Removing the barriers for international students to work and settle in Canada
More can be done to retain international graduates from Canadian universities. Source: Facebook/@universitytoronto

International students are arriving on Canadian shores in record numbers. In recent years, they have been “pouring” into Canadian universities while old favourites in the English-speaking world, like the US and the UK, are seeing the opposite trend. Canada is now the go-to study abroad destination for its friendly immigration policies and welcoming stance towards foreigners.

Once students graduate, however, it’s no longer the fairytale it seems.

International students face numerous barriers in getting jobs and seeking permanent residence status, according to a working paper published this October by Ryerson University’s Center for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS).

“International students who wish to work in Canada temporarily have difficulty receiving employment because of limited co-operative education opportunities and a lack of professional networks,” the report said.

Canadian employers are found to prefer those with local work experience and with permanent residence or citizenship status for fear of administrative burden that international students’ temporary status will bring. Limited work-placement opportunities, minimal professional networks and the complexities of the work visas, such as the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP), also hinder their chances of entering the job market and their search for relevant employment.

But their woes don’t end there, extending to their bid to apply for permanent residence.

“The lack of settlement services, the numerous complexities of immigration policies, and the minimal awareness among students hinder the process for these individuals to immigrate to Canada permanently,” the report notes.

These are hurdles with “significant policy implications” that hurt the Canadian government’s plans to address issues such as long-term labour shortage and population decline.

International students have long been targeted as “immigrants of choice” for being young, educated, and attuned to life in Canada. Having graduated from an academic institution in the country, they can skip the foreign credential recognition process since they’ve shown integration with the local community and contribute to the country’s labour force, which currently faces a lack of skilled workers despite a rapidly-growing economy.

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that there were a record 399,000 vacancies in the private sector alone by the last quarter of 2017 – an increase of three percent from the previous year.

Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan in 2014 aims to plug this gap through recruiting more international students. The Plan makes it a priority to grow international student numbers from “239,131 in 2011 to more than 450,000 by 2022” to generate over CA$16 billion by 2022, and to allow the government to “strengthen the economy through locally educated, skilled labour”.

With the obstacles found by the paper, however, the country looks far from achieving this target. To overcome the issues and challenges in achieving this goal, the paper’s author Zaheer A. Dauwer makes the following practical recommendations:

Federal policy makers

“The policies related to the retention of international students in Canada both federally and
provincially must provide adequate resources and funding to support comprehensive settlement
services and assistance,” Dauwer suggests.

Policy makers should also increase collaboration with post-secondary institutions, immigrant-serving organizations, and related employers.

Provincial governments and the community

With significant potential to integrate international students economically and socially, these players should “connect international students with employers and raise awareness about the benefits of
international students as a skilled and educated population”.

Provincial governments should also incentivise local employers to hire international students whereas local companies are urged to participate more in the settlement process of their employed international students, as well as connecting them with me “ethnocultural, linguistics, and other social resources in the community”.

Post-secondary institutions

More funding and training would greatly benefit international student services in universities, Dauwer writes. In additon, universities should provide more co-operative education placements, bridging programs, and educational courses on the Canadian labour market. This would allow for a much smoother transition into the employment arena.

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