Throughout the engagement process, Citizenship and Immigration Canada was a central partner, given its pivotal role in implementing visa and immigration policies. Collaboratory participants called for speed and consistency in visa processing, without adversely affecting the integrity of the process of entering Canada. There was mention of needing to reduce the bottleneck of applications as well as needing greater coordination to manage projected increases in applicants in certain countries.
In terms of information gathering, three-way communication (between government, institutions and industry) could provide better per-sector data, allowing for benchmarking and a rapid response to fraud. The issue of medical coverage (and variance in pre-application medicals) was also discussed, with suggestions that provinces/territories cover the medical insurance for international students as an incentive to choose Canada (and their respective province/territory).
Longer-term engagement mechanisms were proposed to enhance performance. The visa officers’ understanding of education in Canada and labour market needs must be constantly updated, given rapid changes in circumstances and variance by region/community. Longer-term retention strategies were also raised, specifically linking immigration policy and labour market needs.
Efforts to attract international students and researchers to Canada will be hampered without a coherent and well-supported visa system to process their entry. The international education strategy must ensure that efforts to recruit international students are congruent with CIC activities that maintain the integrity and quality of Canada’s visa and immigration system, and are supportive of CIC’s efforts to ensure competitive processing times and client service in light of growing volumes.
We must ensure that the strategy is aligned with immigration policies and that adequate resources exist for visa processing in support of Canada’s International Education Strategy. The panel frequently heard, through consultations with various stakeholders, that the Government of Canada should ensure visa offices are adequately resourced to allow for the processing of increasing numbers of study permit applications. To ensure that Canada does not lose qualified applicants in a fast-paced and globally competitive environment, the panel recommends that the Government of Canada look at options to further support Canada’s visa processing system.
CIC is an integrated network where funding is redirected to meet evolving pressures. CIC does not receive dedicated resources for the Temporary Resident (TR) program. With considerable growth in applications both in Canada and abroad for all lines of business and in spite of continuing modernization initiatives, the TR program has seen its processing times increase in some areas. Current processing times are seen as an impediment to Canada’s attractiveness for foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada temporarily, including international students, and as hindering Canada’s economic growth. We believe that funding is required to adequately resource the network so that TR program processing times, including those for study permits, do not rise and service standards can be adjusted to a more competitive level.
CIC is responsive to the needs of resource pressures and is working on several initiatives to streamline applications and provide more enhanced tools. We have heard that global processing will enable CIC to address pressures via online file sharing and processing. Electronic applications to be introduced will ease the first step in an application without the requirement to visit an office abroad. CIC has implemented a global processing system that allows it to leverage its global network. In addition, it is preparing to roll out an e-suite of services geared to all temporary residents. The services will eventually allow for online submission of applications with online payment. Clients have better access to CIC services through the expanded use of the Visa Application Centre (VAC) network, which expands the CIC global network beyond the footprint of Canadian missions abroad. The number of VACs is planned to increase from the current 60 to up to 150 centres by 2014. We encourage the Government of Canada to build on the success of recent improvements—such as the launch of the Visa Exempt Study Permit Abroad project, which enables study permit applicants from 14 designated countries to submit applications online. By increasingly leveraging partnerships and emerging technology, CIC will continue to support the goal of making Canada a destination of choice for international students and researchers.
We suggest that it is time to review the study permit fee structure to ensure that Canada remains competitive without exceeding the cost of delivering the service. Canada has the lowest study permit fee among comparator countries the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. At the moment, it seems that CIC is only recovering about 60 percent of the cost of the service through fees for study permits. The Financial Administration Act stipulates that the fee for services may not exceed the cost to deliver the services. Even if CIC were to contemplate full cost recovery for study permits, the resulting fee would still be lower than those of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
We have learned that CIC is undertaking a review of all of its user fees in support of a commitment made under the federal government’s Management Accountability Framework. Among other things, the review will examine the value of shifting more of the burden of the cost of offering the service from the taxpayer to the user of the service.
We must support initiatives that protect the integrity of Canada’s international student program, with a view to improving processing outcomes and increasing the number of quality international students in Canada. Throughout the advisory panel’s consultation process, much praise was given to CIC regarding the SPP, an administrative framework initially designed and implemented in partnership between the Canadian visa office in New Delhi and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. Given the program’s success, CIC is working toward the implementation of regulations that will ensure that the principles of the SPP—quality applicants, quality educational institutions and increased educational institution responsibility—can be applied to all Canadian education subsectors.
Student Partners Program
In 2008, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and Citizenship and Immigration Canada were working together in India on a project to better prepare immigrants for their arrival in Canada. During that collaboration, ACCCexpressed frustration that only 38 percent of Indian student applicants to Canadian colleges were being accepted and offered to collaborate to improve the approval rates and reduce the processing time.
