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Letter: International students key to immigration strategy

Collaboration among universities, employers, all levels of government and communities is key to successful retention of international students across Atlantic Canada.

That was the topic of a presentation made by the Association of Atlantic universities — the AAU — at the recent Conference Board of Canada Leaders’ Roundtable on Immigration in Halifax.

Atlantic Canada’s universities are talent magnets and the best source of new immigrants to the region.

The conference theme, Building Stability and Creating Opportunity: Lessons from Atlantic Canada, aligned with the commitment to collaboration among all regional stakeholders to attract and retain international students.

Part of the AAU’s mandate is to enable and promote inter-institutional collaboration, as well as partnership with the private sector, governments and communities.

Our region has the most rapidly aging and declining population in Canada and, the lowest attraction and retention rates of new Canadians of any part of Canada.

Yet, over the past 10 years, enrolment of international students in our universities has increased by more than 100 per cent!

Today, there are close to 14,000 international students studying in the region, representing nearly 20 per cent of total full-time, university enrolment.

Atlantic Canada’s universities are talent magnets and the best source of new immigrants to the region. Universities are working hard on marketing the region (and its institutions) as a high quality, welcoming education destination in the world.

Memorial University of Newfoundland is an excellent example of institutional focus on internationalization. Maclean’s Magazine just reported that 11 per cent of Memorial’s enrolment represents first-year international students while an astonishing 50 per cent of the university’s graduate students come from outside Canada, second nationally and just marginally behind Ontario’s University of Windsor.

With ACOA’s assistance, the AAU undertook an international student digital marketing research study in 2016. The results of that study equipped universities with actionable information about key international target markets and their cultural nuances; who to target within those markets; and, when, where and how to engage student prospects.

A 2017 AAU Graduate Retention Study — also funded by ACOA — indicated that 65 per cent of international students would like to stay in the region if they can find suitable employment.

The AAU presented these insights at its July 2017 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit which featured federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen, who called on business, academic and political leaders to welcome international students and help them become contributors inside a region they would like to call home.

The Minister said that “international students must play a key role” in the success of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, adding that “at stake is the continued growth and vibrancy of this region.”

An important component of the Atlantic Growth Strategy is the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. Under this program an additional 2,000 immigrants per year could be welcomed to the Atlantic region. It is designed to address some of the barriers to staying in the region identified by international students and it is the first employer-driven immigration stream in Canada.

Recently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration tabled their report — Immigration to Atlantic Canada: Moving to the Future.

The report made two specific recommendations relevant to the retention of international students in the region:

• Allow international students in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project to access settlement services once they have started the permanent residency application process.

• Issue work permits to students that are valid throughout their study program in Atlantic Canada, including co-op terms, and issue post-graduate work permits valid for five years in Atlantic Canada.

Adoption of these two recommendations will help create a more welcoming and encouraging environment for those international students wishing to stay in the region following their graduation.

The AAU is now engaged with Global Affairs Canada, ACOA and our four provincial governments in a pilot social media campaign designed to attract science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students from select U.S. markets to the region’s universities.

The campaign is also designed to connect those students to future STEM careers in Atlantic Canada.

These collaborative initiatives are what the region must promote to create the welcoming environment and robust economy important to the retention of new Canadians in Atlantic Canada.


Peter Halpin, executive director

Association of Atlantic Universities

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