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Jurisdictions​ ​across​ ​Canada​ ​are​ ​searching​ ​for​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​attract​ ​and​ ​retain​ ​more​ ​international​ ​students.​ ​A significant​ ​impediment​ ​to​ ​these​ ​efforts​ ​are​ ​policies​ ​that​ ​make​ ​it​ ​more​ ​difficult​ ​for​ ​these​ ​students​ ​to​ ​obtain work​ ​experience​ ​while​ ​attending​ ​Canadian​ ​post-secondary​ ​institutions​ ​or​ ​immediately​ ​after​ ​graduation. These​ ​restrictions​ ​have​ ​both​ ​(a)​ ​legal​ ​ramifications:​ ​example:​ ​permanent​ ​residency​ ​/​ ​citizenship requirements;​ ​and​ ​(b)​ ​practical​ ​implications:​ ​example:​ ​connecting​ ​with​ ​the​ ​student’s​ ​host​ ​community, making​ ​post-graduation​ ​career​ ​contacts,​ ​and​ ​gaining​ ​work​ ​experience​ ​-​ ​which​ ​employers​ ​are​ ​increasingly demanding​ ​from​ ​graduates.​ ​The​ ​issue​ ​is​ ​particularly​ ​acute​ ​in​ ​Atlantic​ ​Canada,​ ​where​ ​retention​ ​rates​ ​hover around​ ​40%​ ​for​ ​international​ ​students.    

Immigration​ ​has​ ​been​ ​long​ ​been​ ​identified​ ​as​ ​a​ ​key​ ​component​ ​to​ ​present​ ​and​ ​future​ ​growth.​ ​This​ ​was borne​ ​out​ ​in​ ​the​ ​latest​ ​census​ ​data:​ ​Canada​ ​added​ ​approximately​ ​1.7​ ​million​ ​people​ ​between​ ​2011​ ​and 2016,​ ​with​ ​two-thirds​ ​of​ ​this​ ​increase​ ​attributable​ ​to​ ​immigration.  

The​ ​timing​ ​of​ ​a​ ​renewed​ ​Canadian​ ​effort​ ​to​ ​become​ ​a​ ​destination​ ​of​ ​choice​ ​for​ ​international​ ​students​ ​may never​ ​be​ ​better.​ ​With​ ​nationalist​ ​sentiments​ ​emerging​ ​and​ ​anti-globalist​ ​governments​ ​assuming​ ​control​ ​in some​ ​of​ ​Canada’s​ ​top​ ​competitors​ ​for​ ​international​ ​students,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​a​ ​position​ ​to​ ​capitalize​ ​on​ ​the increasingly​ ​attractive​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​Canadian​ ​post-secondary​ ​education.​ ​Post-secondary​ ​institutions​ ​have recognized​ ​this​ ​opportunity​ ​and​ ​are​ ​redoubling​ ​their​ ​efforts​ ​to​ ​attract​ ​more​ ​international​ ​students​ ​to​ ​their schools.​ ​The​ ​Advisory​ ​Panel​ ​on​ ​Canada’s​ ​International​ ​Education​ ​Strategy​ ​states​ ​“International​ ​students in​ ​Canada​ ​provide​ ​immediate​ ​and​ ​significant​ ​economic​ ​benefits​ ​to​ ​Canadians​ ​in​ ​every​ ​region​ ​of​ ​the country.”​ ​The​ ​panel​ ​advocates​ ​for​ ​a​ ​doubling​ ​of​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​international​ ​students​ ​studying​ ​in​ ​Canada over​ ​the​ ​span​ ​of​ ​a​ ​decade,​ ​from​ ​just​ ​under​ ​240,000​ ​in​ ​2011​ ​to​ ​over​ ​450,000​ ​in​ ​2022.

Global​ ​Affairs​ ​Canada​ ​estimates​ ​that​ ​international​ ​students​ ​spent​ ​$11.4​ ​billion​ ​on​ ​tuition,​ ​accommodation and​ ​discretionary​ ​spending​ ​in​ ​2014,​ ​creating​ ​almost​ ​125,000​ ​jobs​ ​across​ ​the​ ​country.​ ​At​ ​this​ ​time​ ​they represented​ ​about​ ​9%​ ​of​ ​the​ ​college​ ​student​ ​population​ ​and​ ​8.8%​ ​of​ ​the​ ​undergraduate​ ​student population​ ​in​ ​Canada​ ​-​ ​leaving​ ​room​ ​for​ ​significant​ ​growth​.

That​ ​international​ ​students​ ​are​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​work​ ​at​ ​all​ ​in​ ​the​ ​country​ ​is​ ​a​ ​relatively​ ​new​ ​development. Following​ ​a​ ​pilot​ ​program​ ​offering​ ​a​ ​work​ ​permit​ ​to​ ​international​ ​students​ ​at​ ​select​ ​institutions​ ​in​ ​Alberta, the​ ​Government​ ​of​ ​Canada​ ​formalized​ ​this​ ​work​ ​permit​ ​option​ ​in​ ​2006.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​result,​ ​international​ ​students were​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​work​ ​up​ ​to​ ​20​ ​hours​ ​per​ ​week​ ​while​ ​in-study​ ​and​ ​full-time​ ​during​ ​study​ ​breaks,​ ​such​ ​as winter​ ​or​ ​summer​ ​holidays.​ ​However,​ ​these​ ​rules​ ​only​ ​apply​ ​to​ ​full-time​ ​students;​ ​part-time​ ​international students​ ​are​ ​still​ ​ineligible​ ​to​ ​work​ ​in​ ​Canada.

The​ ​implications​ ​for​ ​business​ ​and​ ​the​ ​economy​ ​are​ ​clear.​ ​The​ ​country​ ​needs​ ​the​ ​next​ ​generation​ ​of consumers​ ​to​ ​sustain​ ​growth​ ​and​ ​the​ ​next​ ​generation​ ​of​ ​taxpayers​ ​to​ ​support​ ​our​ ​aging​ ​population. Businesses​ ​need​ ​skilled​ ​workers​ ​to​ ​innovate​ ​and​ ​grow.​ ​The​ ​2015​ ​Top​ ​10​ ​Barriers​ ​document​ ​reports​ ​that the​ ​persistent​ ​skills​ ​gap​ ​costs​ ​$24​ ​billion​ ​per​ ​year​ ​in​ ​Ontario​ ​alone.​ ​Increasing​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​international students​ ​at​ ​Canadian​ ​institutions​ ​represents​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​address​ ​all​ ​of​ ​these​ ​concerns,​ ​but​ ​the employment​ ​restrictions​ ​detailed​ ​above​ ​are​ ​a​ ​barrier​ ​to​ ​fully​ ​realizing​ ​Canada’s​ ​potential​ ​as​ ​a​ ​destination of​ ​choice.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment. It’s vision is Community Prosperity Through Business.