Canada on drive to recruit more international students

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THE Government of Canada has publicly urged local tertiary institutions to make more of an effort to take advantage of the opportunities for education and training available in that North America country.

Already, individual universities in both countries have partnerships that facilitate student and faculty exchanges, scholarship and fellowship awards, and academic research. But Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, who was on a three-day working visit to the island, believes more can be done.

In a moderated discussion at The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) regional headquarters Monday afternoon, Hussen argued that education is a critical part of Canada’s immigration policy, contributing more to GDP — CDN$15.5 billion — than the traditionally strong softwood lumber category of its forestry industries.

“When it comes to this particular issue I am a very impatient minister,” Hussen said. “I go around the world saying, ‘we need more’. Unlike other categories of immigration, [for] international students, there’s no ceiling. We can take another 500,000, no problem, and our institutions tell us that they have more room,” he said.

“I think we can increase the numbers coming to Canada, and we also want to make sure that there is a diversity in that population. So I’ve made a very strong, personal effort to encourage more students to come from Europe, Africa and those parts of the world because we don’t want to end up in a situation where we only have students predominantly from Asia,” the minister continued.

But Hussen, himself an immigrant, said the contributions international students make to the wider community are far more valuable over the long term.

“You mainly hear about the financial contribution that international students make to Canada. [They] contribute more money into our economy than our softwood lumber industry, so it’s a big, big GDP earner. But more important for me, and for many Canadians, is the contribution that international students make to our community, to our classrooms, to our institutions, to our job market, to our society at large,” he said.

“Not only is it enriching, it’s a lot of fun when you have people from all corners of the world in your classroom. It really opens your perspective and good learning is exchanged there. Beyond that, some international students do decide to stay and they also add to our job market. These are people who speak English and French and have gone to our institutions. Why wouldn’t we want to hang on to them? We try as much as possible to encourage them to stay,” the minister added.

Hussen said the immigration policy allows for and encourages international students to work in Canada for up to three years after graduation, after which they can apply for permanent residence. Consideration is also given to student work (a maximum of to 20 hours per week). The allowance feeds into Canada’s ongoing drive to recruit professional and skilled workers through a merit-based programme called Express Entry, as it seeks to beef up its labour force across the notoriously underpopulated country. Applicants are awarded points according to various criteria, including age, language abilities, and particular skill/profession, and are invited to apply for permanent residence.

At the same time, however, he said the Canadian Government was mindful not to trigger the brain drain effect in countries from which it is recruiting.

“I think there is a lot of room, at least from Canada’s perspective. The need is there, but at the same time, we are sensitive to the issues around brain drain. We don’t want Canada’s gain to be Jamaica’s loss; we want it to be a win-win. So, if there are areas or sectors of the population that Jamaica has surplus of in terms of skill set, I’m saying, Canada needs those people.

“We don’t want to recruit someone from Jamaica who is desperately needed in Jamaica. It’s a delicate balance, and would need for us to engage a little bit more with the Jamaican Government to determine which sectors are needed for that circular market,” said Hussen.

Canada, through its EduCanada programme, hosts annual college fairs and college tours in its principal markets as a means of recruiting international students.

On the flip side, the Canadian Government said it has increased to CDN$100 million the budget to support Canadian students travelling abroad on exchange programmes. But Hussen believes Jamaica isn’t doing enough to attract Canadian students.

“You have an opportunity here because Jamaica in general, especially UWI, has a huge partnership potential to attract a lot of Canadian students to take part in your law programme and other programmes. You have really good reputation and a very high quality of education and, therefore, I think what was missing was our push and support for our students, but on the other side, you guys haven’t been promoting it as much as I think you should,” he said.

“I personally think way more can be done together,” he added. “The first step is to correct the misconceptions and to really highlight the potential for further engagement. I think in my own corner… immigration can be a great tool to bring our countries closer together, and to tap into some of the opportunities that exist in both our countries.”

“In Canada, we’re not building walls, we’re building bridges. So we want you to know that Jamaica is a very very important market in the region,” he said, adding that visa approval rates for Jamaica are high, as are integration rates in Canada, coupled with an active diaspora.

“Canada, with an ageing population and really good economy, needs workers. We need skilled people and students to enrich our classrooms,” Hussen stressed.

Monday’s discussion was moderated by director of the Centre for Reparation Research at UWI, Professor Verene Shepherd, with pro-vice chancellor of Global Affairs Professor Richard Bernal bringing greetings. High Commissioner of Canada Laurie Peters made closing remarks.

Hussen was scheduled to make courtesy calls on select government representatives as part of his trip here, after which his itinerary has him travelling to Trinidad on a similar cooperation-building mission.









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