Welcoming international students and improving their language skills are essential for Canada to achieve its economic goals, the minister of immigration told the Languages Canada annual conference on Tuesday.
Sean Fraser, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said that Canada brought in 300,000 international students in 2021 – despite the travel challenges associated with the pandemic.
“Many of these students want to stay in Canada and build their lives here,” Fraser said. “And let’s be clear, we want them to stay.”
Immigrants and international students are key to solving the problem of an ageing population across the country. Fraser cited his own region of Nova Scotia where a school and a hospital had been forced to close due to shrinking local communities. However, he applauded the fact that newcomers are now moving to the province, helping to make its economy more robust.
“The opportunity to bring in young people and provide them with the language training they need will help solve this demographic problem in Canada,” he told the language program directors.
International education is a $23 billion industry across the country, employing thousands of Canadians in teaching, administration and recruitment, he said.
Both immigrants and international students need to be well prepared to enter the workforce, he argued. “They need the tools to succeed and that starts with language ability in English and French,” he said.
In addition to international students, Canada continues to bring in immigrants. “Even during the pandemic, we managed to welcome 405,000 new permanent residents in 2021,” Fraser said.
Executive director of Languages Canada Gonzalo Peralta said earlier in the conference that “Canada has survived and persevered like nobody else in the language sector”.
“None of us has probably ever experienced this level of difficulty in the sector”
Samuel Vetrak of Bonard, a market research company based in Vienna, told the conference about how Canada is doing in recruiting students compared to other countries.
He said the international education sector is facing three huge challenges: the ongoing pandemic, war in Ukraine and cost inflation in Canada and many other countries. “None of us has probably ever experienced this level of difficulty in the sector,” Vetrak said.
During the pandemic, Canada’s English-language student numbers were down by about 50%, while other countries, such as the UK, fared even worse.
The markets are also shifting. The number of Canadian study permits issued has declined in both China and Korea. Meanwhile, Mexico and Colombia are growing markets.
Some of these students would have chosen Australia, but that country closed its borders for much of the pandemic. “Many of the students who normally would opt for Australia chose Canada in the last two years,” Vetrak said.
Currently, the top markets for Canadian language schools are: Japan, Colombia, China, Mexico and Brazil. Worldwide, Colombia is now the third largest market for English-language programs after China and Brazil.
“Canada is shooting itself in the foot with a slow processing time”
Surprisingly, both Ukraine and Russia are showing signs of growth. “The war has triggered a new demand to escape – this represents a new opportunity for schools.”
However, Canada’s inability to issue study permits and visas quickly is hurting its ability to compete with other English-language destinations. “Canada is shooting itself in the foot with a slow processing time,” he said.
Housing students when they arrive is an issue. There is a shortage of homestays and prices are 8% more expensive than last year, Vetrak said. Some agents are reporting that they had to change the destination country because there was no housing available. He said some programs are trying to build or rent residences to solve the problem.
Nevertheless, Vetrak predicted that Canada’s student volumes will grow by 8% in the wake of the pandemic.