Evaluation of the International Student Program

1. Background

1.1 Introduction

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) conducted an evaluation of the International Student Program (ISP) to examine its performance and relevance. Guided by an Evaluation Framework, the study evaluated the program design, delivery, relevance and effectiveness, and sought to provide results-based information which can facilitate ongoing program improvement and future policy decisions. It also considered the efficiency and economy of the program relative to the other temporary resident streams, and explored various factors affecting program delivery.

The study on international students studying at the post-secondary levels. However, the administrative data analysis revealed a substantial number of students arriving to study at the elementary and secondary levels, comprising approximately 25% of all international student entries. This was explored through further research (discussed in section 1.3.1). Data collection for the evaluation was carried out between November 2008 and January 2010.

1.2 Structure of the report

The report is organized into four sections:

  • Section 1 contains background information about the ISP and the evaluation;
  • Section 2 provides information on the evaluation methodology and limitations;
  • Section 3 presents the evaluation findings by the themes of relevance and performance; and
  • Section 4 presents overall conclusions.

1.3 Program profile

1.3.1 Policy and program context

International students are attractive to Canada, as they bring economic, social and cultural benefits to the institutions at which they study, to the organizations in which they work and to the communities in which they live. Their education and work experience in Canada also make them sought after as potential immigrants. There is strong competition internationally in attracting and retaining international students. Many countries are investing in promotion, recruitment and streamlining their “student entry” and “student-to-immigrant” processes.

Legislative and regulatory framework

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) established a separate category of temporary residents for international students, as well as regulations regarding study permits. IRPA’s regulatory framework includes specifications on who can study in Canada with or without a permit, work privileges and application requirements, and sets out a legal description of what constitutes studies. However, the regulations do not specify a requirement for international students to study while in Canada, nor do they define an educational institution, its eligibility to host international students, or any minimum requirements to ensure the quality of education provided.Footnote 1

According to IRPA Regulations, “student means a person who is authorized by a study permit or the Regulations to engage in studies in Canada and who is studying or intends to study in Canada” and “studies means studies undertaken at a university or college, or any course of academic, professional or vocational training.”Footnote 2

In Canada, education is the constitutional responsibility of the provinces and territories. As such, the federal government has no jurisdiction (or legislative authority) to regulate the quality of education or its providers.

Policy and program framework

The program and policy framework for CIC’s International Student Program has been evolving since the introduction of IRPA in 2002, when the study permit requirements were changed for short-term students (see Table 1-1). One of IRPA’s objectives is to facilitate the entry of temporary residents into Canada, and subsequent program and policy changes to the ISP have been designed with a view to facilitating study and work opportunities for international students.

Since IRPA, CIC has undertaken a number of strategies to improve ISP policies and program delivery and to attract international students to Canada.

  • In 2005, CIC introduced policy changes to help streamline the application process for changing the conditions of a study permit. The objective of these changes was to reduce the number of transactions with CIC, undertaken by international students after their arrival in Canada.
  • CIC also expanded its employment initiatives for international students studying at the post-secondary level. The Off-Campus Work Permit (OCWP) Program was introduced in 2006 and enhancements were made to the Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) Program in 2005 and 2008.Footnote 3 The objective of these initiatives was to promote Canada as a destination of choice, both for study and potential immigration, as well as to help address labour market needs.
  • Online applications were introduced, beginning with the OCWP Program in 2008Footnote 4 and later expanded to the study permit renewal process and PGWP Program in 2009, with a view to improving service delivery.

Changes to the ISP policy and program framework continued in 2008 with the creation of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration stream. The intent of the CEC is to facilitate the transition from temporary to permanent resident in Canada, and ultimately to help Canada be more competitive in attracting and retaining skilled individuals. In particular, the CEC is creating the opportunity for certain international students with Canadian credentials and Canadian work experience to apply for permanent residency without having to leave Canada.

