British Columbia has the lowest rate of offering permanent residency to international students in Canada despite attracting the second highest number of students to stay in the province after graduating, highlights new research.
The results of a three-year project that surveyed 1,300 international students at Langara College in Vancouver and the College of New Caledonia in Prince George noted a number of challenges faced by international students when it came to obtaining employment in their field of study and staying in Canada after graduating.
The vast majority — 70 per cent — of international students who have acquired a bachelor’s degree, after having paid up to five times as much in tuition as domestic students, did not acquire permanent residency within 10 years of living in Canada.
Those who completed a masters or doctoral program had better odds, at 50 and 60 per cent respectively.
The report entitled ‘Study, Work, Stay? Pathways & Outcomes for International Students in BC’ is yet to be released, but the unpublished version and data behind the scenes was shared with New Canadian Media by project director Jenny Francis.
“International students in BC are frequently stuck in a cycle of multiple work permits at employment not related to their studies; education makes practically no difference in their employment outcomes,” reads the unpublished report.
Fifty-six per cent of survey respondents said they intended to become a citizen or permanent resident in Canada. But, according to the report, Canada’s federal immigration agencies do not account for students’ desire to stay and work in Canada, and instead make plans based on the assumption that they will return to their home countries.
Researchers found that post-secondary institutions put more emphasis on recruiting students rather than ensuring their success.
The survey results note that International students have become a new class of temporary foreign workers “within a Canadian economy heavily dependent on temporary workers” but do not have adequate pathways to employment in their chosen fields of study.
Living on the edge
The rising cost of living and inability to make ends meet has also been taking a heavy toll on international students.
Nearly 75 per cent of survey respondents said affording tuition fees on top of paying for other costs is the number one challenge to studying in Canada.
“I cannot even study or submit my homework because I haven’t [got] my basic needs covered,” an international student said in a press release from Francis, a Langara College geography instructor. “I constantly have to live on the edge because I don’t earn enough to afford food every day.”
International students pay up to five times more in tuition fees on top of paying for rent, food and other necessities, and are restricted to working 20 hours a week. This limitation was temporarily lifted in October 2022 for some students until December 2023 as a move to bolster the labour market during worker shortages.
While this research project focuses on B.C., international students across Canada face similar challenges with rising costs, food insecurity, and exploitation in the workplace, as previously reported by New Canadian Media.
Higher tuition fees have pushed more international students to use food banks in Ontario, limiting students from their cultural meals and connection to home because of a limited supply of ethnic foods.
A new report from Ontario also highlights an increase in female international students facing sexual harassment in the workplace who remain silent about their experiences.
Forty-two per cent of respondents said they used an international immigration consultant and a third used a recruitment agency for international students.
In the wake of potentially hundreds of scammed international students threatened to be deported for fake offer letters they did not know about, the report points to the exaggerated use of education agents whose focused on as a leading challenge to international students’ success.
These findings have led researchers to make a number of recommendations for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), post secondary institutions, and the government of B.C. to consider.
The report asks IRCC to consider more flexibility for international students to take breaks, give post graduate work permit holders access to settlement services, require English language testing as part of their study permit applications, and increase the initial required sum for them to enter the country to $20,000, among other steps.
It recommends post secondary institutions to end their reliance on profit-driven immigration consultants, be more transparent on how they spent international student tuition fees, provide employment and career counselling, and recruit students from more countries.
They also ask the B.C. government to have more oversight of employers who seek to exploit international students post graduation, hold post secondary institutions accountable for their recruitment methods and student outcomes, and give students and post graduate work permit holders full access to WorkBC services.
**This article has been edited to correct that the Mathematics and Statistics Department at Langara College sent New Canadian Media a press release of Jenny Francis’s new research.