International students plan needs more thought

Universities around the world engage in an intense competition as part of the knowledge economy due to globalisation. This situation has served as a catalyst for Canada to engage in immigration strategies and initiatives designed to attract and recruit international students.

There is also an urgent need for highly skilled individuals since there is a concern that once the 'baby boomers' retire there will be severe labour shortages, which will have negative implications for Canada's growth and nation building.

Attracting and retaining international students is a way to boost Canada's economy while promoting a welcoming international landscape.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the government's priority is to seek highly skilled individuals (for example from India and China) who are likely to succeed in Canada and to promote its economic growth, long term prosperity and global competitiveness.

International students who pursue their studies in Canada are an ideal population because they have already been integrated into Canadian society.

Transforming immigration

Recognising that international students are vital to Canada's growth, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has set out to transform Canada's immigration system as one that is faster, more flexible and tailored to students' needs - a major distinguishing factor from other countries.

Therefore, new immigration policies and programmes have been specifically created to make it easier for international students to study, work and become permanent residents in Canada, especially graduate students.

For instance, international students are permitted to work on- and off-campus, without a work permit for a maximum of 20 hours per week. They can also apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit, a three-year open work permit, which enables students to work for any Canadian employer in any industry.

International graduate students can apply to the Provincial Nomination Programme for permanent residence in Canada - during their masters or doctoral programme or upon completion of their degree.

Gaining a bigger market share

Canadian universities are also interested in gaining a 'market share' of the best and brightest international students in science and technology, and acquiring a competitive advantage over countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which are major destination countries for international students.

Moreover, international students generate a substantial amount of revenue for Canada.

According to a report conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, in 2010 international students in Canada spent in excess of C$7.7 billion (US$7 billion) on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending - up from C$6.5 billion in 2008.

More than C$6.9 billion of this revenue was generated by the 218,200 long-term international students in Canada.

The report also indicated that the revenue from international student spending in Canada is greater than the Canadian export value of unwrought aluminium (C$6 billion) or helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft (C$6.9 billion).

Immigration policies in the US

After the 9/11 attacks, the United States' traditional open door policy for international students was curtailed. Immigration policies have become more stringent due to the government's tightening of the border and strict visa requirements.

As outlined in the 2013 International Student Mobility Trends report, the United States has been slow to revisit its immigration and visa policies. However, it still remains the top choice for international students due to its prestigious universities' degree programmes.

Unlike Canada's multiple pathways to work and permanent residency, international students enrolled in academic programmes in the United States holding F-1 student visas can only gain work experience by applying for Optional Practical Training, a temporary employment programme that is related to a student's major area of study.

Students can apply to this programme after completing one academic year of their studies and can receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before and-or after completing their programme.

Students in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics are entitled to a 17-month extension. If students are eligible to change their student status (F-1 visa status), they must apply for an H-1B visa (a non-immigrant temporary working visa), which allows the holder to work in the United States for up to six years.

However, the student must first have a job offer and an employer who is willing to file a 'petition' or request with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Changes in the UK

Recent government policies in the United Kingdom have imposed tighter international student visa restrictions - affecting entry requirements, services available to students during their studies, and work options available to students after completing their programme.

According to The Funding Environment for Universities report, reforms to student immigration to the United Kingdom and to student visa applications will come into effect in the 2013-14 academic year.

This includes tougher English-language skills requirements and an increase in the amount of credibility check interviews in terms of students' immigration history, education background and financial support. The government has also discontinued the Post Study Work scheme.

These changes make it more challenging for international students from non-European countries to qualify for a work permit to stay in the United Kingdom after graduation.

Such policies do not promote permanent residence, postgraduate or labour retention and have mainly impacted on overseas recruitment of students from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Future directions

While Canada is focusing on competing with the United States and the United Kingdom for its share of international students through flexible immigration policies and pathways, higher education institutions have yet to come up with a strategy to manage highly skilled migration.

Canadian universities are being urged by federal policies to double international student enrolment from 240,000 in 2011 to 450,000 by the year 2022.

If Canada is to compete for its share of international students, organisational mechanisms must be implemented to prepare for this shift in recruitment.

Concurrently, Canadian higher education institutions must develop competitive programmes and degrees to meet the needs of the target student population and provide access to relevant institutional resources (for example faculty, research funding, student services, library resources etc).