Table 1-1: Evolution of CIC’s policy and program changes
Policy/Program Date Description of Changes
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) 2002 International students registered in a short-term course or program of six months or less no longer require a study permit.
Streamlining the SP application process 2005 International students can obtain a study permit valid for the full length of their intended period of study, and those in post-secondary studies can transfer between programs of study and institutions (public and private) without first making an application to CIC.
PGWP Program May 2005 International student graduates from a recognized Canadian educational institution outside Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver can work after graduation in Canada for an additional year (up to a total of two years).
OCWP Program April 2006 Full-time international students at participating educational institutions can work off campus during their studies for up to 20 hours per week.
PGWP Program April 2008 International student graduates can obtain an open work permit (for up to three years), with no restrictions on the type of employment and no requirement for a job offer.
Online Applications September 2008 International students in Canada can apply online for an off-campus work permit.
Canadian Experience Class (CEC) September 2008 International student graduates with professional, managerial and skilled work experience have access to a new immigration stream that allows their education and work experience in Canada to be considered as key selection criteria for permanent residence.

Many of the opportunities included in Canada’s study/work package, though designed to attract international students to Canada, are not immediately available to younger students. The evaluation revealed a significant K-12 sector in international education, with school boards/districts encouraging and recruiting young students in other countries to come and study in Canada at the elementary and secondary levels.Footnote 5

1.3.2 Objectives

Since its inception, Canada’s International Student Program has been a demand-driven program. The number of student applications received in Canada has been increasing over the years and is expected to continue to grow with increasing global demand.Footnote 6 CIC’s objective has been to process student applications in response to this demand and facilitate the entry of international students to meet partner and stakeholder needs. However, more recently, there has been a greater recognition within CIC of the longer-term benefits that international students can bring to Canada through their eventual immigration and integration.

The long-term outcomes of the International Student Program are:

  • Canada attracts and retains a pool of highly qualified international students consistent with its immigration objectives; and
  • Canada benefits from international students.

The ultimate outcome is that the program contributes to Canada’s economic, social and cultural development.

1.3.3 Program description

Study permits

In most cases, international students require a study permit to study in Canada.Footnote 7 Some may also require a temporary resident visa or medical exam if they are from a country designated by Canada for these requirements. International students applying to study in Quebec also require a certificate of acceptance (CAQ: Certificat d’acceptation du Québec). An international student must also:

  • have been accepted by a school, college, university or other educational institution in Canada;
  • prove that they have sufficient funds to pay for their tuition fees, living expenses and return transportation (for themselves and any accompanying family members);
  • be a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record and not be a risk to the security of Canada;
  • be in good health and willing to complete a medical examination, if necessary; and
  • satisfy an immigration officer that they will leave Canada upon completion of their studies.

The acceptance letter and proof of financial support (without working in Canada) are of particular importance for international students,Footnote 8 and the burden of proof is on the applicant to demonstrate that they are a “bona fide” temporary resident.Footnote 9 Of note, a student application cannot be refused solely based on the cultural context or historical migration patterns of a client group, or on the applicant’s “dual intent”;Footnote 10 nor can it be refused based on concerns about the academic or administrative practices of a particular educational institution.Footnote 11

Work opportunities

International students that meet program requirements are eligible to work in Canada during their studies, and/or after graduation. They do not require a labour market opinion (Service Canada confirmation), but generally do require a work permit.Footnote 12

There are four types of employment in which international students can engage (see Studying in Canada: Work permits for students for specific eligibility requirements).

On Campus: International students may work on campus at the institution where they study without a work permit if they have a valid study permit and are a full-time student at an eligible institution.

Off Campus: To work off campus, international students must apply for a work permit. This allows the student to work up to 20 hours per week during regular academic sessions, and full-time during scheduled breaks (e.g. winter and summer holidays, and spring break). A work permit is not a job guarantee; it is the student’s responsibility to look for work. Studies must still be the primary reason for their stay in Canada.

