By Pradip Rodrigues
There are close to 400,000 foreign students currently studying/ working in Canada, (many usually working) and successive governments have expressed a strong desire to see that number double soon, needless to say neither the dismal economic forecast or a youth unemployment rate of 20 per cent reason to re-evaluate the plan.
After all, just like immigration, education has become what can be classified as another Canadian export, (we export visas, import immigrants/students who bring money and skills in that order. This boosts our economy, notably real estate. Increasing the number of international international students is more like a fund-raising drive for institutions facing budgetary shortfalls. Full-paying foreign students can quite honestly strut about on campuses like patrons and donors given they collectively contribute a $10 billion windfall to educational institutions.
Universities aggressively market themselves abroad, even some school boards have got into the game. The Toronto District School Board is test driving an office in Beijing with hopes of luring the children of wealthy Chinese, they have succeeded in no small measure. To put things in context, the TDSB has lost 40,000 students since 2001 and that hemorrhaging isn’t expected to end anytime soon.
Educational institutions love foreign students
In order to appeal to ever broadening sections of students, universities are ingeniously tailoring courses designed to appeal to ever greater numbers to be eligible. It is clear that many prospective immigrants find it easier to qualify as students than an immigrant. Decision makers at universities and school boards have understood the mindset of a vast majority of foreign ‘students’ who chooses a university not necessarily based on its global ranking but on its country’s immigration policy. This explains why students flood into one particular country and reduces to a trickle in another depending on the immigration policy in force at the time. The US in that regard is an exception as despite its restrictive immigration policy is always the preferred destination.
While the US is known to increase the number of temporary work visas allotted based on the overall strength of their economy, it severely limits the number of green cards it issues every year and considers security concerns to deny student visas by the hundreds overriding the howls of protests from American universities and businesses. Actually education is a business and a very lucrative one indeed!
Immigration for foreign students is easy
Canada since 2008 on the other hand has all but guaranteed foreign students (despite some occasional tough talk in the past) not only to work any number of hours, they aren’t obliged to find work in their field of specialty after they graduate for two years before they apply for permanent residency and three years later can file for Canadian citizenship! It’s that easy, no wonder many Immigration consultants in India and China have now become Education Consultants.
Foreign students and impact on job market
While the continuing tide of foreign students assures those in the teaching profession job security, job seekers seeking jobs in the real world see and feel the impact of foreign students first hand. Businesses benefit from a low-wage workforce and politicians view foreign students as future voters who may remember to vote for the political party that made their pathway to Canada possible.
The fear is real
It is important to note that this fear isn’t being fuelled by a wave of xenophobia, a recent federal government report released with little fanfare suggests that a large number of international students end up working in low-wage jobs after graduating. Hardly ‘the cream of the crop,’ as Immigration Minister John McCallum has stated in multiple interviews to the press.
When I told Noopur Chougule a foreign student who will soon be graduating from George Brown College, Toronto that she like other foreign students were ‘the cream’, she could barely stifle a giggle. “Maybe Canada’s education system is inspiring many middle-aged people from India to go to school again. On my campus as well as on other campuses there are ‘aunties’ and middle-aged foreign students from India and elsewhere who are here only for immigration status, their families will join them later,” she said.
Noopur often wonders how so many foreign students with a writing-level of a 10-year-old and poor verbal skills even get into some universities. It is common knowledge that a good number of foreign ‘students’ spend more time researching the job market than they do on class assignments!
Report exposes the inconvenient truth
The CIC report also points out that foreign students in other countries are expected to find employment in sectors related to their degrees. One country that truly harnesses foreign skills is the US which gives preference to foreign students graduating in science, technology, engineering and math fields, thereby ensuring they address shortages of workers possessing critical skills in those fields. They are given longer work permits but still their pathway to citizenship isn’t a slam dunk as it is on the 49th parallel.
Those in favor of keeping it easy for foreign students to work and have the option for permanent residency point out to what happened in the UK. Tough UK visa rules and work permits have led to fewer foreign students qualifying or choosing to study in the UK.
Reality check required
However the report very gently suggests that reforming the work permit program for international students should consider the economic impact to the country.
More importantly the report also suggests the government reviews how our much-vaunted education system has served its intended target- foreign students.
This summer immigration officers as well as politicians should meet the hundreds of foreign students working at factory warehouses, small businesses, restaurants and gas stations to see how their Canadian education is being utilized. A good number of foreign students work full-time as there isn’t anything out there either in their fields or a related fields. Top companies aren’t rushing over to college campuses trying to get to ‘the cream of the crop’, that is left to small businesses who wait for the cream to float to them.
It is likely that the minor unease this CIC report has caused to decision makers won’t change their thinking, quite understandable they see the big picture unlike many of us who often can’t see beyond the next pay check.