International students in Atlantic Canada should get better and longer work permits than students in the rest of Canada as part of a strategy to boost immigration to the region.
That’s one of 24 recommendations sent to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen Thursday by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
“We were looking for ways to give Atlantic Canada a competitive edge (in immigration),” said Liberal MP Robert Oliphant, chair of the committee.
“Atlantic Canada has some real disadvantages, so, to level the playing field, we have to bump them up.”
International students attending public universities or colleges in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador would get two big benefits under the strategy:
- A five-year Post-Graduation Work Permit. This would give graduates in Atlantic Canada two more years to work in Canada than graduates in other regions. The longest Post-Graduation Work Permit is now three years.
- An open Work Permit during their study program that would allow them to work full-time while in class and avoid the requirement to get a separate Co-op Work Permit. Right now students can only work 20 hours per week while in class, and must get a separate Work Permit for paid or unpaid internships, practicums or co-op placements.
“This builds on the expertise in Atlantic Canada, where there are world-class universities and colleges,” Oliphant said. “We should use success to build success.”
Oliphant said that students who work while in school build ties to the community and networks that make it easier to find a job after graduation.
“Let’s do everything we can to keep (international students) in Atlantic Canada,” he said.
Senior leaders in higher-education praised the recommendation to give students in Atlantic Canada a five-year Post Graduation Work Permit.
“All of this is good,” said Wendy Luther, president of EduNova Co-operative Ltd., a consortium of Nova Scotia institutions.
“In certain markets, this would be a considerable advantage for Atlantic universities, particularly in markets where students are making study decisions as part of a longer-term plan.”
Luther pointed out, however, that immigration officials are still refusing study permits to students who say they want to stay in Canada, even though Minister Hussen has urged his officials to welcome students who have a “dual intent” to both study and immigrate.
Luther said she was also intrigued by another recommendation in the report that suggested international students might get access to settlement services before becoming a permanent resident.
“There is a crevasse between the support that students receive at educational institutions and that short period after graduation when they actually need help in the (permanent resident) process.”
Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, also praised the report.
“These are positive steps that would really improve the quality of life of international students who want to stay,” he said.
Halpin said 65 per cent of graduating international students would like to stay in Atlantic Canada.
“(This) will make a positive contribution to the retention of international students in Atlantic Canada.”
The committee was tasked with recommending how to increase immigration to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. The region has the oldest population and the most rural population in Canada, and needs immigrants to help build the economy. In recent years, only about three per cent of newcomers to Canada have settled in Atlantic Canada, and the region has retained fewer immigrants than other areas.
The federal government must respond to the committee’s recommendations, but there is no guarantee that it will follow the committee’s advice.
Oliphant said he is hopeful.
“We made a recommendation that is realistic,” he said.
“The report is truly realistic and truly doable and is something that the minister will take very seriously.”