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Canadian policy makes it easier for international students to immigrate

This month, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that 20,000 foreigners have attained permanent Canadian resident status under an ambitious national programme launched four years ago: the Canadian Experience Class. This programme is the centrepiece of Canada’s international education strategy; it is a formal policy initiative aimed to not only attract talented foreign students and workers to Canada – but to keep them there to enrich the increasingly knowledge-driven Canadian economy.

The government launched the Canadian Experience Class in 2008 to address a problem Minister Kenney explained in a news conference held in Toronto earlier this month:

“Until we created the Canada Experience Class four years ago, when we had bright young foreign students come to Canada and complete their degrees or diplomas, we then asked them at the end of their academic programme to leave Canada. And if they wanted to immigrate, to get in the back of a seven- or eight-year-long queue in our skilled worker programme.”

The Canadian Experience Class helps qualified foreign students and workers in Canada to speed up the process of moving from temporary to permanent residence in Canada, based on their skills and comfort within Canadian society.

Minister Kenney also announced at the conference that under the programme’s new guidelines, foreign workers already working there now have to show that they have only one year of Canadian work experience (instead of the two previously required) to be eligible.

Part of an overall strategy

This promising picture of international graduate immigration follows hot on the heels of Canada’s newly announced (and first-ever) national strategy for international education.

According to this strategy, Canada wants to “become the 21st century leader in international education in order to attract top talent and prepare our citizens for the global marketplace, thereby providing key building blocks for our future prosperity.”

The strategy is laudable in its efforts to integrate the potential fruits of international education (i.e., bright young people with skills and education the progressively globalised and knowledge-based Canadian economy needs) into the workforce of Canada.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the country’s new national strategy is designed to:

  • internationalise Canada’s education and research institutions to support Canada’s science and technology (S & T) and innovation agendas
  • provide Canadians with a global perspective and allow them to become citizens of the world who can contribute to the “diplomacy of knowledge”
  • open doors to world markets as Canada seeks to diversify its exports by sector and region
  • align with Canada’s overall immigration policies and address demographic and labour market issues
  • spur economic growth, job creation, and increased exports and investment

The advisory panel appointed last fall for Canada’s international education strategy outlined its recommendations this summer, which included ambitious growth targets for international students, more scholarships for international students, and an international mobility programme for 50,000 Canadian students to study in foreign countries.

The panel recommends that Canada focus its promotional efforts on a limited number of markets that have the greatest growth potential for Canada, namely China, India, Brazil, the Middle East and North African region, Turkey, Vietnam and Mexico.

The panel set an overall target for growth as well in their international education strategy: a doubling of the number of full-time international students in Canada from 239,000 in 2011 to more than 450,000 over the next decade.

A major export sector

Just this summer, the Canadian government released a report showing that international students contributed more than CDN $8 billion to the Canadian economy in 2010, up from CDN $6.5 billion in 2008.

The report also found there were 218,000 full-time international students in Canada in 2010, up from 178,000 in 2008 and more than double the number of students in 1999.

In total, the annual expenditure of CDN $8 billion by international students translated to estimates of almost CDN $4.9 billion worth of contribution to GDP, supported 86,570 jobs, and generated CDN $455 million of government tax revenue.

Foreign students are now worth more than Canada’s exports in unwrought aluminium or aerospace products. The Canada Experience Class, according to Minister Kenney, now represents Canada’s fastest-growing immigration stream.

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