ICYMI: How can Canada get the international students it needs for the jobs it has? A new report calls for a ‘course correction’

Somewhat amusing, as all such reports say “Canada should do more,” with less discussion of trade-offs and relative effectiveness of existing programs. Addition is always easier than subtraction for governments and advocacy groups.

Not sure how a wage-subsidy program for international students, even in high demand fields, would be received by the Canadian public.

And more fundamental questions remain regarding international students and immigration pathways remain, not only with respect to study areas but also the type of institution (university, college, private), as others have noted:

Canada needs to do a much better job of targeting and supporting international students in order to deal with this country’s specific labour shortages — such as the recent “wake-up call” in health care — a new report says.

While foreign students are well-represented in STEM and business administration, their numbers need to go up in health care, some trades and services to meet Canada’s future labour market needs, says the report from RBC Economics & Thought Leadership.

Tweaking immigration selection to favour international students with a background in STEM, health care and in trades, and providing these students more work-integrated learning opportunities through co-ops or internships would go a long way, the researchers say.

Getting a Canadian education and work experience has increasingly become the pathway to permanent residence for many newcomers.

Every year, about 17 per cent of all new permanent residents and almost 40 per cent of immigrants in the economic category — newcomers chosen for their job skills and education — have studied in Canada.

However, a lack of networks and relevant work experience have been the primary barriers keeping some from finding a related job after they graduate, according to the report Course Correction: How international students can help solve Canada’s labour crisis.

Of the international students who have started studying in Canada since 2010, about one third later successfully acquired permanent residence. Migrating to Canada through the student pathway is an expensive route, with international tuition fees in universities averaging $33,000. “For many, a Canadian education may not yield the desired return on investment,” the report cautioned.

“We need to do more than just stamping a study permit and saying, ‘Figure it out on your own and we can’t wait to see you on the other side.’ There needs to be better collaboration and better support from start to finish,” says Ben Richardson, the report’s co-author.

“The international student cohort can be a very productive source of future immigrants and citizens to Canada, but we need to ensure that the variety of stakeholders … working in this space are working together.”

Richardson said Canada has done a lot of things right in attracting international students, by offering them postgraduate work permits for as long as three years and pathways for permanent residence based on the Canadian work experience they acquire.

Those policies have helped make Canada an international education powerhouse, surpassing the United Kingdom and becoming the third most common destination for international students behind the United States and Australia.

Enrolment of international students at Canadian post-secondary institutions has grown from 7.2 per cent in 2010 to almost 20 per cent of the overall enrolment in 2020.

Enrolment in short-cycle post-secondary programs, which can be as short as eight months, in colleges has notably grown twice as fast as other programs since 2016, as it’s viewed as a fast-track for immigration, said the report.

“Canada needs college-educated students to address labour shortages across the economy. But some students in short-cycle programs have a longer route to the labour market and permanent residency, and some may not have a path at all,” noted the report.

“With colleges now taking in 40 per cent of Canada’s post-secondary international students, versus 24 per cent in 2010, their admission choices are material to Canada’s foreign talent pipeline.”

While many colleges and universities are working with employers and governments to create training and bridging programs to meet changing labour market needs, the report calls for a more “concerted policy shift” to narrow the skills gap.

Getting international students to stay often hinges on what happens as school ends and they set their eyes on the pathways to careers and permanent residence.

“Almost all the countries that compete directly with Canada, whether it is the UK, the U.S. and Australia, they’re all raising their game and new competitors, such as India, Singapore and China, are looking to attract these same students,” says Yadullah Hussain, the study’s other co-author.

“So, how do we, from a place of strength, improve and upgrade the policies that we have?”

During the pandemic, the federal government prioritized immigration processing for international students and temporary residents in selected jobs through special measures, the report said.

These changes in selection criteria not only help serve Canada’s labour market needs but also inform prospective international students about where the country’s priorities are when choosing their fields of study.

The U.K., U.S. and Australia have already made plans to target STEM students to make it easier for them to enter and stay in those countries.

The report recommends Canada invest in a wage-subsidy program for international students in high-demand fields and ease their access to work-integrated learning, exempting them from additional work permits for co-op terms and internships.

“We’re operating from a position of strength, but we can’t take that for granted and rest on our laurels,” said Richardson.

Source: How can Canada get the international students it needs for the jobs it has? A new report calls for a ‘course correction’

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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