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Canada moving to boost pathways to permanent residency for international students  

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • International students graduating in priority fields of study linked to labour market skills gaps in Canada may soon see an easier pathway to permanent residency
  • The government is considering providing work permits to the family members of international students with valid PGWPs

The Canadian government is working on a strategy to increase opportunities for temporary residents – including international students – to transition to permanent residence.

Earlier this year, Randeep Sarai, a Liberal Member of Parliament filed a successful motion calling on the government to develop a plan to expand immigration pathways. Now, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has released a strategy to do just that, and it focuses on linking immigration programmes to skills gaps in the Canadian economy.

The strategy dovetails with the government’s announcement of the highest ever immigration targets for Canada: 431,645 permanent residents in 2022, 447,055 in 2023, and 451,000 in 2024.

Reforms ahead for Express Entry

The government plans to reform the Express Entry system through which international students apply for permanent residency. The Express Entry system comprises immigration streams such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, and the Canadian Experience Class. Reforms to the system will include “increasing flexibility in immigration selection tools,” with a goal to:

  • “Respond to labour market needs and regional economic priorities;
  • Increase Francophone immigration by selecting more candidates with specific attributes, such as in-Canada experience.”

In addition, there is to be a review of the ranking system underlying Express Entry – “particularly points awarded for Canadian work experience and education, language proficiency, and a job offer.”

Work permits for family members

In developing the strategy, the government is also considering the issuance of work permits to the family members of foreign workers and international students holding post-graduation work permits (PGWPs). These work permits would be “valid for a duration of at least six months, with some exceptions,” and would “respond to the family reunification mandate priority and provide an additional source of labour for Canada.”

Priority sectors

An official press release hints at the fields of study that will be prioritised by Canadian immigration officials who will be given more flexibility in selecting candidates for permanent residency:
 
“Our goal is to strengthen the connection between the labour market and our immigration programmes, to ensure the Canadian economy has the broad range of skills needed across all different sectors from health, hospitality, transportation, trades and resources, IT and engineering.”
 
In addition, the intention is to remove barriers to immigration for students and workers involved in essential fields – including medicine, caregiving, and agri-food – as well as construction and “professional, scientific and technical services.”

A concern about diversification

In a section of the strategy document devoted to international students, the government voices a concern about Canada’s international student population being insufficiently diverse and too narrowly concentrated in a few fields of study:

“Despite growing in size, the international student population has become less diverse over the past two decades with increased concentration in certain source countries, provinces of study, and fields of study. IRCC is exploring strategies to diversify the source countries for Canada’s International Student Program, as well as ways to incentivise students to look beyond major urban centres when choosing a programme of study.”

These concerns – and goals – are echoed by international education stakeholders not just in Canada, but in the other leading destinations for study abroad. Our upcoming ICEF Insights magazine (October 2022) will look at diversification not only in terms of student nationality, but also as it relates to enrolling students more evenly across programme areas. A best practice for achieving this type of diversification is to provide evidence to prospective international students that graduates from specific programmes are in high demand among employers in related industries/professions.
 
Canadian educators developing programmes in priority areas identified by the government in its new strategy might be interested in Studyportals’ recommendation to promote these programmes as early as possible:

“There is a lag between when the first universities introduce these courses, and when they become more mainstream. It is that lag, when student interest is rising, that can and should be shortened.”

Agents can play a key role in helping to attract international students to new programmes. In a recent survey we conducted with agents in 11 top emerging markets, agents in all markets but one said that at least 50% of the students they worked with are open to agents’ recommendations about a variety of programmes.
 
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