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A pedestrian walks by the Dalhousie Dentistry Building in Halifax on Friday, May 22, 2015.Darren Pittman/The Canadian Press

Foreign students, some of them confused by false promises from education consultants, are being misled into thinking that studying at Canadian postsecondary schools is a guaranteed route to remaining permanently in the country, senators and immigration experts are warning.

A report by Senators Ratna Omidvar, Hassan Yussuff and Yuen Pau Woo about the federal international student program warns that there are not enough permanent residence spots to cater to the rising number of these students coming to Canada, and calls on Ottawa to make clear that the process of staying permanently is highly competitive.

Although attending a Canadian college or university can help a foreign student gain permanent residence here, success is not assured. Under a program known as Express Entry, Canada’s immigration system assigns scores to would-be permanent residents based on their work experience and other factors, and only the highest ranked are invited to apply.

The senators’ report also calls for federal action to stop education consultants – who are paid by Canadian colleges to recruit students abroad – from overselling the ease of getting Canadian work permits after graduation. In some cases, international students are denied these permits because their colleges are not “designated learning institutions,” meaning the schools aren’t on a government list of approved institutions.

In comments to the House of Commons last week, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said international students are an asset to Canada and its future. But he said there needs to be a crackdown on consultants giving them “false hope.”

The senators’ report says it is often argued that the federal government itself is also “perpetuating an inflated sense of hope” among people who come to study in Canada.

“While the Canadian government is being honest in highlighting the immigration advantages of studying in Canada, it can perhaps do more to be forthright about the highly competitive nature of the permanent residence application process,” the report says.

The federal Immigration Department forecasts that the number of foreign students applying to come to Canada each year will rise to 1.4 million by 2027, according to an internal policy document. This year, around 900,000 are expected to study in Canada.

While Ottawa is increasing its immigration targets in the coming years, with a goal of admitting 500,000 permanent residents a year by 2025, the senators’ report says there will still not be enough spots to cater to the number of international students who wish to stay after graduation. It notes that while the number of permanent residents admitted each year is capped, there is no such cap on the number of temporary residents, including students.

Most international students want to gain permanent residence after they finish their studies, a 2021 survey of students for the Canadian Bureau for International Education found.

The survey found that 73 per cent of respondents planned to apply for postgraduation work permits, which allow former international students to work in Canada temporarily. The survey also found that 59 per cent said they intended to apply for permanent residence.

But not all postsecondary programs make students eligible for postgraduation work permits. The senators’ report says international students need to be made aware of this.

Ms. Omidvar, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview that the federal government should directly communicate with foreign students about the conditions for working and staying in Canada, to counter what she called “misinformation” from education consultants.

“It is the federal government’s responsibility to communicate with the students. When the visa is issued it should be accompanied by a letter,” she said.

Toronto immigration lawyer Michael Battista said many people discover after finishing their studies that they have been rejected for postgraduation work permits because the schools they attended, often private colleges, were not designated learning institutions.

Some return to their home countries, while others have to start their studies again at designated colleges, he said.

Mr. Battista, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s law faculty, said applications for permanent residence are becoming far more competitive. Qualifications that a few years ago would have allowed students to obtain permanent residence now aren’t enough, he said.

“International students are really being sold a false story,” he said, adding that many skilled graduates have waited so long for permanent residence that they have given up.

Ms. Omidvar said in some cases entire families have saved up to send one person to study in Canada. Some families in India have sold their land to pay student fees, she added.

The senators’ report says research by Statistics Canada found that 30 per cent of international students who came to Canada in the 2000s became permanent residents within 10 years of arriving.

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