By Erick Maleko
Over the past two decades, the numbers of international students in Canada has jumped from 37,000 to 90,000 — the world total is 3.7 million, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
As the population of international students and their economic impact continue to expand, federal immigration laws have become a major topic of discussion.
Stakeholders from Canada’s education sector met in Toronto in early 2012 to talk about international student policy. International students currently make up 8 per cent of undergraduate students and 20 per cent doctoral students at universities and colleges across Canada, said AUCC.
On July 27, Minister of International Trade Ed Fast released the updated report on the economic impact of international education in Canada. Today, international students contribute over $8 billion to the Canadian economy and provide jobs to over 81,000 Canadians, generating annual revenues of about $450 million.
International education is currently a bigger industry than wheat exports. However, in comparison to other international student hot spots, Canada still has far to go.
Canada currently has the world’s sixth largest international student population, after the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France. Canada is still among the best for retaining its international student population.
However, many barriers, like single-entry visas and high tuition rates, are negatively affecting international students.
The University of Calgary’s Students’ Union is currently looking at ways to improve these issues.
“When it comes to international students, our focus remains lobbying for the elimination of the off-campus work permit fees and having the multi-entry visa as the norm for every student from every country,” said SU president Hardave Birk. “We want the transition from a student to a professional to be as smooth as possible for international students.”
With its aging labour force, Canada is facing a skilled labour crunch that can be solved by attracting international students.
Tuition fees for undergraduate international students in Canada are currently $17,571, more than three times the $5,300 paid by domestic students. Additionaly, in order to legally work, international students must obtain an off-campus work permit, at a cost of $150.
Some international students are only granted single-entry visas and therefore have to reapply for a new entry visa each time they need to get back into Canada.
According to second-year law and society and international student Kome Enwa, who comes from Nigeria, many opportunities for graduates exist in Canada that would not be present elsewhere.
“The opportunities that we have after school here in Canada are better than what you would have at home, especially if home is a developing country. By graduating from here I’ll have an international degree that will equip me with credentials to work anywhere in the world. Every student attends the same lectures, and gets the same level of attention — I don’t see why we have to pay more,” said Enwa. “If tuition was cheaper, more kids back home would have a chance to come here and get this quality of education.”
Through importing unique perspectives, views and ideologies from different parts of the world, international students’ societal contributions go beyond economics.
“Isolating students in a foreign culture may trigger negative feelings towards the host country. Canadian policies should reflect the hospitality we are known for,” advises the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a student advocacy group in Canada, in a press release. Their lobbying efforts for having the off-campus work visa application fee waived is a main priority. Having a job is a necessity for many international students because they do not have access to loans and assistance.
Discussions are still underway to develop strategies to attract and welcome international students into Canadian schools.