Two immigration experts claim Ottawa’s latest moves to help international students are not enough and the country should do more to make life easier for them.
“Canada should consider expanding universal healthcare coverage to include international students, placing caps on tuition fees for international students, and expanding the eligibility criteria for federally funded settlement services to include international students,” wrote Sara Asalya, founder and executive director of the Newcomer Students’ Association, and Alka Kumar, a research fellow at Ryerson University’s Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, in the Toronto Star earlier this month.
In a column on July 8, Asalya and Kumar acknowledged that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has made important moves to help international students this year.
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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many international students became anxious about their status in Canada. Under the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program, they have to complete a full year of work before they can apply for permanent residency.
But the economic blow dealt by public health restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 shut down a lot of restaurants, hotels and stores. Many international students found themselves out of work.
That threatened their status and prospects of being able to remain in Canada as permanent residents.
Immigration Minister Offers Open Work Permits
In January, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino kicked off the new year by offering a lifeline to those international students facing exactly that situation.
He offered PGWP holders the chance to qualify for an Open Work Permit so they could gather the experience they needed to qualify for permanent residence.
Candidates with a PGWP that expired on or after Jan. 30, 2020, and were still in Canada, were given six months to apply for an Open Work Permit to help them continue to seek the work experience they need to qualify to stay in Canada long-term.
“This new policy means that young students from abroad who have studied here can stay and find work, while ensuring that Canada meets the urgent needs of our economy for today and tomorrow,” Mendicino said.
“Our message to international students and graduates is simple: we don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here.”
International Students Allowed To Complete 100% of Studies Online
The IRCC has also relaxed its rules about studying online, allowing international students who could not come to Canada due to the border closures the opportunity complete 100 per cent of their studies online and still be able to get a PGWP.
But Asalya and Kumar maintain Canada should do even more for international students, even though Canada is already one of the top destinations in the world for international students.
“Our governments should also provide additional funding to colleges and universities to make it easier for international students to access better institutional support,” wrote Asalya and Kumar in the Toronto Star.
“Decades of government cuts to post-secondary funding (have) arguably made these institutions far too reliant on international tuition fees.
International Students An Important Revenue Source For Schools
“International students are a diverse group: Their cultural contexts, economic backgrounds, enrolment status and intersectionality are all factors that shape their needs and aspirations, so government policies should be flexible. And though they want to contribute to Canada, these students can’t just be seen as cash cows. They need holistic support services, as well as responsive and inclusive policies, to fully support their transition and permanent settlement in Canada.”
In a typical year, more than 400,000 international students come to Canadian colleges and universities with a Canadian study permit and gain valuable work experience at the same time. Upon graduation, many of them get a post-graduation work permit and then apply for permanent residence in Canada through the Express Entry program.