ICYMI: Here’s Canada’s new plan to help foreign students and workers become permanent residents. Some say it isn’t nearly new enough

Of note:

After much hype over a new strategy to help more migrants become permanent residents, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has delivered a plan that largely reinstated the policy changes made during the pandemic.

A motion unanimously passed by Parliament in May gave Fraser 120 days to come up with a comprehensive strategy that would allow international students and temporary foreign workers of all skill levels pathways to permanent residence to address Canada’s persistent labour shortages.

On Tuesday, the minister tabled the 39-page “Strategy to Expand Transitions to Permanent Residency” in the House of Commons, after the release was delayed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a number of measures, both already in place and upcoming, that will continue to find ways to support the transition of temporary foreign workers and international student graduates to permanent residents,” Fraser’s press secretary, Aidan Strickland, told the Star.

“We look forward to building on this work to meet Canada’s economic needs and fuel our growth.”

The plan builds on many of the ad-hoc changes that the immigration department has made to accommodate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic that greatly hampered global travel and processing capacity of the immigration system due to lockdowns. It includes:

  • Raising annual targets of permanent residents admitted to Canada to 431,645 in 2022; 447,055 in 2023; and 451,000 in 2024 (the levels were announced in February);
  • Tweaking the selection system of skilled immigration including more power for the minister to hand-pick permanent residents — authority embedded in the federal budget bill passed in summer;
  • Enhancing current economic immigration programs such as the skill type of the national occupational classification system used to assess immigration eligibility; improving foreign credential recognition; and supporting the transition of international students and migrants in health professions to permanent residence; and
  • Continuing the transformation to a modernized and digitalized immigration system to expedite processing.

The report said a two-step immigration system transitioning workers and students to permanent residence improves job-skills matches driven by labour demand, but acknowledged these temporary residents can be exposed to exploitation and poor working conditions.

“This strategy is just a rehash of existing announcements. While the government yet again accepted that temporary migrants are exploited, there is no real strategy here to end the abuse,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“Everyone knows what needs to change: we need full and permanent immigration status for all, without exclusions or delay.”

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan also expressed disappointment with the minister’s response to the parliamentary motion.

“What the government provided is nothing more than the recycling of what is already in place. The minister is not proposing anything new to support the goals set out in Motion 44. This so-called strategy lacks any real information or details of what a true comprehensive plan would entail,” Kwan said in a statement.

“One would expect the government to incorporate any data gathered on labour market needs and skill shortages to align with immigration policies. Canadians should expect nothing less.”

Fraser’s plan did mention the department’s current review of the international student program, including rules and authorities in their transition to permanent residence, as well as the option to issue open work permits to family members of all foreign workers, a privilege currently enjoyed mainly by those in high-skilled, high-waged jobs.

“The Department is assessing the trade-offs between reducing administrative requirements on co-op and work-integrated learning with any potential integrity risks that could arise as a result,” said the report, referring to ideas to help international students participate in the labour market.

“IRCC must balance facilitative measures with program integrity checks to ensure that international students benefit from a positive and quality academic experience while in Canada.”

Officials are still weighing different options to add to the pathways for international students to stay here permanently, particularly if their education, training or work experience is relevant in addressing Canada’s emerging economic priorities.

Source: Here’s Canada’s new plan to help foreign students and workers become permanent residents. Some say it isn’t nearly new enough

The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

More on international study permit delays, yet another unfortunate example of government and IRCC failure in service delivery:

Leila Ghodrat Jahromi should have been sitting in class at Simon Fraser University this week, studying for her master of education degree.

Instead, the Iranian student is sitting in her temporary home in Turkey as she waits for a Canadian study permit some 14 weeks after applying for one.

“I have gone through a difficult path in my life,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who sold off a marriage gift of land from her parents and her car to cover her tuition in Canada. “Studying abroad is a milestone in my occupation towards prosperity. This situation is shattering all my planning for the future.”

The 30-year-old is among tens of thousands of international students whose fall semester has been put in jeopardy thanks to a processing backlog of permits at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). As of Sept. 1, just days before classes began, 151,000 applications were still working their way through the system, according to IRCC’s latest figures, provided to the Star on Tuesday.

Universities and colleges, which have mostly returned to in-person learning, have been scrambling to offer alternatives.

But where online options don’t exist, schools are warning international students they need to be in seats this week — or else it will be too late to catch up.

Deferrals are being recommended at this point, and in most cases, tuition and residence fees are being refunded. But such deferrals come at a huge cost for both students and institutions.

“Canada is now getting a reputation on the global stage that perhaps it’s better to go to the U.S. or it’s better to go to the U.K.,” said Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, where at least 71 of its approximately 1,336 international students have been impacted by delays.

