Douglas Todd: Canada’s foreign-student policy needs public review, say experts

Analysis: “Immigration is first and foremost about nation building,” says specialist Chris Friesen.

Published: January 20, 2021 | Author: Douglas Todd; Vancouver Sun


The public is in the dark about how Canadian immigration policy has been changed to give preference to international students, say experts.

Ottawa should set up a royal commission to look into issues such as whether Canadians agree that foreign students, who tend to come from the “cream of the crop” in their homelands, should go to the front of the line for permanent residence status, says Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing settlement services in Canada.

Most Canadians have no idea that roughly one in three people approved each year as immigrants — especially during COVID-19-battered 2020 — were already living in the country as either foreign students or temporary workers, says Friesen, who also directs the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., which has provided support to tens of thousands of newcomers.

While Friesen can see the logic of giving some priority to in-country international students as future immigrants, he asks, “What about those you’ve got waiting overseas? They’ve paid their fees. They’re doing the point system and all the rest of that. What do they think when they find out the quickest way to Canada is to come on a study visa or as a temporary resident?”

In the past five years, Ottawa has gone from welcoming about 300,000 immigrants a year to more than 400,000, but Friesen said most Canadians don’t realize that this country also takes in at least that many people every year as students or guest workers.

In addition to international students being a possible brain drain on their countries of origins, Friesen said, “the vast majority of international students are of a certain economic status. They have the network of financial resources that allows them to consider studying abroad in a country like Canada.”

Immigrants to Canada should come from diverse economic backgrounds, said Friesen. “Immigration is not about the private sector dictating economic theory. Immigration is first and foremost about nation building.”

Even though foreign students bolster the budgets of Canada’s high schools, private language schools and post-secondary institutions, Friesen said, “I don’t personally believe we have a handle at all on international students.

“It feels like the federal government is just reacting to educational institutions. There isn’t any plan. We might plan for permanent residents, but we don’t plan for temporary residents.”

Canada doesn’t just need educated tech workers, bankers and financial analysts, Friesen argues.

The country also needs people in essential services such as farming and elder care, not to mention plumbing and garbage collection, which he called “valued professions that are devalued in our society.” As for the debate over whether large numbers of newcomers lower the wages of domestic workers, Friesen says he’s not too concerned about that happening.

As chair of the national Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector AllianceFriesen is calling for a country-wide discussion on Canada’s foreign-student policy in the same month that Ottawa has again been more generous than virtually any other country by offering long-term work permits to international students to encourage them to become permanent residents.

This month, Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino announced they could stay and look for jobs up to 4.5 years after graduating.

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