Population boost: Canada eyes foreign students

Bangladeshi Abdullah Mamun (above) and South Korean Eun Young (left), from the College of the North Atlantic in St John's, Newfoundland, are two of the hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to resh
Bangladeshi Abdullah Mamun (above) and South Korean Eun Young, from the College of the North Atlantic in St John's, Newfoundland, are two of the hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to reshape demographics.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Bangladeshi Abdullah Mamun (above) and South Korean Eun Young (left), from the College of the North Atlantic in St John's, Newfoundland, are two of the hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to resh
Bangladeshi Abdullah Mamun and South Korean Eun Young (above), from the College of the North Atlantic in St John's, Newfoundland, are two of the hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to reshape demographics.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Citizenship offer part of plan to attract skilled, educated immigrants amid greying workforce

ST JOHN'S (Newfoundland) • At the College of the North Atlantic here, a young Chinese woman stood discussing her future with two fellow students, a Bangladeshi man and a Korean woman, amid a flow of Newfoundlanders in down coats and hoodies heading for class.

"The environment here is really good, so I think for my health I will stay," said Miss Fei Jie, from China's eastern Shandong province.

The others said they, too, were planning to remain in the country after graduation, eventually becoming Canadian citizens.

Their path is no accident. They are three of hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to reshape Canadian demographics by funnelling well-educated, skilled workers through the university system. It is an answer to Canada's ageing population and slowing birthrate, and an effort to shore up the nation's tax base.

In November last year, the federal government changed its electronic immigration selection system, called Express Entry, to make it easier for international students to become citizens. And a Bill pending in the Senate would restore a rule that counts half of students' time spent studying in Canada towards the period of residency required for citizenship.

About half Canada's inbound students come from China, and the government wants even more.

The country needs talented immigrants to backfill a thinly spread, ageing population. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the country's immigration department, immigrants already make up 75 per cent of the annual net growth in the country's workforce and are expected to account for 100 per cent within 10 years.

The strategy, which builds on a decade-long trend and was formally laid out in 2014, seems to be working. In the 2015-2016 school year, its foreign student population grew 8 per cent to more than 350,000, equal to roughly 1 per cent of the country's population. The number of international students in the United States is less than one third of 1 per cent of the population.

But the strategy may also lead to tensions similar to those seen in the US and Europe as the make-up of Canadian society evolves and less educated segments of the mostly white workforce feel pushed aside.

Since the early 1970s, when Canada embraced multiculturalism, the percentage of what it calls "visible minorities" has ballooned to about 20 per cent of the population.

Statistics Canada, the country's census bureau, predicts that the number will reach nearly 30 per cent by 2030. Non-whites will make up a majority of the population in Toronto and Vancouver.

So far, Canadians have shown a remarkable equanimity towards the influx, one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the developed world. While polls show a gradual uptick in concern about the flow of new arrivals, mostly tied to unskilled Syrian refugees, the country on the whole remains welcoming to outsiders.

But non-Canadians are already crowding out local students at some of the country's best-known schools. International students at McGill University in Montreal make up a quarter of enrolment. In British Columbia, where students from abroad make up 18 per cent of the enrolment, people in the province are beginning to grumble that locals are being passed over in favour of non-Canadians who pay higher fees.

About half of Canada's inbound students come from China, and the government wants even more. Former immigration minister John McCallum, recently named ambassador to China, met Chinese officials in August last year, hoping to double, or even triple, the number of Canadian visa application centres in China from the four the country has now, not including Hong Kong.

Mr Amit Chakma, president of the University of Western Ontario, who led a 2012 government advisory panel that developed the core of the strategy, said there was plenty of capacity among smaller, high-quality institutions in Canada that are struggling to fill their classrooms as applications from high school graduates fall.

It is not just major cities that are attracting students from abroad. High schools, colleges and universities across the country are seeing an influx of international students.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Population boost: Canada eyes foreign students'. Print Edition | Subscribe