Evaluation of the International Student Program

1. Introduction

1.1 Evaluation Purpose

This report presents the results of the evaluation of the International Student Program (ISP). The evaluation was conducted in fulfillment of the requirements under the Treasury Board of Canada Policy on EvaluationFootnote 1, and focuses on activities undertaken, outputs, and immediate outcomes achieved from 2009 to 2013, as well as the introduction of new regulatory changes in 2014. The data collection for this evaluation was undertaken by the Research and Evaluation Branch of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), between February and September 2014.

This evaluation report is organized into the following sections:

  • Section 1 presents the purpose of the evaluation and the profile of the Program;
  • Section 2 presents the methodology for the evaluation, and discusses strengths and considerations;
  • Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 present the findings, organized by evaluation issue; and
  • Section 7 presents the conclusions and recommendations.

1.2 Program Profile

This section provides an overview of the International Student Program, including: the policy and program context, program description and expected outcomes, partners and stakeholders, a profile of the number of international student admissions, characteristics of international students, and program costs.

1.2.1 Policy and Program Context

International students bring many benefits to the institutions at which they study, the communities in which they live, as well as the national economy. As a result, there is strong competition abroad for international students with many countries investing in promotion, recruitment and streamlining their processes to attract and retain international students. CIC's International Student Program is responsible for facilitating the entry of international students to Canada for study purposes.

Legislative and regulatory framework

As per the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and corresponding regulations, CIC is responsible for issuing study permits and visas, which authorize international students to legally enter Canada and pursue their studiesFootnote 2. As part of the process of assessing study permit applications, CIC officers abroad and in Canada ensure that the proper eligibility, financial, and security requirements are met, including the bona fides of all applicants. Along with temporary foreign workers and International Experience Canada, international students make up one of the three temporary economic resident classes included under CIC's Strategic Outcome 1: Migration of permanent and temporary residents that strengthens Canada's economy.

A previous evaluation of the International Student Program conducted in 2010Footnote 3 found that the existence of several Program design gaps left the ISP vulnerable to potential fraud and misuseFootnote 4. CIC agreed with these findings and began working with various federal and provincial/territorial stakeholders, as well as stakeholder members of the Canadian Consortium for International Education (CCIE) to develop a suite of regulatory amendments to strengthen program integrity. These amendments came into effect on June 1, 2014Footnote 5, and introduced several key changes to the ISP such as limiting the issuance of study permits to designated post-secondary learning institutions, including those identified by provinces and territoriesFootnote 6, requiring study permit holders to enrol and actively pursue studies at a designated learning institution while in Canada, and allowing CIC to request evidence when there is reason to believe that a student is non-compliant with study permit conditions or as part of a random sampling exerciseFootnote 7. In support of the regulations, CIC is currently developing a compliance reporting portal which will allow designated post-secondary institutions to report to CIC on the enrolment status of their international studentsFootnote 8.

Requirements for working as an international student

In addition to specifying who can study in Canada (with or without a permit), IRPA's regulatory framework also sets out work privileges and application requirements for international students. International students that meet program requirements are eligible to work in Canada during their studies, and/or after graduation. There are four main types of employment in which international students can engageFootnote 9:

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 a post-secondary institution (public or private).

Off Campus: Prior to June 1, 2014, international students studying at publically-funded and certain privately-funded post-secondary institutions seeking to work off campus were required to apply for a work permit. To be eligible to apply, these students were required to be studying full-time for at least six of the 12 months preceding the data of their work permit application and, be in satisfactory academic standing and not be registered in general interest courses or programs that consist primarily in English or French as a second language instruction. An off campus work permit would allow 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). Since June 1, 2014, some applicants holding a study permit can qualify to work off campus without a work permit. Changes to the work permit requirements included allowing international students pursuing academic, vocational or professional training program offered by a designated learning institution the ability to work off campus for up to 20 hours per week during the school year, and full time during the regularly scheduled academic breaks. International students pursuing language studies are still not eligible to work off-campus.

Co-op and Internship Programs: Prior to June 1, 2014, international students participating at a program offered by a university, college, or school (including private language schools) were eligible to apply for a Co-Op Work Permit to enable them to participate in a co-op or internship. To have been eligible, the employment component had to have formed an essential and integral part of their course of study, but not more than 50% of the total program of study. Since June 1, 2014, only international students who are pursuing academic, vocational or professional training program offered by a secondary or designated post-secondary institution can apply for a work permit if a co-op or work placement is an integral part of their course of study. In addition, international students at private language schools are no longer eligible to apply for a work permit to participate in a co-op or internship program.

Post-Graduation: The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows students who have graduated from a recognized Canadian post-secondary institution to gain work experience in Canada and can provide the necessary job experience required to apply for some permanent residence streams. 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 three years).

1.2.2 Partners and Stakeholders

While the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has legislative and regulatory responsibility for immigration matters, education in Canada is the constitutional responsibility of the provinces and territories. The federal government does not have jurisdiction (or legislative authority) to regulate education or its providers. As a result, a number of partners - all with different perspectives and priorities - share responsibilities with respect to international students.

