International Students are a Key Part of Canada's Future

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International students in Canada are, in so many important ways, an integral part of Canada's present - and future. 

And as visitors, they look to us, Canadians, for help, guidance, understanding and experience. Do we fail them? Sometimes. But they remain a force in this country, an unstoppable energy source shaping our common destiny.

There are many reasons why they come to us: superior education opportunities, diversity, safety and affordability. 

They have other choices - the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and even China. But they choose us. In huge numbers.

Thousands of international students choose Canada

Every year, thousands and thousands choose to study in Canada. And to do so, they pay sky-high tuitions, they work hard at part-time jobs and yes, sometimes they are taken advantage of. Too often actually. But they come, and many, many of them choose to start a new life here.

As North America's first Sikh billionaire and CEO of Mainstreet Equity Corp. Bob Dhillon told Rentals for Newcomers, "I’ve really tried to raise awareness about the massive economic contribution made by immigrants and international students. For example, according to the Government of Canada, international students contributed $16.2 billion and $19.7 billion to our GDP in 2017 and 2018."



And as Krista Ross, president of the Fredericton, New Brunswick Chamber of Commerce, wrote recently: "We also need the private sector to double down our efforts to work with post-secondary institutions and government to create meaningful opportunities for (international) students to gain experience, make connections and start to make a life in the province. Of course, for both the student and business, the goal is to turn these opportunities into permanent positions."

I’ve really tried to raise awareness about the massive economic contribution made by immigrants and international students - Bob Dhillon


Earlier this year, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser addressed a conference regarding the good position Canada was in compared to the rest of the world regarding what it can offer international students. 

“International students bring extraordinary employment skills, and with many of them having work experience in Canada, they’re well position to apply for permanent residency on the back end of their studies,” said Fraser.

“These students are helping to fill a pressing need in areas like healthcare and tech, and as more students build their future in Canada, this is going to contribute directly to our economic recovery and our long-term prosperity," he told the conference.

“We don’t just want you to study here – we’re hoping to create pathways that allow you to stay her and make a lasting contribution beyond your academic career."

Here are some facts and insights for those thinking of studying abroad in Canada about the journey and the impact they will have on this country: 

 - India, the world’s second-largest English-speaking population, is the leading source country. It accounts for almost 35 percent of Canada’s international student cohort. China is second, and France is third. 

- Students from abroad are the largest source of temporary migrant workers in Canada

 - During the past three difficult years, over 350,000 international students received a postgraduate work permit. In 2019, nearly 60,000 became permanent residents.

- For international students, the initial step toward studying in Canada is to research educational programs and designated learning institutions (DLIs). DLIs are universities, colleges, and other post-secondary institutions approved by the government to host international students.

- The next step is to submit applications to DLIs and if approved, obtain a Letter of Acceptance (LOA)

- Once the  LOA has been obtained, international students can then submit a study permit application to Immigrant Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). 

- The IRCC will then weigh factors such as proof students have a true interest in studying in Canada plus the financial means to support their study and living expenses. 

- The IRCC also offers the Student Direct Stream (SDS), an expedited study permit pathway to residents of 14 countries, the largest of which are India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Columbia, and Peru.

- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) releases data on a monthly basis of new study permits that take effect. These are new students arriving in Canada as well as foreign nationals already living in Canada who successfully obtain a study permit.

- In 2021,  450,000 new study permits took effect in Canada, breaking the previous all-time record set in 2019.

- Just over 400,000 new study permits were issued prior to the pandemic. That figure dropped to just over 255,000 in 2020. Last year’s total represents a doubling compared to 2015.

- In the period between July 2021 and August 2021 over 200,000 new study permits were issued, the most ever, before the start of the 2021/22 school year.

- International students pay three to four times more in tuition fees than Canadian-born peers.

- International students now contribute an estimated $21 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

- Canada hosted, as of December 31, 2021, almost 622,000 international students

- In 2019, this country's international student population was 640,000. That fell to 530,000 in 2020.

- Universities and colleges in Canada are solidly dependent on international student fees as a major source of tuition revenue. 

- Just before the beginning of the pandemic, a Statscan study revealed that in 2017-18, almost 24 percent of new enrolments in universities were by international students. In colleges, it was just over 16 percent.

- The number of international students in universities has nearly doubled in eight years, and in colleges, it's almost tripled. Revenue from international student fees in universities and degree-granting colleges was $12.7 billion in 2019-20. 

- According to Global Affairs Canada, international students spent $22.3 billion in 2018 on tuition, accommodation and discretionary expenditures. 