Canada has become the third-largest destination for international students after the U.S. and Australia. Post-secondary institutions across Canada, including Laurier, have been actively working to attract international students, who, as of 2020, made up 18 per cent of the student body nationwide.

Last year, a record 560,000 study permit applications — which are considered a step towards permanent residency — were processed by IRCC. In the first eight months of this year, the government finalized 452,000 study permits, but has struggled to keep up with demand.

A spokesperson at the University of Toronto, which has more than 20,000 international students, said that, as of last week, more than 600 permits for U of T students were still outstanding, and that the university “sympathizes with the frustration of those experiencing long delays in processing.”

Despite IRCC’s promise to hire 1,250 new employees to tackle the problem, the current wait time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks. Industry agents and consultants say processing in Canada is taking longer than in rival destinations, although IRCC told the Star that 62 per cent of the 150,000 applications in the system are within the service standard of 60 days.

IRCC told the Star it is “moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally,” including the hiring blitz and digitizing applications.

“Honestly, I am starting to regret not having an alternative,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who was accepted to the B.C. university in February and applied for her study permit in early June, together with her husband, who sought an open work permit so he could accompany her. They were asked for additional documentation in early July, which they provided immediately. “With such an academic background, I could simply have been admitted to top universities around the world with much less painful processing time.”

Having co-founded an online English academy, Ghodrat Jahromi is hoping to enhance her credentials by getting a M.Ed. in teaching English as an additional language. She said Simon Fraser, which has about 6,860 international students, has been helpful, but ultimately her program had to be completed in person, and time just ran out.

She has, regretfully, decided to defer to spring 2023.

Because she had already resigned from her job and broken her lease in Antalya, Turkey — where she had moved to escape Tehran’s pollution that was exacerbating her asthma, and to better access COVID-19 vaccines — she is now faced with a huge rent increase and finding work to tide her over to the next semester, assuming her permit comes through.

“Right now, I am applying to other countries, just in case,” she said, adding that through an online forum, she has been tracking similar frustrations from many other Iranian students facing delays.

University of Waterloo economics professor Mikal Skuterud has for weeks been receiving emails from students worried about what they’re missing. Of the 600 students in his Economics 101 course, about a fifth are international students.

For those still waiting on a permit, the window is nearly closed, said Skuterud: “Once you are missing two of 12 weeks, a sixth of the course, to me that’s a problem.”

Waterloo’s faculty of arts is recommending students not in class by Sept. 20 defer admission. Laurier, meanwhile, has suggested Wednesday as the last date to start in-person classes, given group work and assessment expectations.

“This is really quite unnecessary stress that we’re putting these students under. Why? Because the IRCC is a bit of a mess right now,” said Skuterud.

“This is a big, big move for many of them,” leaving behind families and homelands. And, he added, “students are paying a lot of money.”

Tuition for international students is, on average, three times higher than for domestic students, making it a vital revenue source in schools across the country. Undergraduate tuition for engineering at Waterloo, for example, is $66,000 per year compared to $18,000 for Canadian citizens.

At Laurier, permit delays this year alone could have a financial impact of $2 million, climbing to $10 million over the course of four years if those students choose to go elsewhere, according to MacLatchy.

“My worry is that if they’re not going to be able to come this year, by next year, will they have made other decisions about other opportunities?”

Although delays are not isolated to this year, MacLatchy said they are having a cumulative effect, and Laurier and other institutions like Waterloo have been advocating for solutions.

Having university-educated international students, said MacLatchy, is one of the “smartest ways for the country to get great talent” that will bring entrepreneurship and global experience to the workforce.

“We want (international students) to think of Canada as their destination for their education and also for their future careers and lives. To have visa delays be what stops them is really unfortunate.”

Source: The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

Fanshawe’s ‘sales pitch’ to international students misses mark: Consultant

Blaney is raising legitimate issues. In effect, we have an education immigration stream, one that has both legitimate and questionable elements:

A licensed London immigration consultant is sounding the alarm about a practice he says lures some international students to Canada thinking they will gain permanent residency and jobs, before learning they lack the language skills necessary to succeed.

“This is not about education; this is definitely about immigration for the vast majority of recruits for (international students) at Fanshawe College, that’s how it’s being sold by their agents overseas,” says Earl Blaney of the Canada Network, adding the practice occurs in other Ontario colleges as well.

Blaney says his contract with Fanshawe College was not renewed after he expressed concerns about the waiver of English language competency for international admissions from some countries such as the Philippines, where he also has an office, he said.