Federal responsibility concerning the administration of international education is shared across several departments in the Government of Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is responsible for Canada's International Education Strategy (IES), which focuses on promoting Canada to international students, while CIC's International Student Program is responsible for processing applications to study in Canada. Although both departments work on the issue of international education, both departments have different programs and roles.

Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD): Key elements of DFATD's IES include developing Canada's education brand for priority markets, creating a pan-Canadian approach for the international education sector with key stakeholders, and improving collaboration between Canadian and international education and research institutes. DFATD also does international promotional activities related to international education such as international education fairs. The Strategy aims to double the number of international students by 2022Footnote 10.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada: CIC holds overall policy responsibility for temporary resident processing, the review of eligibility, and travel documents of prospective international students. This is conducted through the International Student Program.

With regard to international students, the following stakeholders have a role:

  • Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA): CIC and CBSA share responsibility for service delivery of study permits, and for program integrity.
  • Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC): ESDC is responsible for issuing Social Insurance Numbers to international students who seek to work in Canada.
  • Provinces and Territories: Provinces and territories are responsible for ensuring the quality of education in their respective jurisdictions and also work with federal partners and educational institutions to promote Canada and its institutions internationally. In regards to the ISP, and since June 2014, provinces and territories play a role in the administration of the ISP through the designation of educational institutions eligible to host international students. Provinces and territories are also consulted on a number of program and policy issues pertaining to the ISP. Designated learning institutions, as a requirement for provincial or territorial designation, are expected to report to CIC on the enrolment status of international students.
  • Canadian Consortium for International Education: The Canadian Consortium for International Education was formed in 2010 to enhance Canada's competitiveness and leadership in international education and works in partnership with federal, provincial and territorial governments.Footnote 11 Representing the different education sectors in Canada, it is comprised of the following organizations: Canadian Bureau for International Education, Colleges and Institutes Canada, Association of Universities and College of Canada, Canadian Association of Public Schools - International, and Languages Canada. The members of the Canadian Consortium for International Education are referred to as 'the Consortium' throughout this report.
  • Educational institutions: Educational institutions deliver provincially-approved curriculum and also work to attract and recruit international students.

1.2.3 Profile of International Students

The evaluation used CIC administrative data to develop a profile of international students in Canada. Between 2009 and 2013, 495,214 foreign nationals entered Canada with study permits (on average 99,043 per year). The demographic profile includes the following:

  • Gender: Study permit holders were slightly more often male (55%) than female (45%)
  • Age: Study permit holders were mainly between 18 and 25 years of age (62%)
  • Level of Study: Most were studying at the university level (42%)Footnote 12 or at the other post-secondary level (21%)Footnote 13
  • Source Country: China and India were the most frequent source countries for students (22% and 11%, respectively)
  • Province/Territory: Ontario received the largest share of students (42%), followed by British Columbia (28%) and Quebec (16%)

Additional information on international student arrivals and demographics are presented in Section 5.1.

1.2.4 International Student Program Costs

The budget for the International Student Program is a portion of the total budget for the Temporary Resident Program (TRP), which was $27.3M in fiscal year (FY) 2012/13Footnote 14. As the ISP allocation was not isolated from the overall TRP budget for all the years under review, the evaluation only made use of estimates from the Cost Management Model to define ISP costs.

Annual costs by fiscal year for the ISP are shown in Table 1-1.Footnote 15 These figures include the total federal processing costs for international students but do not include CIC's costs associated with policy and program development.

Table 1-1:  International Student Program Costs, FY 2009/10 to 2013/14
Category 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 Average ($)
$ % $ % $ % $ %
CIC $23.76M 50% $26.15M 54% $15.27M 44% $13.53M 40% $19.68M
DFATD Locally Engaged Staff $3.81M 8% $4.08M 9% $3.48M 10% $3.46M 10% $3.71M
CBSA Migration Integrity Officers $0.17M 0% $0.19M 0% $0.11M 0% $0.09M 0% $0.14M
DFATD Other $13.75M 29% $11.21M 23% $9.93M 29% $10.47M 31% $11.34M
CBSA Port of Entry $2.74M 6% $3.07M 6% $3.42M 10% $3.56M 10% $3.20M
Other OGD $3.57M 7% $3.32M 7% $2.44M 7% $2.93M 9% $3.06M
Total OGD $24.04M 50% $21.86M 46% $19.39M 56% $20.50M 60% $21.45M
Total Cost $47.81M 100% $48.01M 100% $34.65M 100% $34.04M 100% $41.13M

Source: CIC Cost Management Model

These data show that annual federal cost for the ISP increased from $47.81M in FY 2009/10 to $48.01M in FY 2010/11, then decreased to $34.65M in FY 2011/12 and $34.04M in fiscal year 2012/13. Costs for the ISP are further discussed in Section 6, in relation to resource utilization.

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