International students were promised pathway to immigration — but there aren’t enough spots

FOCUS ON IMMIGRATION: Canada hosted 572,415 international students in 2018

International students were promised pathway to immigration — but there aren’t enough spots
The federal government needs to increase the number of international students it selects for permanent residence status, says Stephen Green senior partner at Green and Spiegel

Despite promoting their schools to international students as a pathway for immigration, Canadian universities, colleges and the federal government are recruiting so many from abroad, there are not enough spots to honour the promise, say lawyers.

“Canada has been promoting study permits for a long time. It's been a great success for Canada. And it's become almost too successful now,” says Stephen Green, senior partner at immigration boutique Green and Spiegel.

Students are eligible for permanent residence through the Canada experience class, which is one stream of the express entry system, an immigration process for skilled immigrants. Students are to work for a minimum of one year upon graduation and then can enter a candidate pool from which the government chooses those to invite to become permanent residents.

The express entry system favours prospects with university degrees over college diplomas, and Green says the system is so full that college graduates will not be eligible for permanent resident status. He says the government needs to increase the number of people selected in the express entry system, because students have paid tuition and earned degrees on the understanding it would allow them to become a Canadian, some day.

“They've got to increase the number of people that have come here on their student visa to be selected for immigration, because they've gone out to the world saying: ‘Pathway to immigration,’ and it's not right now because of the way the system is set up,” says Green, who is a certified specialist in immigration law by the Law Society of Ontario.

In 2018, 572,415 international students in Canada, a 16-per-cent increase on the year, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of people coming from abroad to study in Canada increased by 68 per cent, said the federal government’s International Education Strategy, released in October. The government also said, in 2018, international students added $21.6 billion to the GDP through tuition, accommodation and other expenses.

“Just by virtue of the number of foreign students coming in, there won't be a clear path for them to all become permanent residents,” says Barbara Jo Caruso, founder of Corporate Immigration Law Firm.

Caruso says this raises a moral issue because the government actively recruits students from the developing world and sometimes families will devote a life’s savings to pay foreign student fees, only to find the door closed once they graduate.

Statistics Canada puts the average annual cost for an international undergraduate student at $29,714, more than three-times higher than what the average Canadian pays.

“Student visas have become a huge business,” says Caruso. “You really don't hear the colleges or the universities whining to the government for more money these days. And that's very much because they're filling their bank accounts with foreign student fees.”

A glimpse of what is in store for the Canadian government was demonstrated at the beginning of November, in Quebec, says Green. The provincial government had planned to limit the number of academic programs that would be eligible for the Quebec Experience Program, which gives those with certain degrees or work experience a fast-track to Quebec residence. After a public backlash, the Government of Quebec backtracked and suspended the change.

“The students said, ‘Wait a minute, you had promised us there was a pathway to immigration.’ …They went crazy,” says Green.

The federal government is going to earn itself a similar reaction from international students across the country, he says.

Canada’s lack of a federal business immigration program and the difficulty of entering as a skilled worker through the express-entry system is adding to the overwhelming numbers of international students lining up for permanent residency, says Green. People from abroad are becoming students, just to have a pathway to immigration, he says.

“They're forcing people that really shouldn't go to school into the school system. And that's why, perhaps, the refusal rates are higher,” Green says.

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