Evaluation of the International Student Program
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 and there is strong competition internationally in attracting and retaining international students.
CIC’s objective has been to process student applications in response to the demand to study in Canada and facilitate the entry of international students. However, more recently, there has been a greater recognition within CIC of the longer-term benefits that international students, with their Canadian education and work experience, can bring to Canada through their eventual immigration and integration.
A number of partners, all with distinct objectives, are responsible for different aspects of the ISP. CIC has overall policy responsibility for temporary resident processing, status, and documents, while service delivery and program integrity related to temporary residents are the shared mandate of CIC and CBSA. DFAIT is responsible for international activities, including the marketing abroad of education in Canada, and provinces and territories have constitutional responsibility for education in Canada.
Three key issues emerged in this evaluation: the global competitiveness of the ISP; program integrity; and CIC’s processing capacity. Findings showed various linkages between these issues and the roles of the different partners in achieving program results: the global competitiveness of the ISP is related to the processing capacity of CIC; the promotional efforts of DFAIT; and the quality of education regulated by provincial/territorial governments. Findings also highlighted how CIC processing capacity may be affected by program integrity issues, such as fraud, and how CIC and CBSA efforts to ensure program integrity are bound by the mechanisms established by provinces and territories to ensure the quality of education and its institutions.
4.1 Key findings
- Partners and stakeholders indicate a strong need for the ISP, identifying the many economic, cultural and social benefits that international students bring to Canada.
- The program is aligned with the broader Government of Canada and OGD objectives to attract and retain international students, but is challenged by the differing mandates of the lead departments – CIC, DFAIT and CBSA – which at times may be at cross-purposes.
- The federal government plays an appropriate role with respect to international education in relation to its mandate to support national security, international trade and Canada’s economy.
- The economic benefits for educational institutions and communities through revenue generated by international students are extensive, and distributed across much of Canada.
- The main social and cultural benefits identified by the evaluation were the diversification of Canadian communities and internationalization of Canadian campuses.
- The number of international students staying to work after graduation and/or reside in Canada is increasing, consistent with the growing recognition of the economic benefits to Canada of their retention.
- While its study/work offerings for international students are comparable to those of other countries, Canada’s leading competitors have attracted a larger share of the global international student population, and many stakeholders believe that Canada could be doing better.
- Issues with respect to promotion and application processing were identified as possible obstacles to Canada’s global competitiveness, the latter being within the purview of CIC to address.
CIC’s policy framework and gaps in the program design leave the ISP vulnerable to potential misuse. In particular, there is no legislative requirement for international students to study once they are in Canada; and students must only demonstrate an intention to study. Furthermore, educational institutions are loosely defined by CIC, and CIC does not have the legislative authority to regulate them. Subsequently, CIC does not have a complete list of legitimate educational institutions in Canada.
- In general, there is reported fraud and misuse in the International Student Program. The absence of consistent data, tracking and reporting on fraud has made it difficult to ascertain the extent of the problem, and implications for program integrity.
- Much of the fraud that has been identified is “suspected.” Non-genuine students and questionable educational institutions are primary concerns in the student application caseload.
- Quality assurance activities are inconsistent across the department, making it difficult to assess the overall quality of decision-making on student applications and verify stakeholder perceptions of its inconsistency.
Program management and delivery
- There is a consistent understanding of the objectives of the International Student Program among program partners and stakeholders. However, there is less clarity surrounding roles and responsibilities, particularly among provincial and OGD partners.
- Although the information and support provided within CIC and to educational institutions are generally reported as useful, there are issues with their adequacy and timeliness. Of note, visa offices identified a need for greater information and support related to genuine/non-genuine educational institutions and programs.
- In 2008, 65% of study permit applications were finalized within 28 days in visa offices abroad. Findings showed that there is a perception that processing times are slow for Canada.
- Processing times and refusal rates for study permits finalized abroad vary considerably by visa office and region. The perception of fraud, type of educational institution and visa and medical requirements (and associated level of effort required to assess them) are important factors in this variability.
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