Canada’s international student population is booming, tripling over the past decade to 570,000 people in 2018.
Canada now ranks as the fourth-leading host country for international students, behind the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, according to ICEF.
Canada’s higher intake is due to the global explosion of international students. UNESCO estimates there were 5.3-million international students in 2017 compared with two million in 2000.
The consensus is this figure will continue to rise due to the growth of middle-class populations in emerging markets, which is fueling the spike in international students.
Study permit holders in Canada with a valid permit on December 31
Canada is currently attractive due to its weak dollar. While international student tuition is higher than tuition paid by Canadian students, it is globally competitive compared with paying tuition and living expenses in the likes of American dollars, British pounds, and Euros.
The main reason international students come to Canada, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), is the quality education provided by Canada’s universities and colleges.
The second major factor is Canada’s reputation as an open and welcoming society towards newcomers. This provides Canada with a significant advantage during these times of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other western countries.
Canada’s advantage is also due to the comprehensive study-work-immigrate package that it offers international students.
Unlike other countries, Canada allows international students to work part-time during their studies so that they can support themselves financially.
After completing their Canadian education, they are eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) that enables them to stay in Canada and pursue full-time employment opportunities for up to three years.
International students who want to settle in Canada are awarded extra points through the federal Express Entry system and also have numerous provincial immigration pathways available to them.
This competitive package makes sense on a number of fronts:
Canada’s international student population should continue to grow due to the aforementioned reasons plus demographic factors.
The main demographic cohort of new students for Canada’s universities and colleges (Canadians between the ages of 18-24) has declined due to the country’s low birth rate. This means Canadian educational institutions will continue to rely on international students to sustain their operations.
One thing to look out for is whether Canada becomes more successful at diversifying its international student source countries.
Currently, 54 per cent of international students arrive from India and China. (See Table 1). Diversification is important because it helps Canada build economic and social ties with the rest of the world. It also reduces the risk for Canadian universities and colleges in the event more Indian and Chinese students choose to remain at home in the future or study in other countries instead.
The federal government’s new international education strategy for 2019-2024 seeks to welcome more international students from 11 priority countries. (See Table 2).
In 2018, nearly 60,000 people from these countries began to pursue their education in Canada. These students comprised 16 per cent of all new international students— a figure that has remained steady in recent years.
Table 1: Study permit holders by year permit became effective (top 15 source countries)
Table 2: Study permit holders by year permit became effective, (11 priority countries, Canada’s International Education Strategy 2019-2024)
An increased intake of international students will result in more becoming permanent residents due to the numerous immigration pathways offered to them. In 2018, 25 per cent of the nearly 90,000 people who received a federal invitation to apply for permanent residence through Express Entry were former international students.
The economic impact of international students will also continue to grow. The federal government estimates international students contributed nearly $ 22 billion to the economy and supported 170,000 jobs in 2018.
On the other hand, Canada has yet to fully adapt to its surging intake. Universities and colleges have struggled at times to deliver education and settlement support tailored to the diverse needs of international students.
Immigration policies have also lagged. It took numerous reforms before federal and provincial policies began to give preference to international students. Federal and provincial settlement supports do not fully cover international students even though more of them are becoming immigrants.
Despite its shortcomings, Canada’s international student story is a predominantly positive one. Not only does the higher intake benefit the country’s economy and the students themselves, but it also helps to strengthen Canada’s social ties with the rest of the world. Many international students will return home to become the business, government, and social sector leaders of tomorrow.
As they reminisce about their time spent in Canada, they will go on to serve as informal Canadian ambassadors for many decades to come.
Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at Canadavisa.
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