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Harmanpreet Kaur and Rajbir Kaur, international students at Langara College in Vancouver, come to Strawberry Hill Public Library on Saturday, June 17, 2023 for their studies as it is close to Harmanpreet's home and workplace in Surrey.Felicia Chang/The Globe and Mail

Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.

The increasing flow of international students into universities and colleges has filled Canada with potential new citizens, campuses with diversity and postsecondary coffers with much-needed revenue from the hefty tuition fees the students pay.

But a new study of more than a thousand of these students has found that while the program is working well for institutions and employers – with a ready pool of entry-level workers in jobs many Canadians don’t want – it’s not working out all that well for the students themselves.

As reporter Xiao Xu writes, Dr. Jenny Francis, a geography faculty member at Langara College in Vancouver, sent a 60-question survey to 7,000 students attending Langara, as well as the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, B.C., with 1,282 students agreeing to participate. The full study results will be published later this year, but Dr. Francis shared her preliminary findings with The Globe and Mail.

The research found the vast majority of those students surveyed intend to stay in Canada.

However, Statistics Canada figures show only 30 per cent of those with bachelor’s degrees became permanent residents within 10 years of obtaining their first study permit. The rates were slightly higher for those with master’s degrees at 50 per cent, and doctoral degrees at 60 per cent.

Among the provinces, British Columbia has by far the lowest rate of international students transitioning to permanent residency, both five years and 10 years after their first study permits.

“I do feel students are sold a dream,” Dr. Francis said.

Part of the problem is that Canada only expects between 30 and 50 per cent of them to stay, so the supports available to students are minimal. Many find themselves working minimum-wage jobs to pay for housing, causing difficulties with maintaining academic excellence. At the end of their program, they find it difficult to find a job in their field.

Dr. Sandra Schinnerl, a researcher at UBC’s Centre for Migration Studies, has found the number of international students who make it through the process to eventually obtain citizenship has stayed at about 30 per cent over the last two decades.

“Nothing’s really changed from a policy perspective,” she said. “But you are having an increasing number of very disappointed international students.”

The number of international students admitted to Canadian postsecondary institutions has soared in recent years, partly as a response to stagnating government funding. International tuition fees are typically four times higher than those for Canadian students.

Statistics Canada reported last year that colleges across Canada saw an increase in international students of 154 per cent between 2015-2016 and 2019-2020. The increase was lower at universities: 39.6 per cent. In Dr. Francis’s study, the majority of respondents – 52 per cent – came from South Asia, the top source of international students to Canada since 2017.

To do right by them, Dr. Francis said schools should be more selective in the students they recruit, including ensuring they are academically prepared to succeed at postsecondary studies and, later, in the Canadian labour market.

Provinces should better tailor labour market needs with programs of study and better supervise employers to ensure employers are not abusing vulnerable international students.

And the federal government should allow those with postgraduate work permits access to settlement services, such as language training, Dr. Francis said.

Harmanpreet Kaur had paid $11,000 for five courses she’s taking in her last semester at Langara. She and her friend Rajbir Kaur, both from India, are studying and working full-time.

“I was dreaming that life is so easy over here. But when I arrived here, life’s being difficult, totally different,” Harmanpreet said.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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