The Minister-Counsellor for CIC in New Delhi agreed to exchange information and develop a pilot program that could reduce processing time for CIC officers and raise the approval rates. It was called the Student Partners Program. During the ensuing discussions, the ACCC gained an appreciation for the difficult choices that CIC personnel had to make, and committed to streamline the applications by promoting a better understanding among Canadian colleges and their Indian agents for exactly what was needed by CIC and what were the minimum conditions required. ACCC colleges agreed to report to CIC which students were still in good standing after the fee-refund date, enabling visa officers to develop confidence in outcomes and helping both CIC and ACCC to identify problem areas and thus manage risk based on real data.
On its part, CIC became more aware of the variety of offerings that colleges had, including post-graduate certificates, which many Indian university graduates were applying for to gain the practical skills and experience needed to obtain employment. On the basis of this growing mutual understanding and annual calls between CIC and the 45 colleges participating, approval rates moved up from 38 percent to 78 percent in less than two years and processing times dropped as the quality of the applications increased. As the word spread about the SPP, it led to a huge increase in accepted applications, going from around 1,500 to over 10,000 in three years.
“If we want to attract more and better international students, government departments and non-government associations need to collaborate in new and more effective ways. The SPP provides living proof of the value of these new types of collaborations,” comments Paul Brennan, Vice-President of International Partnerships, ACCC.
The Government of Canada, in co-operation with provinces/territories, should continue to work to ensure that only genuine, quality educational institutions have access to international students. Canadian educational institutions also have a role to play in seeking high-quality applicants, providing decisions that allow for adequate visa processing timelines and ensuring that once in Canada these persons attend the institutions that admitted them. A regular quality review on the part of institutions would assist them to fine-tune their recruitment and admissions strategies, to ensure that Canada is attracting genuine international students who have the best potential to succeed both during and after their studies. Additionally, data on international student enrollment and drop-out rates would support CIC processing efforts by allowing visa officers to better estimate and manage risk based on actual program compliance information.
It is important to align international education promotion and recruitment efforts abroad with actual study permit application outcomes, including approval and refusal rates. In target countries with lower approval rates, it is important to work toward understanding underlying reasons for refusal, and to adjust promotion and recruitment strategies accordingly (e.g. in some countries, promotional efforts may need to better identify and attract niche markets that are more likely to meet CIC requirements to study in Canada). Better coordination is needed between DFAIT and CIC both at the policy level and on the ground in order to increase data and information sharing, ensure a common federal approach to the attraction of international students and align promotional efforts and study permit visa issuance.
Aggressive processing time targets should be established, especially in key markets, to compete with other competitor countries and jurisdictions. CIC needs to increase staffing levels to accomplish this goal. Funding support for this activity should come from visa fees collected from the applicants.
Efforts to attract international students and researchers to Canada will be hampered without a coherent and well-supported visa system to process their entry. The panel stresses that efforts to recruit international students must be congruent with CIC activities.
It is of national importance that the integrity and quality of the visa and immigration system be maintained. CIC must be supported in efforts to ensure competitive processing times and client service in the face of growing volumes. Meeting this processing demand will put pressure on visa officers, requiring an increase in staffing levels and a need for enhanced or further training.
The way forward: The panel recommends that visa offices be adequately resourced to allow the processing of increased numbers of study permit applications. This will require additional operating funds. A review of the fees charged for study permits, which are significantly lower than our competitors, should be considered.
We believe Canada is well positioned to endorse a professional culture of excellence in launching the international education strategy. Quality is at the core of the education offer and the brand position. This should be equally true of the individuals engaged in international education initiatives for Canada.
The complex and diverse range of skills required of professionals in this field should not be underestimated. The skills include intercultural communications; an understanding of the comprehensive education offer across all sectors and regions of Canada; knowledge of legislative jurisdiction, labour market synergies and global trends; public speaking abilities; marketing expertise; research analysis; awareness of immigration procedures; and at times, international negotiation skills in business relationships.
For internationalization efforts to succeed on campus, a deep knowledge of support services is required for international students, including new Canadians and Canadian students on exchange. International educators must be aware of issues and prepared to deliver support services in areas such as:
International education is a field with rapidly changing influences and a requirement that professionals adapt and constantly update their knowledge.
The best professional development opportunity for international education professionals is the exchange of information and expertise between embassy staff supporting in-country promotion efforts, visa staff, in-country education experts and international educators or officials who can offer in-depth knowledge of the education offer. An underlying principle in this exchange is the ongoing professional development expected in the education sector to ensure representatives are providing the most accurate, informed and useful intelligence and that in return, students choosing Canada will experience the highest quality of support when studying in Canada.
The panel quickly realized the depth of expertise at institutions, associations and throughout government departments. Many individuals have been engaged in international education and have been globally recognized as leaders by their peers. Greater emphasis has been placed on internationalization initiatives in the education sector. However, professional development has been uneven and there is a significant opportunity to share best practices and establish a high bar across Canada for top-quality professionalism. In addition to formal learning initiatives, secondment and job shadowing may provide strong opportunities for expanding awareness of international education issues.