- China is still the prime source of international students in universities. India is No. 1 for college enrollees.

- Ontario is home to approximately 280,000 international students

- Despite challenges and hardships, many international graduates become permanent residents. In 2021, over 88,000 moved directly from a postgraduate work permit to permanent residence. In 2019 that number was 28,000.

- International students in Canada have full protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

- 60.6 percent of international students were enrolled in universities in the 2019-2020 school year, and the proportion studying in colleges, at 39.4 percent, is steadily increasing

- Since the 2015-16 school year, the number of international college students has more than doubled (from 60,318   to 153,360 in 2019-2020). 

- In the same period, the number of international university students rose from 168,606 to 235,422.

Here are the Top 10 international student source countries for Canadian schools (by number of study permit holders on December 31, 2021): 

India: 217,410

China: 105,265

France: 26,630

Iran: 16,900

Vietnam: 16,285

South Korea: 15,805

The Philippines: 15,545

The United States: 14,325

Nigeria: 13,745

Mexico: 11,550

The proportion of international students studying in colleges and universities varied across provinces and territories.

 For example, almost a third of college students in Ontario (29.9 percent), and more than one in five in British Columbia (23.3 percent), were from outside Canada.

By contrast, colleges in Saskatchewan (7.4 percent), Quebec (including CÉGEP—5.0 percent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (2.0 percent) had far fewer international student enrolments. In general, international student enrolments accounted for 19.3 percent of all students enrolled in colleges in Canada.

College enrollments by the status of the student in Canada and province of study, 2019/2020

Chart 1: College enrollments by status of student in Canada and province of study, 2019/2020


University enrollments by the status of the student in Canada and province of study, 2019/2020

Chart 2: University enrollments by status of student in Canada and province of study, 2019/2020

At the national level, international students represented 17 percent of total university enrolments. This proportion varied from the highest in Prince Edward Island (27.8 percent), Nova Scotia (26.3 percent) and British Columbia (24.1 percent) to the lowest in Alberta (11.5 percent).

Another significant factor in the recovery was Canada’s easing of Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) rules. Before the pandemic, IRCC did not allow distance learning to count towards PGWP eligibility, but they have temporarily relaxed this policy until August 31, 2022, to help those who want to go ahead with their Canadian study plans amid the pandemic.

How international students can obtain a PGWP

International students that complete their studies at an eligible Canadian designated learning institution (DLI) may be able to obtain a PGWP. 

The PGWP is coveted since it enables international graduates to gain the Canadian work experience they often need to be eligible to apply for permanent residence. 

Sources: Statistics Canada, Toronto Star, Reuters, CIC News, Prepare for Canada, Aha Insurance, Scotiabank

Helpful Resources for International Students:

- Amazing webinar for international students about renting a place to live in Canada

- Planning for housing, such as short-term rentals, before you arrive

- Guide to renting in Canada

- 5 reasons why international students renting in Canada need tenant insurance

- How students can avoid rental scams 

- Choosing a Canadian city for school, work and renting

- How to register to find an apartment through Rentals for Newcomers

- Helping students learn about banking in Canada

- Why do international students need a rental strategy?

- 10 tips for saving money on rent in Canada 

- 10 tips for newcomer tenants AND  landlords

- Knowing the difference between a condo and an apartment

- When and why would international students need a travel insurance policy?

- More banking tips for international students in Canada

- International students: learn about banking before you arrive

- How to open an international bank account before you arrive

When it comes to securing your housing in Canada, Rob Watt, the CEO of The DMS Group offers this advice: "The market fills up in the spring and in the summer. So most of the product that is desirable, that is close to campus and has the amenities and the services that you'd want will be rented up prior to the beginning of the fall semester."

Rob Watt of The DMS Group and Adi Brar of Mainstreet Equity Corp advise international students to be on top of their rental housing needs in Canada

That advice is echoed by Adi Brar of Mainstreet Equity Corp. and a former international student: "Apply (to rent) early. Do not leave this decision to the end. This is a very competitive (housing) market. Most units get rented before the summer's over."

The Toronto Star's Hard Lessons Series:

As mentioned above, the reality of the international experience sometimes is more challenging than imagined. As Toronto Star journalist Nicholas Keung has pointed out, some students studying abroad in Canada face obstacles such as unforgiving timelines, social isolation, and exploitation by employers and others.

 In an excellent recent series called Hard Lessons, The Toronto Star takes an in-depth look at how Canada is succeeding and failing, in its commitments to some international students:


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