“The bottom line is, Fanshawe is dangling jobs and citizenship,” he said. “My concern with that is there is neither.

“There is no data to suggest Fanshawe is successfully moving students forward to either.”

Blaney said he deals with many international students, but the majority of his clients are Filipino.

While English is one of two official languages in the Southeast Asian country, he said competency in the language “is not uniform there.”

“I see students daily who come to my office who are absolutely struggling,” he said. “They are very stressed and realize (studying in Canada) is going to be way more difficult, if not impossible.

“Family fortunes have been mortgaged on this sales pitch. I think it’s worth talking about.”

Fanshawe responded  by saying all students applying to Fanshawe from countries whose official language isn’t English must pass an English proficiency test, or provide proof of having the required grade in high school English.

International students come from 119 countries and total graduate employment rates are 83.1 per cent, the college said. Fanshawe did not provide employment rates for international students only.

“It is essential that students have an adequate knowledge of written and spoken English appropriate for the program to which they have applied,” Fanshawe said in a written statement. “Applicants for whom English is a second language must submit evidence of their ability in the English language as part of the application procedure.”

International enrolment at Fanshawe College has surged by 26 per cent this fall, with 4,200 students coming from places such as India, Nepal, Nigeria, China, Colombia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Wendy Curtis, dean of international students, said last month new students are a way “to support the labour market.”

“Our domestic student population has shrunk. Based on demographics, it’s expected to return to higher levels in a couple of years,” she said.  “That’s a key reason why we’re accepting more international students than historically. We have capacity to do that.”

Under a study permit, international students can come to Canada to learn and apply for a work permit that may lead to permanent residency.

“They make great future citizens and employees,” Curtis said.

But Blaney said “at maximum, our system can absorb only 30 per cent of these international students.”

“The vast majority of expansion has come at the community college level,” he said.

“That’s because it’s affordable,” he said.

The average cost for an international student’s annual tuition is around $16,000, whereas a year at a Canadian university can be two to three times that, he said.

A recent report, entitled Course Correction:  How International students can help solve Canada’s labour crisis, delves into how Canada can do better to meet the needs of its evolving labour market.

“For many, a Canadian education may not yield the desired return on investment,” the report said.

According to the report, Canada is the third largest destination for international students, after the U.S. and Australia.

They make up 20 per cent of all students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Many international students may “not understand the challenges of dealing with Canada’s high cost of living, labour market, or complicated work permits system,” it said.

“Canada needs college-educated students to address labour shortages across the economy,” the report says. “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.”

Colleges Ontario declined to comment stating in an email: “We have nothing to do with the individual operation of each college.”

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities was unable to respond to a request for comment due to time constraints.

Source: Fanshawe’s ‘sales pitch’ to international students misses mark: Consultant

ICYMI: N.S. pilot program aims to clarify immigration process for international students

Of note:

Arlene Grafilo says she encountered a lot of hearsay from other international students as she worked to better understand the immigration process that would allow her to transition from Cape Breton University student to permanent resident.

“That makes us confused,” said Grafilo, who graduated from CBU earlier this year with a post-baccalaureate diploma in business management. She’s now working in Halifax for an insurance and investment company.

She’s welcoming a new Nova Scotia pilot program that will provide detailed information on immigration options and personalized coaching to recent international graduates.

“I think it is really important for us to have that one-on-one interaction with somebody who knows the immigration process,” said Grafilo.

The post-graduation immigration pilot support program announced earlier this week has secured funding from the provincial government for one year.

The program aims to help 500 participants, said Shawna Garrett, the president and CEO of EduNova, an organization that works to attract international students to Nova Scotia.

She hopes the program gets permanent funding and can expand to 1,000 participants.

Participants will get free access to a registered Canadian immigration consultant for a coaching session.

The eligibility criteria includes:

  • Having finished studies after August 2021 at a Nova Scotia post-secondary institution.
  • Having a post-graduation work permit or having applied for one.
  • Having a job or job offer in Nova Scotia.

Garrett said EduNova has heard from international students that accessing consultants can be pricey, and has heard of instances where it has cost them anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000.

“We are also aware that there are some bad actors in the space that may not have the best interests of our international graduates at heart,” she said.

EduNova wants to find ways to “move into that space” to offer advice, Garrett said.

Teo Kim is a graphic design student in his final year at NSCC. Originally from Seoul, he came to Nova Scotia a year ago.

Drawn by the balance between nature and city life, he wants to stay in Nova Scotia after graduation. He hopes to participate in the pilot program.

He said he’s taken part in webinars put on by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that have aimed to take the mystery out of the immigration process.

“We always don’t have enough time, always lack of time, so most of the questions are not covered in the session,” he said.