Existing professional development occurs in the following areas but could be better coordinated for a pan-Canadian standard:
Canadian Bureau for International Education: Fostering networks between Canada and the world
In November 2011, the Canadian Bureau for International Education organized a highly successful Canada-Arab Education Forum. The forum, held in Ottawa, attracted 180 senior leaders and professionals in education, government and the private sector from across Canada and 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The forum was part of a CBIE pre-conference series, initiated in 2007 and offered in collaboration with DFAIT, which aims to connect Canadian colleges, Cegeps, institutes and universities with new partners from a specific country or region.
Participants at the Canada-Arab Education Forum in November 2011.
Photo courtesy of the CBIE.
Participants engaged in dialogue on partnership opportunities in the areas of scholarships and student support; education–industry collaboration; science and technology; centres of excellence; and practical ways of improving student learning outcomes. Networking meetings were held throughout CBIE’s annual conference, which followed the forum and continued afterwards, and many Arab world participants also visited educational institutions and government agencies. “CBIE was gratified that its 2011 Arab Forum—a high-profile element of our 45th national conference—heightened awareness of opportunities and of how to build effective partnerships between Canadian institutions and their counterparts in the region,” says Karen McBride, President and CEO, CBIE.
Queen’s University: International Educators Training Program
The IETP was established in 2003 by the Queen’s University International Centre to offer professional development to staff working in the field of international education. The program has expanded to offer a summer institute, an online certificate in partnership with the Queen’s University Faculty of Education, and courses and workshops on college and university campuses and at international education conferences across Canada. Participants can enhance their skills and knowledge in areas such as intercultural communications, international mobility support programs, mental health programs, risk-management policies and practices, immigration advising, marketing and promotion, and internationalization of the campus. The Certificate for International Education Professionals combines online and face-to-face learning to provide participants with a progressive and well-rounded approach to their professional development.
A two-way flow of information is required to ensure quality control and management of capacity. Given frequent changes to visa policies, it may be helpful to provide learning opportunities where experts from the education sector can come together with visa officers abroad. Visa and trade officers would benefit from training to gain a clear and detailed understanding of the education offering in Canada. Overarching lessons learned could be shared with the broader community via targeted workshops or webinars. The underlining objective of the training is to ensure that qualified applicants obtain their visas and that students have a quality experience that is supported by adequate services.
Immigration via international education can bring tremendous value to Canada, especially if matched with skills gaps. We believe that it is one of the safest immigration paths, as students can demonstrate their capabilities to adapt and succeed through their education period. This facilitates their integration into Canada’s workforce and is an important incentive to study and conduct research in Canada.
Highly qualified and skilled people who will contribute to innovation and creative academic–private initiatives are a critical element to a successful economy. Canada is already facing a skills shortage that will require collaboration between federal jurisdictions (CIC, HRSDC and DFAIT) to ensure Canada attracts and retains talented immigrants despite strong global competition for top talent. An international education strategy for Canada should strongly align and engage with existing immigration and labour market programs and priorities to ensure Canadian prosperity. Not all international students should or might wish to stay in Canada, but we must endeavour to attract and retain talented, qualified individuals who benefit from their education experience in Canada and who wish to contribute in key areas of Canada’s labour market.
Under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, eligible students can receive a work permit for up to three years in Canada upon successful completion of studies. The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) allows graduates of eligible post-secondary institutions with at least one year of work experience to apply for permanent resident status, with the possibility of applying for Canadian citizenship three years later. In 2011, just over 6,000 foreign nationals transitioned to permanent resident status through the CEC and approximately 50 percent of those were former international students. Other international students transition to permanent resident status through the student stream of Provincial nominee Programs, offered by some provincial governments. International students represent approximately seven percent of total transitions to permanent residency through this program. CIC has confirmed that there is scope within the CEC program resources to attract greater numbers of eligible applicants. This provides a significant opportunity to promote this pathway to attract those scholars and highly qualified, skilled talent who are most likely to succeed in transitioning from their education to work experience in Canada.
Université de Moncton: Attracting and retaining skilled international students
Since the beginning of the last decade, with the goal of counterbalancing the population decrease in New Brunswick, the Université de Moncton (U de M) has turned to international recruitment. As of last year, it has seen a growth of nearly 500 percent in international student numbers over the previous 10 years. The benefits of the arrival of these students far exceed simple numbers, extending beyond the walls of the university.
Ranging from the campus in Moncton to those in Edmundston and Shippagan, these new arrivals allow New Brunswick’s youth, often from rural areas, to open themselves to different cultures. International students contribute equally to cultural richness as they do to economic growth in Moncton, their host community, as well as in New Brunswick and the whole of Canada. Many international students choose U de M for the opportunity to study in French in a bilingual environment, which results in many students graduating with a quality education and a high level of bilingualism.
Photo courtesy of Université de Moncton.
Many of these students also choose to stay in New Brunswick after finishing their studies. The City of Moncton, in collaboration with U de M, has recently undertaken a project to integrate international students. In the context of population decline, local employers do not have to look far to find qualified workers who will contribute to the development of the country as a whole.
The Canadian Experience Class can be better promoted and leveraged to retain graduates from eligible institutions and post-secondary programs who have at least one year of work experience in Canada in a managerial, professional, technical or trade occupation after graduation.