The report, From Student to Immigrant, says that while Canadian stakeholders’ priority is to retain international students after their studies, the government lacks a strategy to “coordinate between granting permits and selecting international students” for immigration.
“As a result, international students face friction from the immigration system,” the report outlines.
“This friction could worsen because increases in international student enrolment outpace increases in planned levels of permanent immigration,” it continues.
According to the data, 88% of international students who have gained permanent residency had to end up going through multiple temporary permit streams and holding multiple permits – an issue, CBC says, can “increase vulnerability” among those vying for PR.
Multiple programs have been initiated over the past decade to try and boost the amount of international students coming to the country – 60% of whom, CBIE data indicates, are going to Canada with the aim of obtaining permanent residency.
However, the existence of the postgraduate work permit alone and a lack of an immigration pathway for these students means that a bottleneck will appear, according to immigration consultant and policy analyst Earl Blaney.
In data Blaney obtained from the IRCC, numbers of permanent residence admissions of people with prior PWGPs are stipulated – 2018 and 2019 are in a similar range of 24,000-27,000 respectively, while 2020 dips to 19,395 admissions.
“In 2021, the number spikes,” Blaney pointed out, speaking with The PIE about the data.
“Because we had the temporary residency to permanent residency program that year, 40,000 more international graduates were admitted for PR – many without skilled jobs and with lower language test scores.
“However, in 2022, it’s been stripped down again – not to 2018 and 2019 levels, but still well over expected, which is an encouraging sign.
“The problem is it’s not keeping up with the volume of increase in international students,” he explained.
He also pointed out that this would not just be covering fee-paying international students, but other cohorts such as those on scholarships, dependents and refugees.
According to readily available IRCC data, the department processed 555,412 applications for study permits in Canada in 2021, up from just over 200,000 in 2020 – and the latest data as of November 2022 shows 671,088 applications were processed.
While this includes extensions for study permits, the number of applications finalised still means that numbers are continuing to rise.
“At the current volume of intake, there could soon be up to a million graduates that have no prospect of success”
A recent government statement said that the current international education strategy does not particularly focus on wellbeing, but instead on immigration metrics.
These increasing numbers each year means that unchecked, the bottleneck of those wanting permanent residency and not getting it could be “a disaster”.
“At the current volume of intake, there could soon be up to a million graduates that have no prospect of success,” Blaney predicted.
The most common method to gain permanent residency for international students, CBC reported, is the Provincial Nominee Program.
“Overall, provinces tend to nominate people with skills in high demand or people with connections to the province that could lead to long-term retention,” the report stated.
However, with rising numbers of international students searching for jobs that could lead to them gaining permanent residency, even CBC relents that there simply isn’t enough room – and the gap, as seen below, is clearly growing between those who have a permit, and those who eventually obtain PR.
On the vulnerability aspect, the report said, “Longer periods spent with temporary status in Canada… increase international students’ vulnerability to exploitative employment and stress about immigration.”
This correlates with multiple accounts of so-called “paper jobs” – where immigration consultants ask for up to $60,000 – the market value among those who follow the bogus practice, Blaney claims – to create a job that can keep people in the country – but the actual job is not what it seems on paper.
“Fake jobs are being created, jobs that are not even skilled jobs… it’s a false economy being created. This is not good for the immigrant – and this is not good for Canada,” Blaney said.
“Longer periods spent with temporary status in Canada… increase international students’ vulnerability to exploitative employment”
Legal methods of trying to retain international students in Canada are being pushed widely by the government. The province of New Brunswick recently launched a program specifically for international students to keep them working in the province and contributing, but will only see 1,000 in three years go through the program. Nova Scotia has also led on a number of retention initiatives.
The government also released a strategy to attempt extending opportunities for people to gain permanent residency, which international graduates are indeed eligible for – but as one stakeholder told The PIE, the program’s aim to “attract and retain candidates with significant in-Canada experience makes it less helpful for international students who do not have the same opportunities to gain work experience as domestic students”.
A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report found that more than 60% of international students who obtained study visas in 2015 were still present in Canada five years later.
However, the cracks are beginning to show earlier in the timeline. Recently, Cape Breton University had to close enrolment to multiple masters’ diploma streams because of the sheer volume of applications being submitted by international students.
Even with the cap, Cape Breton had to hold some lectures in downtown cinemas to cope with the sheer amount of students already there.
In essence, the lack of a purpose-built system to guide international students through from a postgraduate work permit to eventual permanent residence is a glaring issue – one that could cost many who are currently there waiting for PR, some suggest.
The CBC recommended in its report that IRCC and provincial governments need to take a greater role in in “steering policies that relate to international students”.
“We strongly recommend that IRCC, in cooperation with provincial/territorial governments, develop an international student immigration and settlement strategy,” the report concluded.