Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Canada has a tremendous opportunity to become the foremost educational hub globally, but first it needs to stop confusing those international students who wish to study here.
Right now, hundreds of thousands of eager, ambitious international students are studying at institutions across Canada. Unless they are studying in Canada for just a short-term program, these students hold a study permit.
Of course, Canada doesn’t just let anybody obtain a study permit. Among other criteria, including the need to have been accepted by a designated learning institution, the government of Canada stipulates that ‘To be eligible to study in Canada . . . you must satisfy an immigration officer that you will leave Canada at the end of your authorized stay.’
OK, that’s fine in itself. Those are the rules and it seems clearly laid out. But you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface before that particular rule becomes utterly perplexing.
First, one of the main attractions of coming to study in Canada is that the federal government offers the opportunity of an open work permit, valid for up to three years, to international graduates. Come build your career here in Canada, they are saying. You are exactly what our workforce needs. And don’t stop there, we want you to stay forever.
This doctrine comes straight from the highest authority, with Immigration Minister John McCallum effusive in his praise for students and laying out the government’s plan to have more and more of them transition to permanent residence.
“I believe international students are among the most fertile source of new immigrants for Canada. By definition, they are educated. They speak English or French. They know something about the country, so they should be first on our list of people who we court to come to Canada,” said Mr. McCallum just a few months ago, adding that “We must do more to attract students to this country as permanent residents . . . They are the cream of the crop in terms of potential future Canadians.”
Fertile source. Cream of the crop. These agricultural metaphors are no accident — it would be wise to take McCallum and the government at their word, they actually view these students as a source of growth for the country. Students and graduates really are among the most highly sought potential immigrants, and the government recently changed its Express Entry system to give bonus points to candidates who have studied in Canada. The provincial governments are also in on the act, with an ever-increasing range of Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) categories becoming available to students and graduates.
And yet, in spite of the rhetoric and recent changes to help students settle permanently, that ‘you must satisfy an immigration officer that you will leave Canada at the end of your authorized stay’ criterion remains in place, sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb and becoming the reason for many refusals on study permit applications. It confuses students, their families, institutions, and employers alike. It must also surely confuse immigration officers themselves.
Call it what you wish. Baffling, confusing, lacking in synergy . . . I have one word for it though: farce.