Headshot of Michael Haan

Michael Haan, Canada Research Chair in Migration and Ethnic Relations at University of Western Ontario

New research shows a spike in the rate of international students settling down in Atlantic Canada after graduation.

The four Atlantic provinces traditionally retain fewer international students than other regions, but the trend is improving, according to professor Michael Haan, Canada Research Chair in Migration and Ethnic Relations at the University of Western Ontario.

“That’s fantastic, very exciting,” Sonja Knutson, Director of the Internationalization Office at Memorial University, said of the new results.

Haan’s data shows a jump in the rate of international students in Atlantic Canada who became permanent residents after graduation and then stayed in the province where they studied for at least one year.

Between 2004 and 2013, about 11 per cent of international students remained in the province where they studied after landing as permanent residents. When Haan measured the same pattern between 2004 and 2015, the one-year retention rate topped 15 per cent in almost every Atlantic province, with New Brunswick leading the pack.

Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab was one of several sector leaders pleased by the data.

“Increasing our population through immigration, including recruiting and retaining international students, is a priority for me as minister and for our government,” Diab told Polestar. “The success that we’re having is not accidental. These (initiatives) are planned and supported and invested in by the government. We’re continually looking to see how we can innovate.”

Haan tracked people who first entered Canada with a study permit, and then used tax data to discover where they lived during and after their studies. The new results do not include any information about long-term retention.

Haan credited Atlantic provincial governments and universities for the increased retention, and also theorized that students are becoming more sophisticated about planning their education and immigration in tandem.

“More recent cohorts are more likely to stick around, that’s just universally true,” he said. “I think students have a better sense of where they are headed than they used to, so the choice is a bit more informed,” he said.

“Also, between 2013 and 2015, a lot happened in Atlantic universities. They really started to facilitate transition (to permanent residency) and more integration, had more active policies and all these things make a difference.”

Graph showing more students staying in Canada

The proportion of students who stayed in Atlantic Canada after graduating from a post-secondary institution in Atlantic Canada has increased dramatically. Data: Dr. Michael Haan, University of Western Ontario

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia had the smallest increase. Its one-year retention rate rose from 11 per cent in the earlier period to 14.9 per cent between 2004 and 2015.

Wendy Luther, President and CEO of EduNova Co-operative Ltd., said several factors may have led to the rise. A downturn in the oil industry at that time made Alberta less attractive to international students looking for work, she said. At the same time, the economy of Nova Scotia was picking up and the influential Now or Never Report was published, calling for more immigration in the province.

“(That) report was a very explicit message from our province and our region about our interest in retaining more international students,” she said.

“Leading into 2015, this type of thing was in the media and this can only lead to more students feeling like they were welcome here and it was worth investing and making an effort to stay in the region.”

Luther said sector leaders would like to see Nova Scotia’s retention rate above 20 per cent and comparable to rates in Ontario and British Columbia.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island’s retention rate increased to 15.4 per cent – up from 11 per cent. Luther suggested that international students may get more support and attention on the Island because there are fewer of them.

“Perhaps they can integrate more seamlessly into being supported by their community,” she said. “It’s harder to hide if you are an international student in a much smaller community.”

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador’s retention rate increased to 17 per cent, up from 11 per cent two years before.

Knutson said the dramatic increase in retention may reflect two specific programs launched for international students at Memorial University. One program is designed to help students develop professional skills and the second helps students hone entrepreneurial skills.

“We’ve been working really hard to get in front of students early to tell them you can stay,” she said. “We launched those programs several years ago, but they have had steady growth and they have helped students connect to employment.”

Knutson also cited a provincial nomination program as one potential factor for the upswing in immigration.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is the clear winner in Haan’s data, which shows that province went from a one-year retention rate of 12 per cent to a retention rate of 18 per cent.

Several people cited Université de Moncton as a factor, saying that francophone students have fewer options in the rest of Canada than anglophone students and therefore may be more likely to stay in the province where they studied.

Haan, who was on faculty at the University of New Brunswick before moving to University of Western Ontario, credited a provincial program that partners with universities to ensure students know how to immigrate even before they begin their studies.

“The province is right beside the university; the university makes its pitch, ‘Come to NB,’ and at the end the province jumps in and says, ‘We’re looking for workers. We want to keep you here once you’re done your training. ‘”

Provincial Nominee Programs

Sarah Williams, communications officer for the New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Training, Education and Labour, pointed out that the surge followed new federal rules that made it easier for students to work in Canada after graduation. Work experience is essential to most immigration programs.

The surge in provincial retention also follows increases in the number of immigrants using provincial nomination programs in the four Atlantic provinces.

Diab noted that Nova Scotia nominated an average of 150 students for immigration between 2011 and 2014, but by 2017 it was nominating more than 400 students a year for immigration.

Haan suspects that the trends in Atlantic Canada will be found across the country, but he has not completed that data analysis yet.

“Atlantic Canada is leading the way on this,” Haan said of university and provincial government programs designed to keep students in the region. “No other province is doing that type of integrated service delivery or sell job or presentation of opportunities.”

But he said that more should be done.

“There is a lot of room for improvement. If Canada as a country, and Atlantic Canada as a region, wants to increase the level of productivity, innovation, population growth, and they want to use international students as part of that strategy, these results say a lot about where they should go next and what they should do.”

Haan presented the 2004-2013 results at the 2017 annual conference of the Canadian Bureau of International Education, and the 2004 – 2015 results at a Pathways to Prosperity: Canada workshop this spring in Victoria.

COMING: Students from which countries are most likely to become permanent residents after graduation?


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