Canadian study permit: A paradoxical pathway to permanent residency


This guest article was authored by Siavash Shekarian, CEO, Shekarian Law Professional Corporation.

The prospect of enjoying world class education and becoming a permanent member of the Canadian family has positioned Canada as a top destination for hundreds of thousands of international students. But joining this family through the study permit regime comes with apparent paradoxes about which I will further explain. I will first briefly review the history of how our country has thus far dealt with the lucrative industry of education, followed by stating the issues, and finishing by offering my perspective.


Impacted by the world trends, domestic challenges, and policy discourses associated with international students and education, Canadian decision and policy makers have been hard at work for years to either tighten or ease the rules and regulations on study permit. Accordingly, the process of intake of students has been met with an erratic trend. As a country with anti-imperial inclinations in the post war era, Canada initially endeavoured to remain committed to supporting a kind of world order which was deemed just and equitable back then. In the 1950s and 60s, it thus ended up a pivotal part of the cause of internationalization of education and started to generously attract international students initiating a variety of financial schemes such as funds, scholarships etc. The hope was that the dissemination (i.e., internationalization) of high-quality education would lead the world to become a better place.

Unicentric nationalistic trends of the world order in the 1970s resulted in budget cuts ending this generosity and subsequently caused a severe decline of international students on Canadian campuses. With an emphasis on an economic-focused foreign policy, there was a policy shift in the mid 1980s causing the approach to international education to become more commercialized. Since doing it for economic gain and doing for academic diversity seemed mutually exclusive, Canada chose to make Canadian education a commodity. Consequently, hosting international students gained momentum. This time with based on luxury paying model. International education in Canada has since been focused on international cooperation and trade between various countries and regions. Following the shift in education policy from an academic reciprocity model to an aggressive sales pitch, attracting international students has focused on treating it a revenue-generating industry to secure Canada’s national prosperity.


By generating substantial revenues, international students are widely considered a source  of international trade (some $22 billion annual contribution to the economy pre-COVID). That is, they significantly contribute to domestic economy by spending billions of dollars on tuition, accommodation, transportation, and other expenses. But once they become permanent residents, they become eligible for domestic tuition rates, student assistant programs, and other perks that are not as friendly to the economy. Therein lies the first paradox: as much as international students “are well positioned to immigrate to Canada as they have typically obtained Canadian credentials, are proficient in at least one official language and often have relevant work experience”, according to Canada’s International Education Strategy (2014-2019), their speedy admission to our Canadian family can hurt our bottom line. But the problem is more severe than just a few million dollars off the balance sheet. See the new report of the Auditor General of Ontario which exposes how public colleges depend on high international tuition fees to stay afloat. The pandemic has only made it worse because  Canada had considerably lower numbers of high-fee-paying-international-students. A case in point is the storey of several private career colleges in Quebec that filed for creditor protection after securing winter 2022 tuition payments from international students.

Canada’s International Education Strategy (2014-2019) also states “International students are a future source of skilled labour”. With our declining birth rate and aging population, attracting international students to address our demographics is no longer a choice, it’s a must. Therein lies the second paradox: as much as we need international students to come, and stay in Canada, our immigration laws as they currently stand places a burden on every prospective international student to prove to a visa officer (per s.216(1)(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations) that they will leave Canada by the end of their authorized stay. This has been particularly more puzzling since the introduction of the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), the program that allows international students to obtain an open work permit (allowing them to work for any employer) up to three years after graduation.

In 2015, Express Entry was introduced: An application management system in which the immigration applications of international students were placed together with other rank-ordered would-be immigrants. Considered a method to answer the needs of the Canadian labour market, this new and more targeted approach to immigration has sparked a debate over its introduction as to whether it functions to entice or discourage applicants. The debate is in fact rooted in the paradoxes associated with this system. Express Entry is a points-based system where applicants are awarded 50-200 points for job offers and only a maximum of 30 points for two years of post-secondary Canadian education. This indicates the preference of immediate (=express) contribution to the labour market over a sustained approach of integrating international students. This is despite numerous evidence-based studies that show Canadian educated workers fare better in the labour market both in securing jobs related to their field of expertise, and in wages. Another paradox.

Another contradiction which hampers the education-driven immigration process is the fact that Canadian Experience Class category of Express Entry does not recognize work performed during studies, as Canadian work experience which is mandatory for this category. Therefore,  international students, despite having years of work experience that would have otherwise been eligible for this category, are not able to apply for permanent residence shortly after graduation, as experience gained during their studies, is not recognized as labour market quality work experience. Another paradox.

The most recent Canada’s International Education Strategy 2019-2024 pays considerable lip service to creating pathways to permanent residency for international students but fails to transform that into an initiative with clear objectives for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Yet another paradox.

So what?

The “global race for talent”, the search for the best and brightest are very real, and we are not the only country competing for a bigger share of international students. We are currently behind United States, United Kingdom, China with only 9% share of the entire international student population, according to ICEF. Germany, Australia, and France are catching up at remarkable speeds. Germany for instance has recently revamped its immigration policy and is now promoting a culture of remaining. It offers tuition free-education, non-restrictive labour market regulations, and liberal temporary to permanent transition policies. Meanwhile in Canada we are yet to have a comprehensive nation-wide international education policy. Education is a provincial matter, and the federal government has fallen short of developing a comprehensive federal policy to both attract international students at all levels and find dedicated pathways to permanent residence so that no talent in lost. If the pandemic has taught us anything about the labour market, it is that skills of all sorts are needed to keep the economy churning, to ensure that our healthcare system remain functional and that our supply chains our secure.


A review of our international student policy shows dramatic shifts over the past decades caused significantly by economic pressures. Currently our international student policy is synonymous with economic policy that does not have a firm integration with our immigration policy. Will Canada’s post-pandemic recovery programs include international graduate? We at CILA believe that opening more avenues to secure a place for international graduates in Canada makes good economic sense and informs sound immigration policy.

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