Statistics Canada: Nearly one in four study permit holders do not enroll in post-secondary education institutions

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: November 25, 2023

A new Statistics Canada report has revealed that nearly one in four study permit holders in 2019 were not enrolled in a Canadian publicly funded post-secondary educational institution, despite holding the authorisation to do so.

In recent weeks new scrutiny has come to Canada’s fast-growing international student population, and their further effect on Canada’s schools, labour force, and wider aspects of Canadian life. Earlier studies conducted by Statistics Canada found that the number of students issued study permits was roughly 20-30% higher than the number of students actually enrolled at publicly funded post-secondary schools in Canada. Note that a publicly funded school is one that receives financial support from the government.

To gain more clarity into the effects of increased acceptance of international students in Canada, this most recent study (conducted by researchers Youjin Choi and Feng Hou) aims to look at what these non-enrolled international students chose to do in Canada.

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More than half of non-enrolled international students came to Canada and engaged in other activities

In 2019, a total of 717,300 students held Canadian post-secondary study permits. Of this number, 24% (172,152 students) did not enrol in post-secondary institutions. While there may be a number of reasons for this, (including not coming to Canada at all)—data correlating the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB) with the Post-secondary Student Information System (PSIS) showed that nearly 54.5% (93,822) of these unenrolled students were in Canada and engaged in other activities.

Note: the PSIS is Canada’s national survey to detail enrolments and graduates of Canadian public post-secondary schools. The IMDB, on the other hand, is Canada’s comprehensive immigration log, providing detailed information about the performance and impact of immigration programs, as well as administrative data for immigrants and non-residents.

What activities did these students engage in? Roughly a third of non-enrolled students had other temporary permits (specifically a work permit) and engaged in full-time work. In Canada, it is possible to have both a work and study permit simultaneously, if you meet eligibility criteria for both permits. One common example of this are students who are part of co-op programs, which allow students to gain real-life work experience in the industries and professions applicable to their field of study. However, the industries that unenrolled students in Canada engaged in works against the theory that much of this number can be explained by co-op programs.

Of the industries that unenrolled students were employed in, the majority (70.3%) had paid jobs in industries that traditionally have an abundance of part-time workers, and a need to fill many high-turnover positions that correspond to lower TEER (Training, Education, Experience and Responsibilities) job vacancies. More specifically, these unenrolled students took paying jobs in industries like: wholesale and retail trade (22%), accommodation and food services (31.2%), and business, building and other support services (17.1%). Labour force participation in these areas is much more (though not always) indicative of part-time work, suggestive of the idea that these students may be using the work authorisation given along with their study permits (wherein most students are permitted to engage in 20 hours of work during school semesters), and not obtaining work permits to complete full time work in co-op programs.

The actual effects

While it is surprising that such a large number of international students are in Canada, yet not attending publicly funded post-secondary institutions; it remains difficult to know exactly what the impact of these unenrolled international students is on life in Canada due to further limitations of the study. For example, one shortcoming is the lack of data on students who attend privately funded post-secondary institutions. These individuals would still receive a study permit but not show up in the PSIS. In addition, the study doesn’t look to correlate this data with further employment information, like earnings—leaving to speculation the actual value these individuals provided the Canadian economy.

Regardless, we can infer that this influx of close to 100,00 unenrolled students likely causes undue pressures on housing in provinces where these students tend to travel to (particularly British Columbia and Ontario); especially when considering that these unenrolled students would not be eligible for on-campus housing and would further have to seek room and board outside. As Canada’s international student population has grown, the number of unenrolled international students (and further the pressures they put on the housing market) is likely to increase without proper moderation of international student numbers. The above statistics also call into question whether Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) should be doing more to ensure international students on a study permit in Canada are actually enrolled in post-secondary educational institutions.

What is perhaps most interesting when considering these unenrolled students, however, is the paid work that they were able to find. It is likely not by chance that many unenrolled students found work in industries with rampant and persistent job vacancies in this country. While these students technically broke the conditions of their stay as international students in Canada (by not attending school during academic semesters), their presence helped mitigate rampant job vacancies in these industries.

These findings come at a time when the government is already reassessing its international student program, including finding new ways to ensure the safety of international students, and ensuring the integrity of the shared agreement international students make with Canada (and vice versa) when they arrive here.

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