what they think about the issue.”
Pather noted that all graduates, both international and domestic, faced challenges during the time period looked at in the report due to a downturn in the economy, with many overqualified graduates also taking jobs in the service sector.
However, he added: “As a former international student, I appreciate the systemic challenges one faces in integrating into a new labour market, and often the path to progression starts at the lower end of the pay scale.”
“I think that a healthy economy can turn that around to an extent, but I think as international educators, we need to do a better job in reaching out to, and engaging employers about the benefits and value international graduates bring to the workplace,” he suggested.