Co-op and Internship Programs: For some academic programs, work experience is part of the curriculum. Foreign students who wish to participate in a co-op or internship program must apply for a work permit and hold a valid student permit.

Post Graduation: The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows students who have graduated from a recognized Canadian post-secondary institution to gain valuable work experience in Canada. A work permit under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program is limited to the duration of the student’s study program (minimum of eight months, and up to a maximum of 3 years).

1.3.4 Roles and responsibilities

Education in Canada is a provincial-territorial jurisdiction, and as such, cannot be legislated at the federal level. A number of partners, all with different perspectives and priorities, are responsible for different aspects of the program.

CIC has overall policy responsibility for temporary resident processing, status, and documents. CIC and CBSA share responsibility for service delivery in this regard, as well as responsibility for program integrity.

DFAIT is responsible for the promotion of international education, including hosting and/or participating in international activities related to international education. While CIC is not directly involved in the promotional aspect of international education, CIC is often present at international education events to answer any immigration-related questions.

Provinces and territories have constitutional responsibility for education in Canada. They, along with educational institutions and related non-government organizations, all play a role in ensuring the quality of this education and promoting Canada and its institutions internationally.

Other key stakeholders include international students, as clients, and, more recently, employers with the emergence of the work permit programs and the potential to retain international students in Canada to help address labour market needs.

CIC Program management and delivery

The implementation of the ISP involves a number of different areas within CIC that work together to manage and deliver the program, including:

Immigration Branch: Policy and program direction (including planning, analysis and strategic advice) and liaison with interdepartmental, provincial/territorial and NGO partners is led by the Temporary Resident Policy and Program Development Division within Immigration Branch.

Operational Management and Coordination (OMC) Branch: Operational and functional support is provided by the OMC Branch. It coordinates all operational activities of the Department (domestically and internationally), and gathers, analyzes, and reports operational statistics. OMC also deals with operational issues relating to fraud, verification and quality assurance.

International Region: The International Region is responsible for the delivery of Canada’s immigration program abroad, including recruitment and selection, facilitating the entry of genuine temporary residents and assessing admissibility. This Region also liaises with foreign governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations, and participates in overseas immigration control and enforcement activities.

Visa offices overseas: Visa officers process study permit applications, and are responsible for making the final decision on eligibility for a study permit. If an applicant is from a visa-designated country, visa officers also process an application for a temporary resident visa at the same time. If accepted, a letter of introduction is sent to the applicant confirming the approval. This letter is not the study permit, but is required at the POE to show to immigration officials upon arrival in Canada.

Ports of Entry (POE) in Canada: The study permit is issued by CBSA officers at the POE. Students from the United States, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and Greenland can also apply for a study permit at the POE when they arrive in Canada.

Case Processing Centre (CPC) at Vegreville: The Case Processing Centre processes applications to change the conditions of a study permit and to obtain a work permit under the Off-Campus and Post-Graduation Work Permit Programs.

CIC local offices: Study and work permit applications may be referred to CIC local offices for further assessment and verification. These applications are not processed at local offices; however, final decisions can be made here.

Advisory committees

The Advisory Committee on International Studies and Immigration (ACISI), founded in 1995, is CIC’s primary consultative mechanism with stakeholders. ACISI membership includes representatives from provincial and territorial governments, OGDs, NGOs and other stakeholders. The Federal-Provincial Consultative Committee on Education-Related International Activities (FPCCERIA) is another consultative mechanism in which CIC participates. It is co-chaired by DFAIT and the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC), which represents all the provinces and territories.

1.3.5 Resources

The budget for the International Student Program is a portion of the total budget for the Temporary Resident Program (TRP), which was $73.4M in 2007-08.Footnote 13 Although the ISP allocation cannot be isolated from the overall TRP budget, the Cost Management Model (2006/07) estimates the cost of selection and processing of international students at $16.8M. This amount, however, does not include the costs associated with policy and program development.

