It comes as no surprise given the high calibre of Canada's universities and the wide range of college programs and diplomas. However, it is the result of increased recruiting efforts by Canadian institutions and focused immigration policy decisions that have made Canada more attractive for international students.
Over the last decade, Canada has adopted immigration programs to retain international students upon the completion of their studies. Students can work while they study and upon completing recognized degrees or diplomas in Canada they qualify for a post-graduate work permit allowing them to work in Canada for up to 3 years. The Federal government is continually working to improve its services and in the past year has reduced the processing time for these post-graduate work permits from an average of 17 weeks down to just 6 weeks. In November 2016 the Express Entry system was changed to introduce points for international students who complete a recognized degree or diploma in Canada, making it easier for international students to become permanent residents. The provinces are also trying to retain international students and offer unique provincial nominee programs for international graduates in their province.
The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, recently stated in a speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto: “Why wouldn’t we want to hang on to these people? These are already people who are proficient in English and French or both and who have a post-secondary education in one of our fine institutions.” He went on to elaborate on the immediate impact that international students have on Canada's economy, explaining that international students inject more money into the Canadian economy than exports of softwood lumber or wheat, or even income from our financial services. In addition to living expenses and spending on consumables, international students pay tuition fees that are up to two or three times the fees of Canadian students.
Global factors are also increasing demand in Canada's universities and colleges. Students are often looking for a path to employment and permanent residence at the completion of their studies. The US has been the destination of choice for up to 1 million students each year. While it is too early for us to have the data, the implementation of the travel ban in the US from a number of predominantly Muslim countries and a lack of a clear path to work visas or permanent residence upon completion of studies will undoubtedly play into the decision of students choosing between Canada and the US.
But this is just the beginning. Canada wants to attract even more international students and is looking at areas of improvement in the processing of visa applications and looking to the experience of other countries such as Australia and Germany in recruiting and retaining top talent. These changes cannot come quickly enough as the shortage of skilled workers in Canada continues to grow and the need for attracting and retaining the skills and talents of immigrants become critical to the economic survival of Canada.