skills gap
International students in Canada have much to contribute to the country, including bridging the skills gap. Source: Daniel Slim/AFP

Canada’s economic recovery will depend on international students. A white paper by Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) notes that given how COVID-19 has disrupted international travel, Canada will need to continue to attract “international students who will become such an important part of our future workforce.” CICan is the national, voluntary membership organisation representing publicly supported colleges, institutes, cegeps (acronym from the French term Collège d’enseignement general et professionnel, or general and professional teaching college) and polytechnics in Canada and internationally. “Safely reopening our borders to international talent will play a critical role in tackling the skills gap in may sectors and meeting the labour needs of Canadian employers,” the paper said.

In its report titled “COVID-19 and beyond: The role of colleges and institutes in Canada’s resilient recovery,” CICan notes that colleges and universities are primed to support the evolving needs of local stakeholders and employers, along with sustainable economic recovery. They have a provent track record in developing skilled graduates.

They also have experience training international students and new immigrants to meet the needs of Canadian employers and fill skill gaps. This view is echoed by non-profit organisation of small businesses Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Immigrants and foreign workers are essential to small businesses  — they help fill skills and labour shortages. The majority of occupational shortages reported by small businesses are for jobs that require a college diploma or apprenticeship (46%).

CICan said colleges and Canadian institutes represent the fastest-growing level of study for international students in Canada, accounting for just under half of all study permit holders at the post-secondary level in 2019. Most will work in Canada and intend to become permanent residents, it said.

Small businesses could benefit from international students to bridge skills gap

The Canadian government previously announced that it hopes to welcome over 1.2 million new Canadian permanent residents in the next two years. Analysts believe that international students who remain in the country after graduating will likely play a major role in helping the government achieve its immigration targets. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said the country aims to grant 401,000 Canadian permanent residence in 2021, 411,000 in 2022, and 421,000 in 2023. Canada is targeting to welcome 723,500 economic immigrants between 2021 and 2023.

IRCC doesn’t specifically mention students in its immigration category breakdown. Cosmina Morariu, senior manager of Fragomen, a leading law firm that deals with immigration services, said students normally fall under the economic class. CIC News notes that Canada is the world’s third-leading destination of international students with 642,000 foreign students. The country approved over 400,000 new study permits in 2019. India is the leading international student source country, followed by China, South Korea, France and Vietnam rounding off the top five countries. The country is also seeing an increased number of applicants from the US.