Douglas Todd: Number of Chinese students in Canada plunges 44 per cent

Latest from Douglas Todd on the decline in international students as a result of COVID-19 travel and related restrictions.

The three charts below highlight the extent of the decline starting in late 2019, along with the impact of the largest 10 source countries (2018 basis) contrasting the April 2020 change with the the first quarter of 2020.

The extent to which COVID-19 will impact the third quarter, when most students arrive, is of course the big question facing universities and colleges and the related economic impact:

The number of people from China obtaining Canadian study permits nosedived 44 per cent in the first four months of this year as COVID-19 restrictions and diplomatic battles took their toll.

Australia is experiencing an even more precipitous slump in what has been its largest foreign-student contingent — as China’s leaders this week warned against studying in Australia, which it said discriminates against Asians.

In addition, Canada has in the past two months come up with several incentives designed to limit the drop in study visas and woo high-fee-paying international students, who numbered 642,000 in Canada at the end of 2019, making up one in five of all those in higher education.

More than 150,000 Mainland Chinese citizens studied and worked in Canada in 2019, the second largest foreign-student group after India. Greater Toronto last year was the temporary home to 53,000 students from China, while Metro Vancouver had 34,000 and Victoria hosted 4,000.

This year, however, a Chinese study visa downturn appears to be coming in response to COVID-19 lockdowns, diplomatic tensions, border restrictions, a switch to online teaching and massive job losses in labour sectors that often get filled by foreign students.

The latest Immigration Department figures show just 12,065 citizens of the People’s Republic of China obtained study visas in Canada in the first four months of 2020. That’s down 44 per cent from the same period last year.

It’s more severe than the 31 per cent overall decline in study visas from all foreign students. Of the four other largest source countries sending students to Canada, the number of Indians has dropped by 29 per cent this year, South Koreans are down 35 per cent, French have declined 29 per cent and Vietnamese dipped 15 per cent.

When it comes to China’s 640,000 foreign students, almost all have chosen to study in five English-language countries, including the U.S., Britain and New Zealand. But Australia and Canada have welcomed by far the highest number per capita.

While specialists say the international-student market will struggle over the next few years because of coronavirus restrictions, students from China, who have arguably flocked the most to foreign institutions, appear now to be among those most reluctant to head abroad.

When the pandemic hit and Australian politicians urged all foreign nationals who couldn’t financially support themselves to go home, the country’s leaders in effect began saying goodbye to many of the nation’s 720,000 international students, including 212,000 from China.

Australia’s plunge is coming at the same time China has singled out the country, telling citizens “by no means travel to Australia,” and citing “racist incidents targeting Asians.” It also brought up health risks from COVID-19, even though Australia has a much lower rate of coronavirus deaths than the U.S. and Canada. Some reports say only a tiny trickle of Chinese students have obtained study visas in Australia this year.

For his part, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday told China, which has also cut its Australia beef imports, that he wouldn’t be bullied by offshore “coercion.”

The reaction from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been almost the opposite, even while China has unfairly placed two Canadians in solitary confinement and drastically cut Canadian canola imports.

In addition to speaking softly about China, Canada’s Liberal government has recently offered unprecedented incentives to international students, which it says bring $21 billion annually into higher education and the economy.

In an effort to head off more drastic drops, Ottawa recently removed the cap on how many hours most foreign students can work while studying.

In addition, the Liberals changed policy so that up to a million foreign students, refugees and guest workers already in Canada could apply for the government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit of $2,000 a month without providing proof of a work permit.

In late May, the Liberals also announced that foreign students will be permitted to complete 50 per cent of their studies outside Canada. Perhaps most importantly, Ottawa also said such students will still be able to get a postgraduate work permit for up to three years.

How far should Ottawa continue to go to lure international-student dollars and workers, including from China? Clearly, a lot of transnational money is at stake.

Last year, students from China made up 40 per cent of the 153,000 foreign students in B.C. The University of B.C. recently enrolled 6,281 students with Chinese citizenship, taking in $184 million a year from their fees. Almost half of Simon Fraser University’s foreign students have been from China, paying $126 million in fees in the 2018-19 school year. They also typically fill low-wage jobs and pay rent.

There is no doubt Canada has built a significant reliance on China and its students. Now, dealing with COVID-19 and country-to-country tensions, that dependence is being put to the test.

Source: Douglas Todd: Number of Chinese students in Canada plunges 44 per cent

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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