1.3.6 Profile of international students in Canada

CIC administrative data was used to examine the profile of international students in Canada, along with trends in student arrivals, and usage of the work permit programs.

In 2008, there were a total of 178,227 international students present in Canada, of whom 55% were male and 54% were studying at the university level.

With respect to entries, there was a broad trend of steady increases between 2003 and 2008 in the number of international student arrivals to Canada (from 69,712 to 79,509), with consistently more males than females arriving.

When grouped by level of study (see Table 1-2), the largest percentage of international students arriving during the reporting period was studying at the university level (39% of entries in 2008), and the second largest percentage was studying at the secondary or less level (25% of entries in 2008).

*Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Table 1-2: International student entries by level of study and year (number and percentage*)
Level of study 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
University 28,165 (40%) 28,046 (42%) 28,457 (42%) 29,397 (41%) 29,933 (40%) 31,368 (39%)
Trade 11,595 (17%) 10,403 (16%) 10,126 (15%) 10,436 (15%) 10,210 (14%) 8,985 (11%)
Secondary or less 15,947 (23%) 15,927 (24%) 16,811 (25%) 18,891 (26%) 19,513 (26%) 19,832 (25%)
Other post-secondary 8,486 (12%) 6,380 (10%) 7,217 (11%) 7,816 (11%) 9,361 (13%) 13,644 (17%)
Other 5,504 (8%) 5,352 (8%) 5,260 (8%) 5,230 (7%) 5,010 (7%) 5,663 (7%)
Not stated 15 (0%) 13 (0%) 6 (0%) 16 (0%) 11 (0%) 17 (0%)
Total 69,712 66,121 67,877 71,786 74,038 79,509

The number arriving to study at the trade level decreased between 2007 and 2008, whereas the number arriving to study at the other post-secondary level increased. Trade-level institutions include technical and vocational institutions, CEGEPs and colleges; other post-secondary institutions include language institutions, private institutions and university qualifying programs (not at the university or trade level).Footnote 14

Corresponding to level of study, the largest percentage of international students was aged 18 to 25 years (60% of entries in 2008) during the reporting period (see Table 1-3). The second largest percentage was aged 17 years and under (27% of entries in 2008).

*Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Table 1-3: International student entries by age and year (number and percentage*)
Age 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
17 and under 16,289 (23%) 16,655 (25%) 17,693 (26%) 19,991 (28%) 20,743 (28%) 21,295 (27%)
18-25 42,614 (61%) 39,354 (60%) 39,845 (59%) 41,701 (58%) 43,229 (58%) 47,315 (60%)
26-35 9,058 (13%) 8,519 (13%) 8,742 (13%) 8,513 (12%) 8,426 (11%) 9,273 (12%)
36-45 1,374 (2%) 1,245 (2%) 1,245 (2%) 1,204 (2%) 1,292 (2%) 1,287 (2%)
46+ 374 (1%) 346 (1%) 352 (1%) 376 (1%) 348 (0%) 339 (0%)
Missing or invalid 3 (0%) 2 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Total 69,712 66,121 67,877 71,786 74,038 79,509

The top ten source countries for international students in Canada accounted for 68% of all entries in 2008 (see Table 1-4). Of these, South Korea (ROK) and China (PRC) were consistently the leading two source countries during the reporting period, accounting for just over one-third (35%) of all international student entries in 2008.