Kim said participants may not feel comfortable participating in that type of setting for privacy reasons, which is why he welcomes the private session the pilot program will offer.

No one was available from the province for comment by deadline, but retaining more international students is part of the province’s plan to double its population to 2,000,000 by 2060.

“From conversations that I have had with them, they want to make Nova Scotia their home and we want to make that happen for them,” Labour, Skills and Immigration Minister Jill Balser previously told CBC News.

Source: N.S. pilot program aims to clarify immigration process for international students

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’

Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Yet the latest example of management weaknesses at IRCC as it appears to lurch from one program backlog to another. The risk is, of course, that the shift in resources to address student visas will adversely impact other programs, leading to future negative headlines:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says his department has shifted its focus toward tackling backlogs in student visa applications, as many students who have been accepted to attend Canadian universities and colleges this semester wait nervously for their immigration approvals.

The minister made the comments Monday as part of the first news conference by the task force to improve government services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the team of cabinet ministers in June when the federal government was facing heavy public criticism for failing to provide basic services, such as timely passport delivery or efficient traveller processing at Canadian airports.

Mr. Fraser said his department recently shifted its focus away from work permits to tackle the demand for student visas.

“We had been focusing over the course of the summer on processing as many work permits as possible to help address the labour shortage. We’ve made a pivot, and through the month of August, we expect that we’re going to process a little more than 104,000 additional study permits,” he said. “There has been an absolute explosion in demand when it comes to Canada’s International Student Program in recent years.”

The student visa delays recently prompted a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India is the largest source country for international postsecondary students.

In addition to Mr. Fraser’s update, Monday’s news conference included assurances from Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould that passport wait times had improved and an update from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said delays and cancelled flights have been dramatically reduced.

Opposition MPs said the task force is little more than a public relations exercise. They also say some of the improvements in areas such as passports and travel delays can be attributed to the fact that the summer travel season is coming to an end.

As for the Immigration Minister’s comments about student visas, Conservative and NDP MPs said this is part of a continuing pattern of shifting focus from one crisis to another, which they say ultimately creates bigger problems for the system as a whole.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan said the students awaiting visas are expecting to start classes shortly.

“There are many students that are still left in limbo in this immigration backlog,” he said. As for the task force, he said many of the members are the same ministers who are ultimately responsible for the service issues.

“This task force really hasn’t shown or done anything yet,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Canada’s immigration system, including student visa applications, is in a state of chaos. She said operating in a constant state of “crisis management mode” is not sustainable.

Ms. Kwan said there should be independent reviews of the key departments to determine why services are failing.

“The task force was established as a political cover-up,” she said.

International students from outside Canada pay tuition that is often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students.

Naman Gupta, a 22-year-old student in New Delhi, India, was planning to attend York University this fall to pursue a postgraduate certificate.

His study permit has not come through and he said unless something changes in a matter of days, he’ll defer coming to Canada until the start of the January term. However the $17,000 in tuition he paid won’t be returned in the meantime, he said.

“It’s going to be tough. All my plans are held up,” Mr. Gupta said. “I’m pretty stressed.”

He said he expected the visa processing would have been expedited to ensure that students could arrive in time for the start of their courses.

“I would’ve appreciated if they could apply more compassion to the situation,” Mr. Gupta said. “The response is slow.”

Pallavi Dang, who lives in New Delhi, applied for her study permit in March. She’s disappointed that more than five months later she still hasn’t heard whether she will be approved. Department guidelines said respondents can normally expect an answer in eight weeks, and that current average processing times are about 12 weeks.

She said she had made plans to hand over her business while she was away, but now she’ll need to change course.

“All that planning is on hold,” Ms. Dang said. “I’m not able to take another step.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of nearly 100 Canadian universities, said Canada trails countries such as Britain and Australia in visa processing.

He said there has to be more federal government investment in IT capacity to speed up processing.

“I think that’s really the solution,” Mr. Davidson said. “There’s all-party support for international students, there’s a good policy climate, but it’s the operational reality that needs to improve.”

Source: Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Trudel: Intelligence artificielle discriminatoire

Somewhat shallow analysis, as the only area that IRCC is using AI is with respect to visitor visas, not international students or other categories (unless that has changed). So Trudel’s argumentation may be based on a false understanding.

While concerns regarding AI are legitimate and need to be addressed, bias and noise are common to human decision making.

And differences in outcomes don’t necessarily reflect bias and discrimination but these differences do signal potential issues:

Les étudiants francophones internationaux subissent un traitement qui a toutes les allures de la discrimination systémique. Les Africains, surtout francophones, encaissent un nombre disproportionné de refus de permis de séjourner au Canada pour fins d’études. On met en cause des systèmes d’intelligence artificielle (IA) utilisés par les autorités fédérales en matière d’immigration pour expliquer ces biais systémiques.

