Let international students help Canada rebuild
Canada’s talent shortage poised to turn to drought without immigration
Shopify’s Tobias Lutke … Blackberry’s Mike Lazaridis … Tesla’s Elon Musk. What do all of these successful CEOs have in common? They’re all immigrants.
Earlier this year, Statistics Canada reported that there were more than 700,000 job vacancies across Canada in the first half of 2021. With millions of baby boomers expected to leave Canada’s workforce in the coming years, Canada’s talent shortage is poised to become a talent drought.
Of course, that’s where immigration comes in. Newcomers have an important role to play in the Canadian labour market, inspiring innovation and fuelling economic growth in their destination countries as they fill job vacancies and foster the exchange of ideas and knowledge. International students remain one of the key solutions to Canada’s skilled-labour shortage, given that they are trained, well educated, and eager to succeed and obtain permanent residency in their new home.
For Canada to continue to punch above our weight and thrive on the global stage, we will need driven and educated talent in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. This is a constant refrain from industry leaders and policy-makers, and ideal for international students to help with.
International students also contribute immensely to the global startup economy. It’s not just Lutke and Lazaridis. A 2019 study from the Business Development Bank of Canada reported that immigrants to Canada are twice as likely to start an entrepreneurial project and create jobs than those born in Canada. As a Canadian immigrant myself, I’m proud of the fact that Canada gave me the opportunity to start my own company, ApplyBoard, after I completed my degree as an international student. Today ApplyBoard, which has raised $600 million in funding to date, employs more than 800 people in Canada and another 500 around the world.
When I was a student transitioning from Iran to study in Canada, I faced major roadblocks while applying to study abroad. That’s why in 2015 I cofounded, with my brothers Meti and Massi, ApplyBoard — a platform designed to improve global access to education. After the pandemic, we actively appealed to the Canadian government to make the right choice to let international students study remotely from their home country, to not let the crisis interfere with their education.
As Canada rebuilds from the pandemic, it’s important that governments, educational institutions and employers come together to solve hardships faced by international students so that their education journey doesn’t suffer. We must try to reach the goal for 2021 the government set out to achieve: welcoming at least 401,000 new permanent residents.
What can Canada do to fuel the growth of immigration and international students? International students are attracted to countries with work-permit programs, as it demonstrates that the government has a strong commitment to ensuring international students have every opportunity to succeed. Canada already offers incentives that attract prospective international students to choose this country as their studyabroad destination.
One of these incentives is Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP), which allows international students to remain here to work for up to three years after they complete their program. The PGWPP has had at least a 95 per cent approval rate each year since 2017 and has been a powerful tool in attracting international students to Canada’s education sector over the last five years — to the point where the United Kingdom recently launched a nearly identical program. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, the average income of permanent residents who both studied and worked in Canada before receiving permanent residency was 30 per cent higher, nine years after they received the status, than the average income for those who only worked here.
International students push our innovation-driven economy ahead and bring forward diversity of ideas, with unique perspectives and an adventurous spirit that in turn increases Canada’s long-term competitiveness as an innovation hub. That’s why it’s especially important for our nation to drive the growth of the international-education sector even as we navigate challenges within the postpandemic recovery. The value that startups founded by international students bring to the economy is undeniable. In 2018, 23 per cent of all billion-dollar U.S. startups had at least one international student founder.
The more people around the world who have improved access to global education, just like I did, the stronger and more prosperous Canada and the world will be.