Between improvements to the immigration system, investment in study programs, and growing employment opportunities, 2016 was an exciting year for international students in Canada. Potential international students around the world are increasingly looking to the country as a study destination for its welcoming attitude, comparatively low tuition fees, world-class study programs, and permanent immigration options. Read on to find out more about what went on in 2016, and what we can look forward to in 2017.
By the numbers:
$11.4 billion CAD: The estimated amount international students in Canada spent in 2015.
187,968: the number of applications for study permits IRCC received in 2015.
125,783: The number of new study permits issued in 2015, an increase of 5.4% over 2014.
8%: the increase in international students studying in Canada in 2016, compared to 2015.
China, India, France, South Korea: the top four source countries for international students in Canada.
Year in Review: 2016
In 2016, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) enacted policy changes which are expected to greatly improve the pathway to permanent residence for international students in Canada. In addition, world events such as the decision of voters in the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU), and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, have caused ripple effects throughout the international education community.
Within Canada, the opportunities for international graduates to apply for Canadian permanent resident status were arguably more plentiful than ever before. British Columbia invited a total of 2,775 international graduates to apply to immigrate to the province through the Express Entry — International Graduate category and the Skills Immigration — International Graduate category of the BC Provincial Nominee Program.
Elsewhere, several provincial nominee program streams or categories targeting international graduates and post-graduates remained open. To find out more about immigration options for international students by province, please consult this table.
For a detailed review of immigration developments throughout Canada, including the Provincial Nominee Programs and Quebec’s immigration system, please consult this comprehensive article from CICNews.
February 5: Introduction of online Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) application process for graduates outside Canada
In early February, IRCC simplified the PGWP application process for international graduates of Canadian institutions who are no longer in Canada, introducing the option to apply online. Under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, international graduates can obtain an open work permit valid for up to three years, allowing them to work anywhere in Canada for any Canadian employer. A job offer is not required.
May 1 — July 5: Fort McMurray Wildfire
In May, a wildfire broke out near the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, triggering mass evacuation.
Fort McMurray is home to Keyano College, a vocational college specializing in trades and technical programs. Many students — including international students — found themselves displaced after the fire, and Keyano College remained closed until the end of November. In response, IRCC approved special measures for international students, among other individuals. These measures included the waiving of fees for study permit extensions, free replacement of certain lost documents, and changes to the conditions under which affected international students could apply for a study permit extension.
In addition, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education also granted a reprieve on student loan repayments.
The swift response of provincial and federal governments to establish measures to ease the aftermath of a disaster demonstrated a dedication to providing social services for international students in Canada, as well as Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
June 23: Brexit
In a widely unexpected turn of events, UK voters opted to leave the EU in a referendum — a move known as Brexit. In the wake of the narrow victory of the Leave campaign, stakeholders in the international community immediately started drawing comparisons between the international study landscape in the UK and in Canada. Canadian non-profit think tank the Conference Board of Canada stated that:
‘The lack of stability in Europe juxtaposes Canada’s sunnier landscape. Canada provides a welcoming contrast marked by academic excellence, continued liberalism, and a warm openness to diversity. Our universities and colleges, if they choose to collaborate, are well-positioned to expand the flow of international academics and students who wish to learn, study, and conduct research at our post-secondary institutions.’
July 13: Changes to study permit regulations
Prior to July 13, a student who needed to complete a prerequisite course, such as a language course, before gaining admittance to a university or college program could obtain a long-term study permit covering both study programs, plus 90 days. In July, IRCC stated that it would no longer issue long-term study permits to applicants intending to pursue two different programs at two different institutions. Instead, a student is required to apply for a new study permit after the prerequisite program is completed, if he or she wishes to progress to the main study program.
This change brought about uncertainty among potential students who had planned on a smooth transition from their prerequisite studies on to their main program. Students in such a situation may now be uncertain of obtaining the second study permit for the main program. It is important to note that the same application conditions are in effect when a student applies for the second study permit. Students are advised to remain informed of the processing times and conditions they need to meet.