Otherwise, how productive are immigration policies if inadequate resources are available at Canadian universities to support international students? As of yet, there are no official national strategies in place to prepare for and manage these changes.

It is clear that Canada has primarily focused on national interest in attracting international students to remedy its skilled labour shortages.

As a result, it has not paid much attention to the problem of brain drain and the overarching consequences of luring highly talented students from developing nations to developed Western nations.

For instance, the United Nations Development Programme points out that brain drain has caused approximately 100,000 of the best and brightest Indian professionals to move to North America each year, which is estimated to be a US$2 billion loss for India.

As Canada continues to siphon intellectual capital from developing regions, it has neglected to think about its moral responsibility to these nations or how it could be harming their economic growth and well-being. Meanwhile, it is unclear as to how developing nations will recover the loss of their human capital.

* Anita Gopal is a researcher at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Email: This article was published in International Higher Education Number 75, Spring 2014 under the title "Canada's immigration policies to attract international students".


It was a very nice read. It could prove to be a very rewarding endeavour by the Canadian government by providing means for international students to study and most importantly work in Canada post-graduation. I'm sure many other students like me would welcome such steps towards providing support to international students.

Having said that, I do agree with the author with regard to brain drain costing developing countries a considerable amount in terms of intellectual loss. From a student's perspective in this world of fierce competition, he/she is more concerned about getting a secure future for him/herself before thinking about moral responsibility towards the nation. And as far as developed countries are concerned, every country is for its own; so I doubt if the US, the UK, Canada, or Australia would even consider the impact of brain drain on the developing countries due to emigration. This has been a problem that continues to plague R&D in India especially in the IT, aerospace and life sciences sectors.

Akash Boda on the University World News Facebook page

No, there is a problem with brain drain in Australia and the UK; and I think America is developing one more and more due to their sinister and exploitative education system. Political changes here such as the latest hundreds of millions of dollars the government just cut from the Australian Research Council and the ever-growing poor grant success rate in the NHMRC means more Australians may look for positions overseas more frequently. New Zealand is expected to feel a big brain drain in the coming years due to a law change whereby they will arrest any New Zealanders coming home from overseas who still have outstanding student loan debt they haven't been paying off (while overseas).

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page

I agree that there is a considerable brain drain from Australia to the US/UK and other countries in Europe. However, like you said, Australia is responsible for axing its own foot by cutting down billions from education and research funding. The policies drafted by the incumbent PM and the previous government would hurt Australia in the long run in terms of R&D when all mines go dry. It must follow in Canada's footsteps by easing immigration policies to prevent locals from going abroad and attract more international students for programmes in science and engineering as opposed to petty useless courses like cookery, hairdressing etc.
I am extremely disappointed by the immigration and education policies introduced by the UK - I have almost discounted it as a place to further study/work - in the past two years. As far as the US is concerned, despite its exploitative education policies it still supports talent and there is a high ratio of US-educated international students to US employment post-graduation, which in fact is a major cause for brain drain in some of the countries we discussed above. The new reforms proposed by Obama aimed at relaxing the immigration laws in essence would implicitly thwart immigration and result in more stringent filtering of students (especially in technical fields). So I cannot really conclude assertively which country has the best and student-friendly immigration laws and also takes some moral responsibility towards the brain drain in some developing countries by having a close mutual collaboration/exchange of talent, expertise etc.

Akash Boda on the University World News Facebook page

The US still hangs on due to its sheer size; you will no doubt have talent from such a diverse pool. However, the model is not sustainable. As for the UK: I just want to get my PhD, get a post doc if possible and head to Germany.

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page

Canadian universities continue to fight for the international student dollar since provincial and national educational funding continues to decline at an alarming rate. This is done with no regard for international students' needs or future, and certainly with no regard for brain drain in their home countries. Who benefits? Canadian students may benefit since this helps to keep their tuition fees lower; however, Canadian students also suffer since arts programmes are being underfunded because international students gravitate towards business programmes.

Juanita Perez on the University World News Facebook page

I really question the brain drain theory. I think it does not take into account rapidly changing migration patterns and a globalised work environment. More and more I see STEM graduates from around the world with feet in more than one country and usually with close ties to their country of birth. I think more studies need to be done to determine if it is brain drain or brain share.

Geoff Wilmshurst on the University World News Facebook page