International student work program creating low-wage work force: report
April 2, 2016
SIMONA CHIOSE - EDUCATION REPORTER
The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Mar. 31, 2016 5:00AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Mar. 31, 2016 10:00AM EDT
A program that allows international students to work in Canada after graduation is creating a low-wage work force, encouraging low-quality postsecondary programs, and needs to be redesigned, says an internal report from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program international students with degrees from Canadian colleges and universities can work here for up to three years after their programs end. Between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of eligible international students applied for a work permit, the report says, with more than 70,000 people holding permits in 2014.
The program is designed to make Canadian postsecondary institutions an attractive destination and to give international students work experience, making it easier to apply for permanent residence.
But the 35-page report found that the majority of those employed through a work permit are in low-skilled jobs in the service sector, and have median earnings that are less than half of other recent university and college graduates.
“Facilitating this large pool of temporary labour, largely in low-paid positions, may be in conflict with the objectives of the Putting Canadians First strategy,” the report states.
That strategy was initiated by the former Conservative government to prioritize employment for Canadians after abuses of the temporary-foreign-worker program came to light. The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) report was commissioned as part of a larger review of temporary-foreign-worker policies.
The Globe and Mail obtained the report after a nine-month battle. The government initially refused the request. After an appeal to the Information Commissioner of Canada and discussions between the commissioner, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the newspaper, the government provided a partly redacted version of the report.
Marked “secret,” the report reviews six years of the work-permit program, from 2008 to 2014. It raises many questions about how Canada attracts international students and how they transition to citizenship.
Its findings are likely to complicate the recently announced review of how the new Express Entry immigration system is treating international students who want to become permanent residents. Express Entry, introduced in January, 2015, does not award applicants any extra points for studying in Canada, as had been the case under a prior immigration program for international students. As a result, it has been heavily criticized for making it much harder for international students to become permanent residents.
Earlier this month, John McCallum, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, said the government is launching a federal-provincial task force to look at how Express Entry can better serve this group.
“International students have been shortchanged by the Express Entry system,” he said at the time. “They are the cream of the crop in terms of potential future Canadians …”
The PGWP report, however, suggests that most international students’ investment in a Canadian education is not being rewarded by the labour market.
International students with a work permit had median earnings of $19,291 in 2010, compared with about $41,600 for 2013 domestic college graduates and $53,000 for Canadian university grads, according to the review.
There are no explanations for such a poor labour-market outcome in the report, but international students have said it is difficult to find good jobs before they have permanent residency.