A Destination for Education: Canada Seeing Exponential Growth in International Student Arrivals

In recent years, the federal government has intensified Canada’s efforts to be a world-leading study destination. According to the Government of Canada’s International Education Strategy and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) Growing Canada’s Economic Future, international education plays an important role in the globalization of the Canadian economy, allowing it to thrive in a fast-changing and competitive environment. With a labour shortage impacting Canadian employers from all sectors, the strategy is part of a broader effort to attract global talent, create economic growth, and reach new international markets.

The International Education Strategy, adopted in 2014, set out a clear plan to recruit international students, including a goal to reach 450,000 international students by 2022. The Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) reported that 2017 saw a 20 percent spike in the total number of international students in Canada—reaching 495,525 students and surpassing that goal four years early.

This spike is part of a larger trend of Canada becoming a destination of choice for international students. According to CBIE, between 2010 to 2017 there was a 119 percent increase in the number of international students in Canada.

With international students estimated by Global Affairs Canada to have had a direct economic impact of approximately $18.5 billion last year, international students offer clear economic advantages.

Another advantage? These students are viable candidates to fill labour shortages—both short- and long-term. Research indicates that international students are highly motivated to use education as a pathway to staying and working in Canada.

The 2018 IRCC Annual Report to Parliament noted over 332,000 international students were eligible to work on or off campus in 2017—more individuals than the Temporary Foreign Worker and International Mobility Program streams combined. Additionally, over 114,000 individuals held work permits under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.

Meanwhile, CBIE’s 2017 International Student Survey showed 51 percent of international students in Canada intend to apply for permanent residency after their studies.

Policies show governments recognize international students as an ideal immigration pathway for recruitment into Canada. The international study pathway offers powerful incentives: under Canadian rules, students can work part-time while studying; they automatically qualify for a work permit of up to three years upon graduating; and they are given preferred status through points if they apply to become permanent residents. The Express Entry system awards points to international students who completed their studies in Canada. Points are also awarded for job offers to eligible candidates already in Canada on work permits exempt from labour market impact assessments.

With a mix of Canadian and international education, a Canadian credential either achieved or underway, knowledge of multiple languages, and diverse cultural experiences—including within markets tourism businesses are targeting for growth—international students are an ideal fit for the global nature of tourism employment. China, India and Korea are the top source countries for long-term students, while Japan and Brazil are those for short-term students. Canada’s tourism sector must explore ways to inform international students of the multitude of employment and advancement opportunities, and motivate them to stay in these jobs in Canada.

Some areas for consideration:

  • Ensure students have the opportunity to gain work experience: IRCC’s 2015 International Student Program evaluation confirmed that providing work opportunities for international students is an important incentive. Destination countries are very competitive in trying to increase work opportunities for international students. Continuously examining Canada’s policies and postsecondary institutions’ co-op programs—and making needed adjustments—will keep us as a top destination for international students.
  • Support less populous areas: Major urban centres like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are top destinations for international students, but regions across the country are suffering from labour shortages; marketing the benefits of studying, living, and working in smaller cities and rural areas will help entice these students into other areas of Canada. Employers can advertise the unique workplace culture they can offer because of their location—some students may be looking specifically for an “authentic” Canadian experience outside of a major urban area.
  • Watch for overcapacity issues: Youth demographics have meant programs have been able to increase their international enrollments without needing to reduce their domestic intake. However, some regions will see the number of youth increase as early as 2020; institutions must strategically manage enrollment of lucrative international students and domestic entrants to avoid possible tensions.
  • Offer further training and career advancement: While some international students may be looking at a job in tourism as a means to finance tuition or living expenses (like many of their Canadian counterparts) it’s important to show them the career opportunities available by including them in job-shadowing or mentorship programs, in-house training, and management-track employee programs. While their work visas may limit their employment while they study, there are pathways for them to remain in Canada when their studies are complete, and tourism employers will be competing with other sectors to hire these graduates. Establishing an early connection is vital.
  • Create a welcoming and inclusive workplace: Many supports exist through community organizations to support employers who wish to hire newcomers to Canada. Connect with them for advice and resources to help attract and retain international students.