Published on: Oct 18, 2022
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced new efforts intended to improve its ability not only to attract new international students but also to protect and assist those already in Canada. These changes come in response to recommendations from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM). In May, CIMM released a report outlining challenges faced by international students and applicants for study permits. The committee was particularly, although not only, concerned about challenges faced by Francophone students applying to study in Canada.
This concern comes at a time when the international student application process is attracting more attention than ever before. It's not hard to see why: international students are crucial to Canada's immigration strategy. Government forecasts predict that Canada will welcome more than 750,000 international students in 2023, making the nation one of the leading destinations worldwide for international study. This represents a significant shift over the last few decades; at the beginning of the century, Canada accounted for less than 1% of global international students.
It isn't just the number of overseas students studying in Canada that makes international students so important, though: the government also hopes to turn many of these international students into permanent residents. 2021 saw over 150,000 international students transition to permanent residency, over four times the number just five years previously. These new permanent residents played a major role in Canada's immigration strategy during the travel restrictions imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Because international students were typically already in Canada, they were able to go through the permanent residence application process more easily than those outside the country.
The recommendations in CIMM's report fall into three main categories. The first category relates to attracting new international students. Although IRCC has been successful overall in attracting applicants who want to study in Canada, the report argued that more could be done, especially to appeal to would-be students from parts of the world that have been underrepresented among the international student body.
The second category focuses on ensuring that applicants are treated equitably. This was one of the main topics of hearings carried out by CIMM in February and March of 2022. The report expresses concerns about the potential bias in some aspects of the application process, including the use of artificial intelligence. Additionally, the committee expressed concern that applications required services that were more difficult for applicants in some parts of the world to access.
Finally, the third category of recommendation deals with improving services for applicants during the application process itself. These recommendations deal with improving transparency during the application process, as well as reducing the backlog of applications.
The government has now released a response to the CIMM recommendations, outlining the steps that IRCC will take to address the report. Some of these are new policies, while others are reiterations of existing commitments.
In response to CIMM's recommendations about attracting more international students from a wider range of countries, IRCC announced a number of commitments. Some of these were specifically targeted to applicants from particular regions. For instance, concerns raised about the number of study permits denied to applicants intending to study in Quebec will lead to the creation of a joint working group. Another targeted response is a review of the Nigeria Student Express program. Perhaps most significantly, IRCC has committed to explore expansion of the Student Direct Stream, or SDS. The SDS currently provides a fast-track process for student applications from 14 countries; expanding it would make applications from any new countries added to the list much quicker.
Some of the commitments made in response to recommendations about equity relate to the ways in which IRCC handles applicant data. For instance, IRCC will establish a new Disaggregated Data and Analytics Framework to analyze data relating to applicants for study permits. Studying this data in a disaggregated way -- that is, with a focus on specific groups of applicants and the relationships between them -- will help identify problems facing specific cohorts. Additionally, IRCC will be reviewing the process by which study permit applicants are selected; specifically, the agency will focus on ensuring that different racial groups are not differently affected.
Finally, IRCC will take steps to respond to the committee's recommendations relating to communication with applicants and students. The steps outlined in the report include improving communication with the Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) where international students study. IRCC also pointed out that some changes to improve the experience of applicants are already underway, such as a plan to hire an additional 1,250 staff before the end of 2022. This expansion is intended to cut down on processing delays, not only for study permit applications but for all types of IRCC processes.
International students played a key role in Canada's immigration strategy during the period of Covid-related travel restrictions. But the importance of these students will not be limited to the period of reduced travel. Numbers of international students are continuing to rise, and more and more students are expected to make the transition to permanent residency. With this in mind, IRCC's efforts to improve its service and guarantee equity in the application process take on even greater importance.
IRCC's response to the CIMM recommendations indicates awareness within the government of some of the challenges faced by international study permit applicants. If the proposed changes address the concerns raised by the committee, applying to study in Canada will become more accessible to people from around the world.