By Kareem El-Assal
Canada is now the third largest international travel destination in the world with 642,000 international students.
Canada’s international student population has increased six-fold in the past 20 years. It has tripled in the last decade alone.
Canada’s growth is fueled by the rise of the global middle class population. More and more students are looking for educational opportunities and in some cases for overseas immigration opportunities. According to UNESCO, there are now over five million international students worldwide, compared to around two million in 2000.
At home here, Canadian colleges and universities have no choice but to recruit more international students to feed themselves financially. The growth of the main cohort of Canadian-born college and university students (ages 18-24) has stagnated in the past decade due to the low birth rate in Canada.
While Canada’s population has grown by 11 percent in the past ten years, the cohort between 18 and 24 has only grown by 4 percent. Therefore, Canadian institutions need revenue from international students to fund their rising operating costs.
Ontario is by far the largest beneficiary of foreign students in Canada. In 2019, around 48 percent of Canada’s international student population lived here – almost 307,000 people.
With 23 percent of Canada’s international students – around 145,000 people – British Columbia is a distant second.
Quebec ranks third with 14 percent of all international students in Canada – 87,000 people.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia have a high international student population per capita, with approximately 19,000 international students in each province.
In the past decade, the Atlantic Province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) has seen the strongest growth among all provinces and territories. The international student population of PEI has almost quintupled since 2010.
Other provinces in which the international student population has at least doubled during this period are Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.
Around 56 percent of Canada’s international students come from India and China.
Indians make up over a third of Canada’s foreign students. Due to the large middle class with a high level of English proficiency, India has many international students who are eligible for programs from Canadian educational institutions.
China ranks second with 22 percent of Canada’s international students. The number of Chinese students in Canada has actually stagnated over the past five years, with India overtaking China as the leading country of origin in 2018. There are several possible reasons for the stagnation, including that China’s strong economic growth encourages more of its students to stay at home.
South Korea, France, Vietnam, the United States, Iran, Brazil and Nigeria complete Canada’s top 10 international countries of origin.
Among the top 20 countries of origin, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Colombia and Algeria recorded the strongest growth rates in the past five years.
The United States currently has an estimated 1.1 million international students. Despite fears that President Donald Trump’s guidelines may keep international students from studying in the U.S., there are still many of the best universities in the world that continue to serve as the main magnet for international students.
Australia ranks second worldwide with almost 700,000 international students. Canada’s 642,000 international students now rank third worldwide, ahead of the nearly 500,000 each hosted by China and the UK.
Research by the Canadian Office for International Education (CBIE) shows that international students choose Canada because of the country’s high quality of education and its reputation as a multicultural and tolerant society.
Around 60 percent of international students have also told CBIE that they are interested in becoming permanent residents of Canada after their studies.
Another consideration is that while international students pay higher tuition fees than Canadian students, their total cost in Canada is lower than in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. A main reason for this is that the Canadian dollar is weaker than the US dollar, the British pound and the euro (the European Union is another attractive destination for international students).
The Canadian government estimates that international students contribute approximately $ 22 billion a year to the country’s economy and help maintain over 170,000 jobs.
As such, more international students are given permanent residence. For example, in 2019 the Canadian Experience Class, designed for international students and foreign temporary workers with Canadian work experience, accounted for 34 percent of those who became immigrants through Express Entry.
This suggests that Canada may actually underestimate the positive economic impact of international students on the country.
In addition to their immediate annual impact of $ 22 billion, international students who stay in Canada permanently will help drive economic growth as workers and consumers over many decades.
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