Le député Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe rappelait ce mois-ci que « les universités francophones arrivent […] en tête du nombre de demandes d’études refusées. Ce ne sont pas les universités elles-mêmes qui les refusent, mais bien le gouvernement fédéral. Par exemple, les demandes d’étudiants internationaux ont été refusées à 79 % à l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières et à 58 % à l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. Pour ce qui est de l’Université McGill, […] on parle de 9 % ».

En février, le vice-recteur de l’Université d’Ottawa, Sanni Yaya, relevait qu’« au cours des dernières années, de nombreuses demandes de permis, traitées par Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada, ont été refusées pour des motifs souvent incompréhensibles et ont demandé des délais anormalement longs. » Il s’agit pourtant d’étudiants qui ont des bourses garanties par leur établissement et un bon dossier. Le vice-recteur se demande à juste titre s’il n’y a pas là un préjugé implicite de la part de l’agent responsable de leur évaluation, convaincu de leur intention de ne pas quitter le Canada une fois que sera expiré leur permis d’études.

En somme, il existe un faisceau d’indices donnant à conclure que les outils informatiques d’aide à la décision utilisés par les autorités fédérales amplifient la discrimination systémique à l’encontre des étudiants francophones originaires d’Afrique.

Outils faussés

Ce cafouillage doit nous interpeller à propos des préjugés amplifiés par les outils d’IA. Tout le monde est concerné, car ces technologies font partie intégrante de la vie quotidienne. Les téléphones dotés de dispositifs de reconnaissance faciale ou les assistants domestiques ou même les aspirateurs « intelligents », sans parler des dispositifs embarqués dans plusieurs véhicules, carburent à l’IA.

La professeure Karine Gentelet et l’étudiante Lily-Cannelle Mathieu expliquent, dans un article diffusé sur le site de l’Observatoire international sur les impacts sociétaux de l’IA et du numérique, que les technologies d’IA, bien que souvent présentées comme étant neutres, sont marquées par l’environnement social duquel elles sont issues. Elles tendent à reproduire et même à amplifier les préjugés et les apports de pouvoir inéquitables.

Les chercheuses rappellent que plusieurs études ont montré que, si elles ne sont pas adéquatement encadrées, ces technologies excluent des populations racisées, ou bien les surreprésentent au sein de catégories sociales considérées comme « problématiques » ou encore, fonctionnent inadéquatement lorsqu’elles sont appliquées à des individus racisés. Elles peuvent accentuer les tendances discriminatoires dans divers processus décisionnels, comme la surveillance policière, des diagnostics médicaux, des décisions de justice, des processus d’embauche ou d’admission scolaire, ou même le calcul des taux hypothécaires.

Une loi nécessaire

En juin dernier, le ministre fédéral de l’Innovation, des Sciences et de l’Industrie a présenté le projet de loi C-27 afin d’encadrer l’usage des technologies d’intelligence artificielle. Le projet de loi entend imposer des obligations de transparence et de reddition de comptes aux entreprises qui font un usage important des technologies d’IA.

Le projet propose d’interdire certaines conduites relativement aux systèmes d’IA qui peuvent causer un préjudice sérieux aux individus. Il comporte des dispositions afin de responsabiliser les entreprises qui tirent parti de ces technologies. La loi garantirait une gouvernance et un contrôle appropriés des systèmes d’IA afin de prévenir les dommages physiques ou psychologiques ou les pertes économiques infligés aux individus.

On veut aussi prévenir les résultats faussés qui établissent une distinction négative non justifiée sur un ou plusieurs des motifs de discrimination interdits par les législations sur les droits de la personne. Les utilisateurs des technologies d’IA seraient tenus à des obligations d’évaluation et d’atténuation des risques inhérents à leurs systèmes. Le projet de loi entend mettre en place des obligations de transparence pour les systèmes ayant un potentiel de conséquences importantes sur les personnes. Ceux qui rendent disponibles des systèmes d’IA seraient obligés de publier des explications claires sur leurs conditions de fonctionnement de même que sur les décisions, recommandations ou prédictions qu’ils font.

Le traitement discriminatoire que subissent plusieurs étudiants originaires de pays africains francophones illustre les biais systémiques qui doivent être repérés, analysés et supprimés. C’est un rappel que le déploiement de technologies d’IA s’accompagne d’importants risques de reconduire les tendances problématiques des processus de décision. Pour faire face à de tels risques, il faut des législations imposant aussi bien aux entreprises qu’aux autorités publiques de fortes exigences de transparence et de reddition de comptes. Il faut surtout se défaire du mythe de la prétendue « neutralité » de ces outils techniques.

