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Languages Canada report signals “challenging times”

Language providers across Canada are concerned that visa issues, along with accommodation shortages, meant they did not recover as they would have liked from declines in business during Covid-19.

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"The most significant challenge by far for members was visa processing times and student difficulties applying for visas"

The details are featured in a Languages Canada annual report the organisation released in conjunction with Bonard. The paper “paints a clear picture of challenging times for our members and sector,” the membership organisation said.

Executive director Gonzalo Peralta cautioned stakeholders to “beware of increases in numbers,” despite 2022 figures increasing on the previous year. In 2021, members had recorded the lowest numbers in their history at 57,000 students.

He highlighted that visa backlogs had resulted in approximately 30% of registered students being refunded and heading to other destinations after long and often frustrating delays.

“The cost has been of dreams and hopes dashed, revenues lost, staff laid off, relationships with recruitment partners damaged and distrust of Canada as a viable destination to experience learning a new language,” said Peralta.

In addition to the data gleaned from the report, Peralta underscored the myriad stories that remain untold, for example spouses planning on employment in Canada while accompanying their pathway student partners.

He contended that the sector in Québec is experiencing a subtle “attack”, with government measures acting as an affront to the private language sector.

In recent years, the provincial government has begun offering free French classes to anyone over 16 living in Québec, with financial assistance offered in some cases. This means that LC members are losing students to the government as Canadian citizens and permanent residents have always been “major source” market for French member programs.

“The result is the shrinking of a once flourishing and growing sector,” Peralta asserted. “I believe this is a short-sighted policy because governments come and go, and policies and government projects come and go, but sectors such as education and language remain.

Ideally, governments work with leading educators and language programs to ensure the long-term well-being of the sector and the region,” he shared with The PIE.

Responding to the survey from January through March 2023, 94% of the 196 LC members also indicated their concerns.

The most significant challenge by far for members was visa processing times and student difficulties applying for visas, with 74% noting it as their primary issue. Visa refusals was listed as the second biggest challenge for members at 45%, and staffing recruitment and retention came in third at 41%.

Availability of housing remained an issue for the sector, coming in as the fourth most pressing concern at 38%. “As the language education sector in Canada continues to rebuild, scarcity of accommodation options might become an even greater obstacle to recovery,” the report indicates.

LC members enrolled 97,679 students, 95% of whom participated in English language programs. The average study duration was 11.2 weeks, indicating a slight decrease from 2021’s 12.6 weeks, however the total number of student weeks increased by 52% from 2021.

“Scarcity of accommodation options might become an even greater obstacle to recovery”

There was a marked difference between the year-on-year rebound experienced by public and private sector programs, with student numbers in the private sector recovering faster than student weeks (+98% vs. +77%).

While the public sector recovered 40% of both pre-pandemic student numbers and student weeks, the private sector regained 73% of its student numbers and 89% of student weeks.

General English/French remained the most popular course in 2022 accounting for 65% of student enrolments, followed by pathway programs leading to university or college courses at 17%.

The visitor visa grew exponentially from 2021 to 2022 (5,276 to 29,727), yet challenges around visa processing resulted in approximately 10,000 students being unable to obtain visas.

The top region for incoming students was South America with 42% of all students – double the amount from the previous year. The top three countries of sending students were Japan, Brazil, and Mexico, with Japan seeing a 95% y-o-y increase.

A 153% y-o-y increase from Europe “was driven predominantly by France, Italy, and Germany, which sent 1,569, 1,204, and 1,019 more students, respectively, than in 2021”, LC indicated.

Adult students made up the vast majority at 88%. The most popular province for students was Ontario, which increased its student numbers from 37% to 42%. British Columbia enrolled 36% of students, and Quebec, 13%. While numbers increased across the board, the speed of the sector’s revival by provinces varied.

For students under 18 years old, Quebec had the highest share at 16%, with British Columbia at 13%, and Ontario representing 11%.

Staffing has slowly increased for LC members, however even with a 29% increase, they are still at only about half of their 2019 staffing.

At 66% of all bookings, education agencies were the largest booking channel for LC members. Direct enrolments represented 22% of bookings and institutional agreements 26%.

Peralta told The PIE that Canada’s language education sector did not reach its potential in 2022 due to visa backlogs. “It is a black mark on our country, and the only way to deal with breakdowns effectively is to recognise them, face them, and have honest conversations,” he said.

He added steps are being taken by Languages Canada and government officials, such as the minister of immigration Sean Fraser. “Unfortunately, the impact of the breakdown is still being felt in 2023, and so we look forward to 2024 as a year not just of full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, but of new and innovative offers and processes from Languages Canada, our members and the Canadian government.”

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