* Ten most common source countries for international students by 2008 levels.
** Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Table 1-4: International student entries by country of residence* and year (number and percentage**)
Country of residence 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Korea, Republic of 13,972 (20%) 13,456 (20%) 13,819 (20%) 15,597 (22%) 15,169 (20%) 13,941 (18%)
China, People’s Republic of 10,140 (15%) 7,462 (11%) 7,434 (11%) 8,988 (13%) 10,032 (14%) 13,668 (17%)
France 3,955 (6%) 4,237 (6%) 4,411 (6%) 5,125 (7%) 4,816 (7%) 4,675 (6%)
United States 5,609 (8%) 5,648 (9%) 5,582 (8%) 5,300 (7%) 5,185 (7%) 4,553 (6%)
Japan 6,021 (9%) 5,712 (9%) 5,518 (8%) 4,814 (7%) 4,308 (6%) 3,630 (5%)
Saudi Arabia 565 (1%) 643 (1%) 839 (1%) 822 (1%) 1,427 (2%) 3,521 (4%)
India 2,492 (4%) 1,823 (3%) 2,256 (3%) 2,747 (4%) 2,694 (4%) 3,244 (4%)
Mexico 2,382 (3%) 2,388 (4%) 2,617 (4%) 2,715 (4%) 2,643 (4%) 2,585 (3%)
Germany 1,766 (3%) 1,903 (3%) 2,035 (3%) 2,096 (3%) 2,343 (3%) 2,511 (3%)
Brazil 687 (1%) 835 (1%) 975 (1%) 1,203 (2%) 1,428 (2%) 1,746 (2%)
Other 22,123 (32%) 22,014 (33%) 22,391 (33%) 22,379 (31%) 23,993 (32%) 25,435 (32%)
Total 69,712 66,121 67,877 71,786 74,038 79,509

Over the years, Ontario and BC have been the two most popular provinces of destination for international students, followed by Quebec at a distant third (see Table 1-5). In 2008, 66% of international student entries were destined for Ontario and BC, with slightly more students going to Ontario (34%).

*Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Table 1-5: International student entries by province of destination and year (number and percentage*)
Province 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Newfoundland and Labrador 347 (0%) 299 (0%) 414 (1%) 432 (1%) 569 (1%) 656 (1%)
Prince Edward Island 131 (0%) 125 (0%) 135 (0%) 167 (0%) 215 (0%) 260 (0%)
Nova Scotia 2,178 (3%) 2,014 (3%) 2,004 (3%) 2,028 (3%) 2,169 (3%) 2,527 (3%)
New Brunswick 988 (1%) 958 (1%) 936 (1%) 1,044 (1%) 1,184 (2%) 1,328 (2%)
Quebec 11,563 (17%) 11,614 (18%) 11,302 (17%) 12,575 (18%) 13,024 (18%) 12,934 (16%)
Ontario 23,810 (34%) 22,809 (34%) 23,314 (34%) 24,562 (34%) 24,476 (33%) 26,782 (34%)
Manitoba 1,853 (3%) 1,641 (2%) 1,542 (2%) 1,640 (2%) 1,566 (2%) 1,730 (2%)
Saskatchewan 1,388 (2%) 1,165 (2%) 1,323 (2%) 1,267 (2%) 1,269 (2%) 1,433 (2%)
Alberta 5,201 (7%) 4,773 (7%) 5,042 (7%) 5,369 (7%) 5,292 (7%) 6,122 (8%)
British Columbia 22,183 (32%) 20,682 (31%) 21,820 (32%) 22,667 (32%) 24,234 (33%) 25,688 (32%)
Territories 70 (0%) 41 (0%) 45 (0%) 35 (0%) 37 (0%) 42 (0%)
Province or territory not stated 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 3 (0%) 7 (0%)
Total 69,712 66,121 67,877 71,786 74,038 79,509

CIC administrative data also show that international students are using the off-campus and post-graduation work programs (see Table 1-6). The number of off-campus work permits issued increased markedly after 2005, corresponding to the transition of this program from a pilot project to a national program in 2006.Footnote 15 The number of post-graduation work permits issued rose steadily between 2003 and 2007, and then increased sharply by 64% in 2008, corresponding to the change in requirements to this program in April of that year.Footnote 16

Table 1–6: Work permits issued in Canada Footnote 17
Year Off-Campus Work Permits (C25) Post-Graduation Work Permits (C43)
2003 0 2,808
2004 731 4,412
2005 1,119 6,730
2006 11,231 8,578
2007 17,254 10,872
2008 16,525 17,810
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