September 1: Canada announces intention to open seven new visa application centres in China
Over the summer of 2016, both the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the federal Minister of Immigration, John McCallum, separately toured China to discuss relations between China and Canada. A main focus of the visits was the expansion of Canada’s visa office network in China, which was announced during Trudeau’s visit. The proposed offices are expected to process applications for temporary resident visas (TRVs), work permits, and study permits. More students come to Canada from China than from any other country — more than one-third of international students in Canada are Chinese nationals.
October 17: New public policy allows certain international graduates to re-apply for a PGWP
After a federal court ruled that IRCC must reconsider the application of an international graduate who was refused a PGWP based on his distance learning courses, Minister McCallum introduced a public policy to allow students in similar situations to re-submit an application for a PGWP. Applications must be made by March 17, 2017.
Foreign nationals may be eligible for consideration if:
- They were refused a PGWP between September 1, 2014 and March 15, 2016;
- The reason for the refusal of the application was because the applicant completed the majority of the coursework by distance learning; and
- The entirety of the applicant’s program of study, including transfer credits, was not considered before the application was refused on the grounds that the majority of coursework was by distance learning.
November 8: Donald Trump elected future President of the United States
It was widely-reported that the IRCC website crashed following the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly, the eyes of the world were on Canada as an alternative immigration and study destination.
International students in the United States, and potential international students around the world, were among the most concerned. With Trump’s widely-reported attitude towards particular groups of foreign nationals, and immigrants in general, many expressed concern about the future of their studies in the United States. The response was similar to the reaction to the Brexit campaign, when stakeholders expressed similar concern over the dominance of an anti-immigrant rhetoric.
In contrast to these attitudes, Canada is renowned for its open, welcoming culture and progressive immigration policy. Canada offers a study landscape that is comparable to that of the UK and the US: world-class English-language institutions in culturally-rich cities. Add to that a range of top French-language and bilingual institutions, tuition fees that rival the domestic fees of other countries, and a range of options for permanent immigration after graduation — more prospective international students have started to take Canada seriously as a study destination.
November 19: Changes to the Express Entry and Comprehensive Ranking Systems came into effect
On November 19, 2016, the government enacted a reform of the allocation of points under the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to candidates in the Express Entry pool. These changes included a reduction in the number of CRS points awarded for a qualifying job offer, and the introduction of additional CRS points for candidates in the pool with an eligible Canadian educational credential.
Since November 19, candidates with an eligible Canadian educational credential may obtain 15 or 30 additional CRS points, depending on the level of the diploma, degree, or certificate. In addition, the number of CRS points awarded for a qualifying job offer decreased from 600 points, to 50 points in most cases (although job offers in some senior managerial occupations are awarded 200 points).
Consequently, international graduates of Canadian institutions may find themselves in a stronger position in the Express Entry pool. Not only may they gain additional CRS points for a Canadian educational credential, but the competition from candidates with a qualifying job offer has levelled since these individuals obtain fewer points for this factor. As a result of these changes, IRCC expects that ‘a reduction of points to candidates with arranged employment means the CRS cut-off will decline, leaving more invitation space for students.’ Since these changes came into effect, this has largely proven to be true.
December 1: Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) requirement lifted for Mexican nationals
Since 2009, Mexican nationals have been required to apply for a TRV in order to visit, work, or study in Canada. That all changed on December 1. Mexico is now on the list of visa-exempt countries, and its citizens join those of other visa-exempt countries who are required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) if entering Canada by air for a visit, temporary work, or study.
The news was greeted with enthusiasm by many individuals who are considering studying in Canada, as the process to obtain an eTA is simpler and cheaper than the process to obtain a TRV. Additionally, Mexican nationals may now find that travel between the two countries will be simpler — encouraging news for students in Canada with family members in Mexico. Mexican students in Canada were among those most affected when the TRV requirement was introduced in 2009.
Furthermore, Trudeau has confirmed that Canada expects to lift the TRV requirement for citizens of Romania and Bulgaria in 2017.
Looking forward to the new year
With so many developments arriving later in 2016, it is expected that 2017 will be the year these changes make themselves manifest. As the dynamics of the Express Entry pool shift, international graduates may see their profiles become more competitive. Moreover, the government appears dedicated to improving student mobility, and it is expected that study options in Canada will continue to open up to potential students from around the world.
To learn more about your options for studying in Canada, click here. There is also a range of tools and resources available for prospective students in Canada, including CanadaVisa School Search and School Match Canada.
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