It’s no secret that international students have been left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite their much higher tuition fees, as well as their $21.6 billion contribution to the Canadian economy, international students were excluded from various COVID-19 relief programs such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and the expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs Program. This support was overlooked while international students struggled with lost income, stringent travel restrictions, and confusing work permit regulation changes. Many international students have been obliged to continue attending online classes in the middle of the night on unstable Internet in order to maintain their path to Canadian permanent residency, while others have returned to Canada and have been forced into substandard housing while completing their legally-required 14-day quarantine. International students require support to cope with their current and unprecedented reality.
It is also clear that international students are assets to Canada, bringing considerable cultural and economic value to the country while in school, as well as when many decide to stay permanently. International students are highly skilled and educated individuals that enrich dialogues on campus and in the workplace, offer essential cross-cultural perspectives, and encourage a wider awareness of pressing national and international issues. The federal government understands these benefits, and has promised “to become the world’s top destination for talent,” in its most-recent Speech from the Throne. Accordingly, it’s important that the federal government continue to make skilled immigrants, including international students, more attracted to Canada as a study and work destination. While roughly 60% of international students already plan to continue to live and contribute to the Canadian economy after graduation, more must be done to incentivize more international students to choose Canada. Things like reducing permit barriers for international students looking to participate in work-integrated learning experiences, and allowing youth employment program access to international students looking for work, would go a long way to increasing the attractiveness of Canada as a study destination. Moreover, it would also make the lives of existing international students much easier in a time where they need as much support as possible.
Therefore, CASA recommends that the Government of Canada do the following to #CloseTheGaps in international student support and Canada’s attractiveness as a study destination:
- Amend the eligibility criteria for Canada Summer Jobs and the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to make the program available to international students.
- Allow international students to participate in an internship or co-op under their existing study permit rather than requiring them to apply for and obtain a separate co-op or intern work permit.
- Introduce a series of federal grants, bursaries, and scholarships of merit and need for international students and refugees.