Rising Unemployment In Canada As Immigration ‘Overshoots’.

Photo by Tai's Captures on Unsplash On a per capita basis, Canada has 8 times as many foreign students as the USA.
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Canada is one of the world’s premium immigrant countries, and it has an unusual feature. If foreign students go to university in Canada and get degrees, then they can usually obtain permanent residency and eventually citizenship in Canada.

Since the foreign students have to pay a lot of money to Canada for their education, this looks like a win-win situation for both Canada and the foreign students.

But there is a snag.

The students may need to work to help support themselves while they study in Canada, and since, by definition, they don’t yet have Canadian qualifications, they have to turn to low-paid jobs that don’t require certification, like working in fast food, cleaning hotel rooms,  or in jobs that require unsocial hours like nights or weekends.

However, rising unemployment and a  tightening job market in Canada, fueled by a surge of immigration that produced the fastest population growth in 67 years, is hitting the country’s large cohort of international students particularly hard.

With more than 1 million foreign students in the country who are largely restricted to low-wage, part-time jobs, photos are being shared on social media of long lines forming outside businesses with even a single job opening for a position such as cashier.

Unemployment in Canada has been inching up in recent months, hitting 6.1% in March and roughly twice that for young people, according to the federal government’s statistical agency. The trend is attributed in part to rapid population growth, fueled almost entirely by immigration and the arrival of temporary residents such as seasonal workers and foreign students.

In public remarks this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau effectively acknowledged that his government’s strategy of addressing a severe labor shortage by opening the door to record numbers of immigrants and temporary residents has overshot the mark.

“To give an example, in 2017, 2% of Canada’s population was made up of temporary immigrants,” Trudeau was quoted by Global News as saying during a housing announcement in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “Now we’re at 7.5% of our population comprised of temporary immigrants. That’s something we need to get back under control.”

Statistics Canada reported that the country’s population of about 39 million grew last year at its fastest rate since 1957, with immigration accounting for almost all the growth. But while helping address a post-pandemic labor shortage, the rapid increase has placed pressure on housing costs and government-financed health care.

“We want to get those numbers down,” Trudeau was quoted as saying in Nova Scotia. “It’s a responsible approach to immigration that continues on our permanent residents, as we have, but also hold the line a little more on the temporary immigration that has caused so much pressure in our communities.”

International students, who are offered pathways to employment in Canada and eventual citizenship after graduation, have been an important part of the rapid growth. Canada has roughly the same number of foreign students as the United States with eight times the population, The Washington Post reported this week.

Because the foreign students pay much higher fees than Canadian citizens, they are also an important source of revenue for the nation’s universities.

However, facing mounting political pressure, the government in January announced new caps on the number of foreign students that would be admitted, and last month announced a plan to scale back the total number of temporary residents.

For foreign students seeking to support themselves in Canada while pursuing their degrees, the problem is exacerbated by regulations that restrict the kinds of jobs they can accept and the number of hours they can work.

“The main issue is that they cannot work full time,” said Al Parsai, an immigration expert based in Toronto. “They also do not have a Canadian degree or Canadian work experience, yet. Consequently, they end up looking for hourly minimum wage jobs.”

The decision to cut back student visas, meanwhile, is expected to create financial headaches for universities such as UBC, one of the most prestigious in Canada, where tuition-paying international students accounted for 27% of the school’s enrollment in 2022.

The harshest province to crack down on international students has so far been Ontario, which has aimed to give 96% of its foreign study permits only to public universities and colleges, shutting out private colleges that have been criticized as “diploma mills.”

“Diploma mills” have also been an issue in the UK, where they admit students on visas for vague subjects of study like ‘English language’ or typing without providing students with any worthwhile job skills. Sometimes such establishments will claim to be officially accredited, when they are not, or give themselves grandiose titles that sound similar(but slightly different) to the names of real universities.

The french-speaking province of Quebec might go even further than Ontario, as the Parti Quebecois (Quebec Party) has asked the provincial government to freeze all temporary immigration to Canada.

Sources: VOA, CBC.
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