The Canadian government’s latest budget includes CDN $23 million dedicated to supporting its national international education strategy and CDN $42 million to improving visa processing for temporary residents including students.
This allocation comes despite a climate of fiscal restraint as Canada works on reducing its deficit, and it supports the Canadian government’s stated commitment to encourage the internationalisation of Canadian education.
Studies have shown that foreign students contributed CDN $8 billion to the Canadian economy in 2010. More recently, 2012 saw the country welcoming record numbers of international students.
The allocation breaks down as per the following:
- CDN $10 million over two years for higher education marketing;
- CDN $13 million over two years to the Mitacs Globalink Program, now in its fourth year, which attracts top undergraduate students from China, Brazil, India, and Mexico to study in universities across Canada (a third of them in the province of British Colombia) and which has been credited with putting Canadian undergraduate and graduate programmes on the world map for the brightest international students;
- CDN $42 million to improving visa processing times.
So far, no other elements of Canada’s international education plans have been made public, but the government says these will be released throughout the remainder of the year. Stakeholders across the education system are eager for their announcement; responses to the initial allocations were positive but most observers said there is much work to be done beyond these first steps to keep up with the national strategies of other leading destination countries including Australia and the US.
Improving visa processing times could be a great help to Canada in attracting international students
The announcement of the CDN $42 million destined for the improvement of visa processing comes as many in the industry have voiced concerns that visa processing delays are hurting Canada’s competitiveness. Overseas Overwhelmed, an active industry blog in Canada, notes that:
“In every market, there will be a percentage of students dead set on Canada. But in most markets, the percentage is much greater which sees Canada as – at best – on the short list of countries contemplated for overseas study. One of the key facets to a student’s or family’s decision-making tree as to which country to pursue, often relates to the projected time taken to process a study permit, and the reliability of the projected times. An extra caveat here is that the ‘projection’ often relates to perception rather than reality.”
According to this line of thought, it will be as important for the Canadian government to communicate its visa processes and timelines well and accurately as it will be to actually reduce the time it takes for a visa to be processed.
Uncertainty about how long it will take for a visa to be processed can seriously derail the study intentions of international students as well as the planning of the schools that have accepted them. For example, Mike Henniger of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops told The PIE News that “60 students from around the world had to be deferred this academic year and that delays had ‘made class planning and budget forecasting very difficult.'”
The department tasked with assessing visa applications to Canada, Citizen and Immigration Canada, has the challenging job of weeding out fraudulent students (those who say they are coming to Canada to study but are coming for other reasons) at the same time as they make it as easy as possible for genuine students to come to Canada to study and possibly work and live there afterward.
The latter objective is crucial to Canada’s competitiveness as a study destination; Harald Bauder, academic director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement, commented to University Affairs that:
“In a way [foreign students] are the ideal immigrants if you assume the perspective that you want immigrants who produce economic benefits for Canada. They are ready to enter the labour market and start paying taxes.”
A news release from Languages Canada, the Canadian association for language programmes, added:
“Languages Canada also welcomes the budget’s investment of CDN $42M to support enhanced processing capacity within Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Temporary Resident Program, which includes the international student program, and its recognition that an effective international education strategy depends on harnessing the education sector’s full engagement in the strategy’s implementation, including key education associations.”
“Through its investments in marketing Canadian education abroad, the Government hopes to attract quality international students, many of whom will look to Canada for future trade partnerships or to build their lives in Canada,” added Languages Canada Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta.
“Language education is perhaps the most important pathway for these international students, preparing them for further opportunities in the academic and professional spheres.”
Canada’s recent changes to its immigration system have helped it to become more competitive with the world’s front-running study abroad destination countries – the US, the UK, and Australia. But these countries are in the midst of evaluating their own immigration policies due to the same labour force requirements for skilled workers facing Canada.
Only two days ago, the UK announced their move to abolish the UK Border Agency and split it into two separate entities – one of which will be a “high-volume immigration and visa service with a culture of customer satisfaction” and the other a “tough immigration law enforcement organisation.”
In Australia, the recently released Chaney report focuses on coordination among all industry stakeholders, making it easier for genuine students to study and work in Australia via visa streamlining, and improving the quality of international students’ experience in Australia.
And in the US, a group of senators has introduced a bill that would see visas and green cards granted to foreign students graduating with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Jennifer Humphries, of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), told University Affairs that, if approved, “such a move would ‘definitely be worrisome’ for Canada since the US is already the top destination for international students despite it not having a strong recruitment strategy.”
Canadian Experience Class shows promise of favorable immigration policies for genuine international students
Introduced in 2008, the Canadian Experience Class is the fastest growing immigration class in Canada; it allows skilled foreign workers who have been working in Canada on a temporary basis and foreign graduates of Canadian postsecondary institutions with work experience to apply for permanent residency without leaving the country.
Last year, the Canadian government made it faster for those qualifying for the Canadian Experience Class immigration stream to gain permanent residence in Canada. International students are now allowed to stay in the country for up to three years following graduation instead of two (to amass Canadian work experience), and additionally, they now need only 12 months of work experience within three years prior to applying to be eligible.
As we mentioned in our report on the changes to the Canadian Experience Class, “foreign students are now worth more than Canada’s exports in unwrought aluminum or aerospace products.” Twenty thousand foreign students have attained permanent Canadian resident status so far under the Canadian Experience Class since it was launched, and they are certainly not the last to come.