2020 was one for the books. It was challenging, humbling, eye-opening, and to go with one of the top words used to describe it, unprecedented.
A positive aspect amid coping with a global pandemic, economic fallout, and racial reckoning, is that Canadians continue to value inclusivity. As reported by the Environics Institute for Survey Research
, the pre-existing trends toward openness and inclusion among Canadians continued throughout the past year.
“Strong and increasing majorities of Canadians express comfort with current immigration levels and see immigrants as good for the Canadian economy, not as threats (…) The public continues to believe immigration makes Canada a better country, not a worse one, and they are most likely to say this is because welcoming newcomers makes for a more diverse and multicultural place in which to live”, explains Michael Adams, founder and president of the Environics Institute for Survey Research
Similarly, last year the Canadian government announced it hopes to welcome over 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to grant 401,000 Canadian permanent residence in 2021, 411,000 in 2022, and 21,000 in 2023.
International students in Canadian universities who remain in the country after graduating represent a valuable pipeline feeding Canadian immigration needs. Canada is the world’s third-leading destination for international students with 642,000 foreign students in 2019. Out of these, approximately 60% have plans to remain in the country after finishing their studies.
Many Canadian universities and colleges also rely on the influx of international students. The revenues from the international student population help fund their rising operating expenses. Canadian government research estimates that international students contribute over $21 billion annually to the country’s economy and help to sustain over 170,000 jobs.
International students will not only play a key role in helping the government achieve its immigration targets but also in shaping Canada’s population and workforce growth. Yet they face many challenges, which have only become more palpable during the pandemic.
While adapting to their new life in Canada, international students struggle with language barriers, culture shock, lack of social support, isolation, psychological stresses, child-rearing responsibilities, limited knowledge about the services available to them, unemployment, and financial hardships.
Francine Schlosser, Professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Windsor, and Reza Shahbazi, Executive Director at New Canadians' Centre of Excellence, discussed some solutions to these challenges at the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE)
conference held on November 18, 2020. Moreover, they presented the idea of using international students' talent and Canadian education as a sustainable nation-building strategy.
According to them, the recruitment of international students could be coordinated with Canadian immigration targets by having the appropriate supports in place. For example, international students’ pathway to a permanent resident status has service gaps that need to be visited by IRCC. Currently, they are not eligible for the settlement services provided by IRCC. The infrastructure and services to serve them already exist, but they need to be made eligible to access it. They also need help to find jobs and successfully enter the labor market after graduation.
The International Student Connect (ISC) Project has been working in close collaboration with settlement agencies and educational institutes to fill these service gaps and provide settlement services to international students in Ontario since 2015.
We are grateful to have a robust online presence and the tools needed to provide settlement support to international students through our partners amid these challenging times. From April to December 2020, we have delivered 130 ISC sessions and served 3,327 students virtually in Ontario.
We believe that international students are a valuable asset to the country and we are here for you to help you serve them.