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Canada's international students

Canada’s international students soon to get permanent PR pathways

Canada’s international students will soon get new pathways to become Canadian permanent residents. IRCC top Sean Fraser made the revelation in a keynote address at ApplyBoard’s annual Educate the World Conference on March 10. ApplyBoard is an Ontario-based, immigrant-founded educational tech company.

Fraser said that the policy work is being done this year for a permanent pathway for Canada’s international students.

Highlights of Fraser’s keynote address include:

  • Why labour shortages are an opportunity to harness the talents of international students
  • The important reason for dual intent on study permit applications
  • How the government is currently addressing the influx of international students in Canada

Canada remains a top pick for international students. In 2021 IRCC issued 621,565 study permits, up almost 17.7 per cent from the 528,190 in 2020. That is impressively as high as the pre-pandemic levels. And it is only 2.6 per cent lower than the record of 638,280 study permits set in 2019.

Canada’s International Students Bolster Economic Recovery

One of the first things Fraser shared was that ensuring Canada remained a destination of choice for international students is vital.

Fraser expressed confidence in Canada’s economic resiliency. He advanced current labour shortages as an opportunity to harness the talents of Canada’s international students.

“Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 means an emphasis on growth-oriented policies [and] immigration is going to help drive that growth. Bringing newcomers here to study, to work, to live is going to help drive that post-pandemic recovery.”

The immigration minister says Canada must continue to look for new ways to encourage international students to remain in Canada upon graduation.

“Our message to international students and graduates is simple,” said Fraser. “We don’t just want you to study here. We’re hoping to create pathways that allow you to stay here and make a lasting contribution beyond your academic career.”

Supporting Canada’s International Students

The Canadian government supported international students through the COVID-19 pandemic by: 

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to support international students,” Minister Fraser said. “Because we believe in the contribution they make to our communities, and to our economy, right across Canada.”

Current pathway to permanent residence

While Canada develops a new permanent program, Canada’s international students can use study permit and Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) as pathway to PR.

Canada’s international students can work while studying to start building work experience for PR application. They can work under the following categories:

  • on campus without a work permit;
  • off campus with a work permit; and also
  • in co-op and internship programs, where work experience is part of the curriculum, with a work permit.

After graduation international students can apply for a PGWPP. These permits are valid for at least eight months and may last for up to three years. PGWPP allows international graduates to obtain an open work permit to gain valuable Canadian work experience. They can then apply for PR via Express Entry under the Canadian Experience Class stream.

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Challenges facing Canada’s International Students

Proving “intent to return to home country” after graduation

Canada strongly reiterates its need for international students stay permanently. However and ironically, students are being denied study permit because they fail to prove they will “return to their home countries” after graduation.

Speaking about the irony, Fraser said:

“That was one of the first things I noticed when I started digging into this new position. You hear these stories about a student that wants to come and wants to work and companies want to hire. And even provincial governments want to offer scholarships to, with the idea that they should stay. But they’re sometimes refused entry for the reason that there’s not a belief that they’re going to return home.”

Fraser ruled out allowing all international students to stay in Canada permanently. This would take away spots for foreign nationals under other programs. But he is hoping to implement solutions for international students to come to Canada on a clear pathway to permanent residency. Presumably the plan will de-emphasize “proof of intent to return home”. Instead, it will allow international students a clear pathway to come here to study and then transition to permanent residency after graduation.

Regional disparities in student visa approval rates

Another challenge is lower visa acceptance rates for students from specific regions. Responding to a question on that challenge, Fraser stated:

“When I worked at a university campus in Johannesburg, some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met were walking those hallways. When we have an approval rate that’s one-third that of other countries, we’re missing out on talent. Talent is what’s going to drive the knowledge economy of the next century. If we miss out, we’ll be a step behind.”

Canada continues to build partnerships with institutions in students’ home countries with programs such as the Student Direct Stream. See for example:

Long processing times for visa applications

Long processing times for study permit is another challenge highlighted at the conference. The Student Direct Stream programs cut processing to as short as 2 weeks in targeted countries. Canada wants to do even more to speed up the processing of study permits.

“We’re going to be putting additional resources to get the study permit processing times back to our service standard this year in hopes that we can get as many students here on the schedule they need to complete their academic programs,” Fraser also said.

Measures that Canada is implementing include the hiring of 500 new processing staff and also digitizing applications.