Last Updated on January 24, 2019
Canada admits close to 200,000 international students each year, representing a market capitalization of close to $2 billion annually and the government plans to double these numbers by 2020.
An important consideration for many international students is the opportunity to access the Canadian labour market following graduation. Current policy allows foreign students to enroll in the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP) and work in Canada. The program is open to all international students with degrees from Canadian colleges and allows student to work in Canada for up to three years after graduation.
The PGWP is designed for Canadian postsecondary institutions to be an attractive destination and to provide international students with an opportunity to acquire work experience in Canada, making it easier to qualify for Canadian permanent residence.
However, a new report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada found that the program has an unintended consequence of creating a low-wage work force while enabling low-quality postsecondary programs to establish and cater to a growing international foreign student market.
The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) report was commissioned as part of a larger review of temporary-foreign-worker policies. The report reviews six years of the work-permit program, from 2008 to 2014
The report found that the majority of those employed through a work permit are in low-skilled jobs in the service sector with median earnings amounting to less than half of what other recent university and college graduates earn.
Express Entry, introduced in January, 2015, does not award applicants any extra points for studying in Canada, as had been the case under a prior immigration program for international students. It has therefore been heavily criticized for making it much harder for international students to become permanent residents.
The report also found that most international students’ investment in a Canadian education is not being rewarded by the labour market. International students with a work permit had median earnings of $19,291 in 2010, compared with about $41,600 for 2013 domestic college graduates and $53,000 for Canadian university grads.
A number of International students assert that it is difficult to find good jobs before they can apply for permanent residence.
The government is currently reviewing the Express Entry system with a view to allowing a greater number of PGWP holders access to permanent residence. However some believe that a separate stream needs to be created for this class of applicants with its own annual quota.
Approximately 47,000 international students graduated from Canadian universities last year, according to recent Statistics Canada numbers. They pay tuition fees three to five times higher than domestic students.
A small group of international students fare better than others. Four per cent of graduates who had a work permit went on to become permanent residents in 2014. The group that chose to stay had earnings that are much closer to those of domestic students. These are some of the important considerations that need to be weighed carefully by policy makers while ensuring Canada remains a growing destination for international students.
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