This joint op-ed with Universities Canada was originally published in iPolitics on May 11, 2020.
Canadians understand the importance of welcoming individuals from all around the world to our country. Canada is a desirable destination for trade, travel, study and immigration. We know that our prosperity and international competitiveness rely on being open to people and opportunity from every corner of the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis without modern equivalent. The actions Canada takes post-emergency can set the foundation for a sustainable growth and recovery with global opportunity in mind.
We believe that Canada’s colleges and universities– and the network of business and community leaders who came to Canada as international students– can play an essential role in responding to this crisis, and in helping Canada recover and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.
Universities and colleges are already key drivers of Canada’s international agenda. In 2019 alone, international students contributed over $21.6 billion to the Canadian economy, more than the value of automotive parts, lumber, or aircraft exports. These contributions are made in communities all across the country, and support employment and innovation in every province and territory.
The more than 600,000 international students at the postsecondary level also bring new perspectives, ideas, and valuable networks abroad. International students become highly trained individuals who contribute to their local Canadian economies, and then either immigrate to Canada and join our labour market or return home with an appreciation for what Canada has to offer as a business partner.
Canada’s response to the economic impact of the crisis to date has been commendable. Still, we need to ensure international students feel welcome and supported so that Canadian PSE remains competitive in these uncertain times and we can continue to be leaders in a global marketplace.
Responsive and informed study permit processing — Ease of obtaining a study permit is a key factor in international student decision making. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has already shown a lot of flexibility in responding to the pandemic. To remain competitive, we need IRCC to be nimble and allow, on an exceptional basis, international students to start programs online this fall without jeopardizing their eligibility for a post-graduate work permit.
Strengthening IRCC’s capacity to facilitate business resumption — Once health and travel restrictions start to be lifted in Canada and around the world, we must ensure that there is capacity to address large volumes of new study permit applications, quickly. Measures must be put in place now to ensure that disruptions to processing for the fall intake will be minimized.
Two-way mobility and international cooperation — As part of comprehensive federal government support to the Canadian postsecondary education sector, it is also imperative to maintain our commitment to a national outbound mobility program for Canadian postsecondary students to support Canada’s goals around trade diversification, skills development and the future of work.
We’ve seen colleges and universities across Canada stepping up and supporting their communities in this time of need, donating medical equipment and retooling processes to manufacture more. We’ve seen our students, recent graduates, in medical fields rushing to be of service in support of our health care systems. With the right investments, universities and colleges can also continue to play a critical role in building skills and increasing global competitiveness, helping Canada thrive in a post-COVID-19 world. Education opens doors, for students and for Canadian companies – across all sectors – looking to do business internationally. Leveraging international education, and the people-to-people ties it generates is a sound investment towards a more globally connected and prosperous Canada.
Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada
Paul Davidson, President, Universities Canada