Source: Intelligence artificielle discriminatoire

International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes

An unfortunate additional example at IRCC. Given this and other examples, perhaps time for the government to scale back to program capacity, rather than failing to meet service standards and expectations:

Delays in processing student visas have put a large number of international students at risk of missing the start of fall classes this year, as the federal Immigration Department struggles to keep up with what it describes as a surge in applications.

The issue has sparked a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, which said in a statement that it has received a number of petitions from Indian students frustrated with lengthy wait times for visa processing.

India is Canada’s largest source country for international postsecondary students. Students from outside Canada pay tuition fees that are often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students, and that money has become a crucial source of funding to universities and colleges across the country.

According to the Immigration Department, the number of student visa applications is growing. Canada received more than 123,000 applications for student visas from India in the first five months of this year, an increase of 55 per cent over 2019, according to Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. So far this year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has processed more than 360,000 student visas, a 17-per-cent increase over the same period in 2021.

Students apply for the study permits only after they have been accepted to Canadian universities. Until their visa applications are processed they aren’t allowed to enter Canada to study – and that is true even if they have already paid tuition, or taken out student loans.

Ms. Strickland added in a statement that IRCC is still struggling with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations around the world. She said the government is prioritizing applications from students aiming to begin their studies in September, but that not all applications will be processed in time for fall 2022.

“IRCC has seen an unprecedented volume of applications received for both initial study permits and extensions in 2022, not just from citizens of India but on a global scale,” Ms. Strickland said.

The number of students affected is not clear, but Canada’s diplomatic mission in India said in a tweet last week that a “large number” had experienced long wait times or not received visa decisions.

Federal data show that, as of the end of July, 34 per cent of pending international student visa applications were taking longer to process than government standards dictate.

Indian students contribute more than $4-billion in tuition fees to Canada’s postsecondary system, according to the statement from the Indian High Commission. More than 230,000 Indian students are enrolled at Canadian schools, the statement said.

At the University of Toronto, the number of students contacting registrars with study permit concerns is higher than usual, the university said in a statement. The university said it has been in constant contact with IRCC, and with the Minister’s office directly, to advocate for timely processing of study permit applications and to explain the impact of the delays on students. The statement added that any students unable to enter the country because of the delays can seek deferrals if they are eligible.

Gautham Kolluri, an international-student recruiter and immigration consultant based in Waterloo, Ont., said the number of students affected is likely in the thousands.

He said these are students who have accepted places offered to them at Canadian universities or colleges and expected to have their student visas approved in a matter of weeks. Instead, the process is taking months.

One client of his waited six months to get a study permit, he said.

Mr. Kolluri said he is advising some clients that they are unlikely to receive approval from IRCC before classes begin. At this point, he said, he’s recommending they defer until the next available intake, which can mean a delay until January, or in some cases until next September.

“They’re devastated. For them it’s their studies, but also their future career and opportunities in Canada that are affected,” Mr. Kolluri said. “We are losing these kind of good students who could make a contribution to Canada.”

Most students in India take out education loans in their home countries before coming to Canada. Mr. Kolluri said the interest on those loans starts accumulating even if the students haven’t been able to begin their studies, adding to the pressure they feel if there are problems with their study permits.

Before the pandemic, he said, visa approvals often came through in two to three weeks, and in some cases as quickly as 48 hours. Now, IRCC’s website says it takes up to 12 weeks on average for a study permit application from India to be approved. The target is eight weeks, according to the department.

Ms. Strickland said Mr. Fraser has announced that he expects to hire an additional 1,250 officers by the end of fall to tackle application backlogs and processing delays, paid in part with $85-million in additional funds directed to the department in the government’s 2021 fiscal update.

Source: International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes

The US has an instability problem and it’s affecting HE

Of note. The extent to which this will influence decisions remains to be seen:

At the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) conference in Denver this year, there was much discussion about global instability and what this means for international higher education.

Clearly, geopolitical tensions, the diminished but by no means ended implications of COVID-19, the climate crisis and, most recently, global inflation and likely economic challenges to follow all weigh heavily on student and scholar mobility and on broader aspects of internationalisation.

But one aspect that did not seem to get much attention from the largely US audience was the key challenge of the instability of the United States in a more diverse and competitive global higher education environment.

The fact is that the United States is seen by many around the world as a significantly unstable society with an uncertain future. This perception, based largely on reality, has, and will continue to have, implications for US higher education attractiveness and relations with the rest of the world.

