Regressive policy on work permits for foreign students means less jobs at career colleges

Attracting international students to Canada has been a priority for this federal government.  From a mention in Canada's Economic Action Plan to the launch of an International Education Strategy by International Trade Minister, Ed Fast, the government has recognized the benefits of attracting students to Canada and taken steps toward attracting more.Based on a study published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the total spending of international students in Canada reached over $6.9 billion in 2010.  That is a major influx of cash into local communities across Canada.Career colleges have, to date, been largely shut out of this opportunity.  Which is a loss of revenues, jobs and other benefits for Canada.Over the past few years, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has changed its international student program.  At the National Association of Career Colleges (NACC), we applauded the initiative as it was meant to prevent fraud.The most recent change has seen CIC requesting provincial governments to provide lists of “designated learning institutions” that would be able to receive international students.  That process, introduced in 2010 under then-Minister Jason Kenney was completed in 2013 and implemented in 2014.  We were supportive of the process as it provided career colleges a process through which they could receive international students.However, one key part was still missing: students of career colleges would not be able to benefit from a post-graduate work permit, like their colleagues in public institutions (unless attending institutions in Québec).To put it simply: an international student attending a paralegal program at Herzing College in Toronto would not be able to apply for a post-graduate work permit while another one attending a paralegal program at George Brown College would be able to.  Both programs are accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada.  Herzing's program and instructors are also approved by the Ontario Government and their books and college are audited by provincial governments.  Herzing also participates in the Career College Accreditation Program.What's the main difference between George Brown College and Herzing College?  One is a public institution and the other a career college.And why do we care so much?  Because international students care about their ability to (for a short period of time) practise the skills they've learned while studying in Canada.  It is normal and benefits Canada: they learn more while practising in businesses and institutions throughout Canada and, when back in their country, this creates linkages with Canada – furthering trade.A number of career colleges, wanting international students to have a positive experience when studying in their institutions, prefer to wait until the post-graduate work permit will be available to their international students before registering them.  This is to protect them and spare them from disappointment.  The lack of access to these work permits also results in our members' inability to invest in their local communities by creating jobs and increasing their capacity.Career colleges should not be discriminated against by a regressive policy that needs to be reviewed.  Designated career colleges:
  • are audited annually;
  • have their programs and instructors approved by provincial governments; and
  • offer programs that are accredited by organizations such as the Law Society of Upper Canada, Canadian Medical Association, etc.
The recent issue with Everest Canada has been raised as a concern.  We believe that the provincial government regulations worked well in this case.  The communications could have been handled better but that's another issue.  The fact is that students that want to be relocated in order to complete their studies will be able to do so within a few weeks of the suspension of classes.  Juxtapose this with months-long strikes in public institutions and the impact that has on domestic and international students.Unfortunately, CIC is dragging its feet on this issue.For the past five years, it has delayed the answer that career colleges have been looking for.  The timeline is simple:
  • In 2010, we asked that international students registered in career colleges be able to apply for the post-graduate work permit (PGWP). We were initially told that changes in the International Student Permit (ISP) program would need to come first.
  • In 2013, when the changes to the ISP were announced, NACC asked again when PGWPs would be accessible to international students studying in career colleges.  We were told that within a year an answer would be forthcoming.
  • In October 2013, Minister Alexander stated, to NACC's Board, that he believed in fairness and that a decision could be made by the Spring of 2014.
  • In the Spring of 2014, we were told that, due to issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the issue would only be studied in the Summer.
  • Since the Summer of 2014, we're still being told of various delays.
The small and medium-sized businesses and the non-profits running career colleges can't plan on opening their doors to international students with this issue still not resolved.This has had an impact.  There are hundreds of jobs that have not been created as a result of the lack of action on this issue.Our association has been more than willing to sit down with the government and respond to anything that was brought to us.  There have been too many delays.  Every question raised was answered.  Every concern was addressed.We have been willing to consider post-graduate work permits related to the field of study, to find ways to make sure that the program would not be abused and that international students attending private or public institutions would not be used to replace employed Canadians.When addressing CIC officials, we have been told that:
  • They “would not be bound by fictitious timelines” but, we didn't set these timelines: they did.
  • The government would “not want to compromise a process that leads to good policy recommendation and decisions.”  We would not want to compromise such a process either, but five years to study this issue is a bit much and looks like stonewalling.
  • The government would “continue to act in the best interests of Canada and Canadians,” and we fully support them on this.  But Canadians don't believe that the best interest of Canada and Canadians resides in unproductive inertia.
In a recent telephone conversation, we were told by an official that they were in an “active listening and brainstorming” role.  Maybe there's a bit too much of that at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  And not enough action.  The progress we've seen in other departments has been incredible.  Employment and Social Development Canada, under Minister Kenney --and we're hopeful to see the same with Minister Poilievre -- has made significant  and positive changes in the way it works with our sector.Career colleges are an important component of Canada's educational landscape.  Canada's first career college dates back to the early 1800s and the sector now serves more than 160,000 students annually.  Over 18,000 employees work in career colleges.There are critics of career colleges.  Most of them have never set a foot in these institutions.  Thousands of career college graduates praise the institutions that they studied in and thank them for having provided the education they needed to obtain the jobs they dreamed of.On the post-graduate work permit issue, we've done our job.  We want our members to continue to create jobs.  We want them to continue investing in their local communities.  It is up for Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials to stop delaying a decision and provide a response.Serge Buy is the CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges (NACC).  Founded in 1896, NACC represents and advocates on behalf of career colleges in Canada.