Foreign students in Canada are for all purposes new immigrants

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By Pradip Rodrigues

By some estimates, close to half a million Indian students choose to continue their further education in a foreign country. Close to 85% of internationally mobile Indian students head for five countries: the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but in recent times even China and Germany depending on costs and possibility of scholarships.

In the US alone, nearly 45% of international students are either Chinese or Indians. That’s almost half the market. Canada seems to be headed that way too, but there is a big difference- ambitious students choose elite American or British educational institutions, others who either can’t qualify or afford an American or British school opt for schools in Canada, New Zealand or Germany.

One major factor taken into consideration while choosing a foreign study destination often has little to do with the ranking of the university or private college but a lot depends upon the country’s immigration policy and ease of obtaining permanent residency and in that respect, Canada is the clear winner. Foreign students in the US or the UK aren’t guaranteed a future in those countries unless they can persuade a company to hire them and that too after the company goes through a tedious process of convincing the authorities they were unable to find a qualified American. Here in Canada there are hundreds of students who start working more hours than they spend ‘studying’ or attending classes. Never mind if the student came to take a course to become a radio officer, ends up working as ‘night manager’ at an Edmonton gas station, there are any number of exploitable loopholes to ensure this highly skilled individual will be taking his citizenship oath in the near future. He or she may even be planning on becoming a Canadian politician which seems to be on the radar of many South Asian newcomers and students.

In the GTA, it isn’t uncommon to see groups of easily identifiable foreign students sitting in coffee shops in the vicinity of their private colleges spending hours there and even making a nuisance of themselves.
And recently a news report about a scam involving foreign students from India made headlines. Often boys who cannot qualify as students to Canada are married off to a Canada-bound female student. The parent’s of the boy pay the girl’s college fees in exchange. This way the ‘married’ spouse accompanies his ‘wife’ to Canada and dutifully picks up a job. The understanding is that once the ‘couple’ gains permanent residency, they can divorce if they choose to or stay married.

The odd thing about such scams be it this one or other fake marriage scams is that the Canadian media by and large avoids these stories like plague, leaving it to the Indian media to dig up the dirt.
But in doing so, the Canadian media is degrading the image of Canada by leaving its immigration rules so open to abuse.

But back to the issue of foreign students. According to some community observers I’ve spoken to, while there is a class of serious foreign students from India taking advanced courses at top Canadian universities there is a large and growing number of non-serious foreign students who’ve enrolled in poorly rated private colleges, some with dubious reputations. These are really aspiring immigrants many of whom could not qualify as immigrants under the current rules but more than qualify as students. Many of them are poorly educated with limited English-language skills and some are actually here to learn English before they can claim to be highly skilled foreign students en route to permanent residency. It isn’t uncommon to find say a catering student working at a gas station after he has got his diploma. But as far as the Canadian government is concerned, the country is seeking and attracting talent that will be an asset to Canada.

While these so-called students seek out South Asian-owned businesses where the owners are only too happy to have them work for a lot less than minimum wage, there are others who are beginning to grumble.

Sometime ago there was talk on the radio about the nuisance created by foreign students who visited places of worship only for the free food.

One second-generation Indian student at a local college said that often students receive emails from the school administration about a student who has been expelled for bad behavior that involves alcohol, violence or for allegedly molesting a fellow student. The student who revealed this said that it often happens to be a foreign student from India!

Naturally the school isn’t about to provide such details to the public about incidents involving foreign students for fear of affecting their reputation and the government doesn’t really care, not when it is estimated that each foreign student adds at least $30,000 to the economy, it doesn’t matter if they end up depressing wages for new immigrants and Canadians at the lower end of the economic ladder either.

Meanwhile foreign students continue to pour in at a record rate, many of them are young men and women living away from their parents for the first time. Those living with extended family here do their best to get away on their own as soon as possible. Many young men living on their own quite often end up making serious mistakes. Instead of pursuing degrees, they end up pursuing girls, drinking more than they should and being up to no good. This is not good both for the ‘student’ as well as the image of foreign students from India and it definitely shows the world that Canada’s immigration policy rules are mere suggestions and breaking them would not result in any penalty.

But then again there must be something wrong with this picture, because often serious foreign students coming to Canada who takes up a specialized course could find it hard to land a halfway decent job. Some of them move back to their country, others move on to the US or Europe because there aren’t available jobs in their fields.

On the other hand, lowly skilled foreign students find plenty of work and will in all probability end up making $100,000 a year driving a truck or doing some blue-collared work. So Canada really does need foreign students, especially the ones with fewer skills, maybe not the foreign students taking a specialized course at an elite Canadian university, there is a high likelihood that many of those students will have difficulty finding the elusive Canadian Dream.

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