It is worth examining the nature and possible implications of this instability. The argument here is not that US higher education is collapsing, or that the United States will not continue to attract the world’s largest international student population in absolute numbers, or that it will not continue to be an attractive environment for postdocs or international faculty; rather, that there are, and will be, significant headwinds and a decreasing relevance and market share.

It is worth examining the largely ignored but serious challenges that are increasingly evident to students and academics outside the United States.

The past and, perhaps, future of Trumpism

The direct impact of the Trump administration and the ideas and practices that underlie it have been influential and are, by now, part of the way that US higher education and society are perceived around the world.

The overall nationalistic and populist ideology that characterised the Trump years, and continues to have a significant influence on a large segment of the American population, in particular the Republican Party, also plays a role. Many around the world – and in the United States – are concerned about a second Trump presidential term or of someone like him.

The recent highly conservative decisions of the Supreme Court, outlawing abortion and expanding the use of guns, and the controversy surrounding these decisions, have also received much negative coverage outside the United States.

All of these trends are especially evident in ‘red’ (conservative) states, and universities in those states may be negatively affected. It is in those states that the public higher education sector is already facing severe budget cuts and lower local and international student numbers and that the private, not-for-profit higher education sector is less known for its international reputation and quality than in the ‘blue’ (Democratic) states.

Is the United States safe?

Mass shootings (some 300 so far in 2022), other gun violence and steady media reports of crime are on the minds of students and families as they think about a choice of where to study.

It becomes particularly relevant when international students fall victim to gun violence, such as the random shooting of a Chinese student near the campus of the University of Chicago, in broad daylight, in November 2021.

The Supreme Court decision versus New York State on the carrying of weapons also strengthens a negative image that students are not safe, even in states and cities that are popular among international students.

Racism

The tide of racial tensions and incidents of racial hate, stimulated in part by Trumpism, cause potential international students and staff to question whether they will be welcome in the United States.

Violence against blacks and Asians including, but by no means limited to, the senseless shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta, is widely reported – and of special relevance to the preponderance of students coming from east Asia, still the largest region in sending students and academics to the country.

The politicisation of higher education

This theme will affect graduate students, postdocs and prospective international faculty hires rather than undergraduates.

A steady stream of stories about state government interference in university affairs, including forbidding teaching about Critical Race Theory in a number of ‘red’ states, debates about ‘wokeism’ and ‘cancel culture’ and other political issues may deter some graduate students and professionals, in particular those who want to escape from authoritarian regimes and a lack of academic freedom in their own countries (for instance, Russian students and faculty after the invasion of Ukraine and related academic restrictions in Russia).

The ‘China Problem’

Because half of international undergraduate students – and an even larger percentage of graduate students – come from China, and US-China academic and research relations are so important, it is also relevant to focus on China in this article.

Chinese students have long seen the United States as a primary study destination. Their overall enrolment climbed fivefold between 2000 and 2001 and 2020-21.

However, geopolitical tensions between the United States and China in recent years, during which Chinese students and researchers have repeatedly been used as ‘political pawns’, have turned the United States into an unwelcoming study and work destination.

The surge of anti-Asian hatred toward the Asian American and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, communities, as well as rampant gun violence, have furthered the concerns of Chinese families. The 15% drop in Chinese student enrolment during the pandemic was a clear signal that interest in the United States among Chinese students had significantly declined.

The perception of Chinese students that they are viewed simply as ‘cash cows’ does not help US higher education institutions to create an inclusive environment.

On the one hand, Chinese families still see the United States as a sought-after destination for their children’s college education; on the other, they are increasingly wary about sending their children to a country where they may be in harm’s way.

A direct result of this dilemma is the recent trend of Chinese students applying to colleges in multiple countries instead of primarily the United States. This directly threatens the future mobility of Chinese students to US colleges, potentially weakening the strength of innovation and global competitiveness of US higher education.

Other concerns

Difficulties obtaining visas (of course, greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis) also enter into the thinking of potential students and scholars. Recent research notes that the United States is among the main receiving countries with the longest delays in issuing visas for international students and researchers.

The high inflation in the United States is also not helping. High tuition fees were already a barrier, but increasing costs of living will become even more of a challenge for international students. And, while Europe, China and Russia are looking at Africa as a new source of international students and faculty, the United States is rather absent in that region.

Looming realities

Of course, several of the challenges and concerns mentioned here (racism, rising costs, geopolitical tensions with China and politicisation) also apply to other leading countries, in particular the United Kingdom and Australia, but that is not an excuse for the United States to ignore these challenges.

