International students in Toronto: in the middle of temporary and permanent


November 28, 2013 by ceris

International students are recruited to come to Canada with the ‘carrot stick’ of permanent residence. The government is not shy about this agenda. CIC’s website in its ‘Fact sheet of International Students and Graduates’ clearly states:

“International students and graduates who are gaining experience in Canadian classrooms and workplaces are also an important source of future permanent economic immigrants. …With the Canadian Experience Class, the Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Provincial Nominee Program in place, international students or graduates have options if they wish to stay permanently in Canada” CIC Website

Canada, as a host country, is a relatively new participant in the international student market; and due to the restrictive policy changes of other countries, such as the UK and Australia, is becoming more attractive to students. A ‘good’ international student within Canadian context is one who comes into Canada for education, completes their education, participates in the labour market and settles in Canada.  For countries such as UK, those same characteristics constitute a ‘bad’ international student.

welcomeInternational students are ‘designer’ or ‘bespoke’ migrants. Yet, despite their ‘desired’ status, they receive little to no support or even an expectation of support from the either the governments or the post-secondary education institutions. Arriving as temporary migrants, international students use their own resources (financial and social) to support themselves; and after spending years in Canada as temporary migrants, they are allowed to ‘convert’ their years of Canadian education and experience into a permanent residency. During this time, legally, students do not necessarily have access to any support or any expectation of support from various service providers. And if, unknowingly, a mistake is made, they suffer the full wrath of the Canada Border Services Agency, as in the case of Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi, two international students from Nigeria who were deported because they unknowingly worked at a Walmart without an off-campus work permit.

sareesDespite Canada’s eagerness to recruit and retain international students, neither the governments nor service providers support international students during their ‘temporary’ period in Canada. In fact, international students are rarely within the public consciousness as migrants. They categorically fill the space of students – consumers of education; therefore the focus has been on ‘international education’. Located predominantly within a discussion of ‘education’, international students have almost become invisible within the migration discourse in Canada.  Their experiences, when highlighted, are often limited within the classroom or campus settings.

I have been an international student – a Canadian studying in UK.  Spurred by my own experiences, I feel it is necessary to re-locate international students within a migration discussion; to understand the needs and experiences of international students as we see to the issues surrounding temporary foreign workers (low-skilled and highly skilled) and new immigrants.  International students start off in the category of temporary migrants. But the expectation is that they will end up in the category of permanent residents. How they get there, what those experiences are, what are the challenges that students face – are all issues that have largely remained invisible.  My research goes some way to explore these questions.

gunjanEarlier this week, I presented some of the challenges faced by international students, drawn from my research on Indian International Students in Toronto, to a diverse group in a talk at York University, hosted by CERIS.  It was gratifying to hear that my research findings – in particular issues of housing, quality of education and labour market participation – resonated with members of community who attended the talk (those from service provider agencies, international student’s offices, advisors to the city of Toronto and members from Toronto’s business community).  If Canada wants to recruit and retain these students to be part of Canadian society, it cannot do so by ignoring the well-being of students.  Thus far this concern for well-being of international students has been invisible at macro scale. Universities and colleges provide basic support; colleges less than Universities.  The consensus from the discussion following the talk was that if these ‘designer’ migrants are to convert successfully to ‘designer’ citizens, then they need support to successfully complete their studies, enter the labour market and ‘integrate’ into Canadian society.

At the end of discussion, the group recognized, mirroring my feelings, that little is known about international students in Canada. Even less is known about their conversion to permanent residents; and how successful they are in the Canadian labour market in comparison to their highly-skilled temporary foreign workers or new immigrant counterparts.  These and many more questions seek to be answered; many of these questions can only begin to be answered by recognizing that international students experiences are shaped by their ‘legal’ and social status of temporary migrants in Canada.

About the blog author.

gunjan sonhdiGunjan Sondhi is currently a resident affiliate at CERIS, and an Associate Researcher at the University of Sussex, UK. She recently completed a PhD in Migration Studies from the Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex, UK. Her research interests lie within the fields of highly skilled migration/mobility, gender, class and education.

Read more about Dr. Sondhi’s research in an article published by Huffington Post Canada here.


3 thoughts on “International students in Toronto: in the middle of temporary and permanent

  1. Lisa says:

    A top-of-mind subject for me – thanks for this. Paths to permanence are growing for particular groups of temporary workers and international students, yet services for these groups remain almost non-existent. What’s more, in my work to serve these groups in the private sphere, I am contacted almost daily by prospective international students to Canada who are considering a Canadian education in the hopes of gradual permanence. Almost without exception these individuals have completed advanced studies and training in their home country and admittedly see no value in obtaining another degree – save for permanent passage to Canada. Taking a look at wait times and stringent requirements for traditional immigration streams, there is considerable incentive for an internationally educated professional complete complete a Canadian degree.

  2. Noel says:

    In most cases I have came across so far; students need a letter of employment from the employer to file for permanent resident. I have seen majority of my fellow-mates striving hard to get into a eligible occupation to file for their resident status. Sadly, a wide majority of employers do not provide required papers or just keep on saying fake promises. This situation is same in many other countries however a betrayed feeling and a huge student loan is all what a student has in the end after his/her years of struggle.

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