It will remain the country with the largest number of highly ranked universities, an overall effective higher education system serving many different constituencies and a sophisticated, productive and reasonably well-funded research system.

But the instability and challenges discussed above are accelerating the United States’ decline as the undisputed global academic leader. The consistently ‘upbeat’ views of the Institute of International Education and others do not reflect looming realities.

Philip G Altbach is research professor and distinguished fellow, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. Hans de Wit is professor emeritus and distinguished fellow at the same institution. Xiaofeng Wan is associate dean of admission and coordinator of international recruitment, Amherst College.

Source: The US has an instability problem and it’s affecting HE

CILA: Expansion Of Post Graduate Work Permits for Career Colleges Not Needed

Agree. The sector and policies are in need of a fundamental rethink and questioning, rather than the “addiction” to the money it brings. Adding private vocational colleges is just a back-door immigration program.

CILA is one of the rare organizations that questions the current approach to international students and immigration, and raises some of the trade-offs involved between programs and applicants:

Current immigration policy and regulations allow foreign students who graduate from Canadian universities and publicly funded colleges to obtain a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) upon graduation. The PGWP is pushing the boundaries of immigration even during the COVID-19 pandemic. From January to November 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued more than 126,000 PGWPs (Government of Canada). The National Association of Career Colleges (NACC), whose members run private vocational colleges, is now putting pressure on IRCC to extend the availability of PGWP to their diploma and certificate graduates.

This expansion would raise significant concerns, due to the level of education of the graduates and it would mean exponential growth in the number of PGWPs issued annually. NACC member colleges offer courses as short as six months in anything ranging from liberal arts to public relations management. This expansion would attract a huge number of foreign students to those colleges, looking to learn something that is not challenging so they can find an entry level position and obtain permanent residence. Unlike university graduates, their goal would not be to start a career, but rather find a quick and easy way to obtain residency. Foreign students would pay a hefty price for their dream of residency.

Foreign students are often “steered” by unscrupulous agents and unlicensed consultants who receive a commission from educational institutions and misrepresent the feasibility of obtaining residency. When foreign students become aware that they are not eligible for PGWP, the agents often blame the career colleges, or a change in government policy, and let them deal with the fallout.

Even publicly funded colleges and universities pay millions of dollars in commissions to agents overseas with a flat fee per student or based on first year tuition fees. (CBC News, April 2019). “College fairs” are advertised in every country to attract foreign students. This has led close to 600,000 foreign students coming to Canada annually (Canadian Bureau for International Education,2021). This number is already too high in many study disciplines, eliminating the need for advertising or recruitment agents. The best recruiting tools are the quality of education imparted, and word of mouth from graduates who enjoyed a positive educational experience.

Even if career college students are genuinely looking to learn practical courses, this raises the question of whether the labour market can absorb them. The labour market is in short supply of skilled trades in manufacturing, construction, engineering and other professions and trades, as the older cohort of Canadian workers are retiring. Employers trying to recruit skilled workers are often faced with the difficulties posed by a tight labour market, while at the same time, receiving hundreds of resumes from unqualified individuals. There is a disconnect between the labour market and the availability of workers in many positions.

Colleges and universities have become too dependent on foreign student tuition fees, which are often triple those of Canadian residents. Also, the large influx of foreign students from countries where English or French are not the languages of instruction, may have caused admission standards to be lowered and many courses to require less stringent writing ability. While foreign students may have taken the International English Language Test (IELTS) or the Test d’Évaluation de Français (TEF), many still lack the necessary language skills to function at a university level.

IRCC should prioritize foreign students pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and computer science (STEM) disciplines or apprenticeships in trades, instead of those studying business, humanities, health, arts, social science, education (BHASE) who may not have good employment prospects. There should be a discussion about the economic cost and benefit of the foreign student program,  as Canada is quickly reaching the point in which the number of foreign college student graduates in BHASE vastly outnumbers the number of college graduates in STEM (Statistics Canada, 2021). Authorities should consider whether all foreign students should obtain residency or prioritize only those students involved in STEM disciplines. Any extension of the PGWP to career college graduates would be detrimental to the overall program.

The numbers cannot continue to increase because they are crowding out other immigration streams and competing for processing resources. Consider the fate of the Express Entry Foreign Skilled Worker Program (“FSWP”) permanent resident stream, suspended since December 2020, at a time when foreign workers with experience are needed by many employers, rather than entry-level workers.  Impeding the permanent resident processing of federal skilled workers from overseas is ill-advised and penalizes some of the best and brightest foreign workers who have excellent educational credentials and worldwide experience.

Source: Expansion Of Post Graduate Work Permits for Career Colleges Not Needed