Immigration disappointment looms for Canada’s young foreign students

The federal government’s decision to allow unlimited numbers of international students into Canada, especially as minors, is setting up many for disappointment when they later apply for permanent resident status, say specialists.

The number of foreign students coming to Canada jumped by 20 per cent in one year, to half a million by the end of 2017. The total arriving to go to elementary or high school has doubled in less than a decade to 71,000, with immigration specialists saying the vast majority will eventually try to become Canadian citizens.

“The guys in their ivory towers in Ottawa have no clue what is going on on the ground. They’re not connecting the high numbers of elementary and high school kids that are coming to future permanent resident applicants. There is a very serious danger on the horizon,” said Richard Kurland, editor of the Lexbase immigration newsletter.

Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee agrees that the latest trend in China and other countries is for many parents to send their children to Canada to attend high school and even elementary school, so that they will be at a competitive advantage when later applying to immigrate.

“Since they are coming as young children,” said Lee, “their parents believe they will adapt much easier to Canadian culture and language and the workplace” and thus be ranked highly when they apply for permanent resident status. Most Chinese foreign students who are minors, Lee added, have the added pressure of knowing their parents expect them to eventually sponsor them to immigrate.

However, Kurland said there is potential immigration disaster looming for many families of foreign students who are expected to apply down the road to stay permanently in Canada, especially for the youngest, many of whom struggle with loneliness and anxiety while separate from their parents.

Canada, by opening the doors to an unlimited number of foreign students, particularly minors, is building up far too big a pool of people who will be highly qualified for immigration status, Kurland said. Not everyone, he said, can win the immigration system’s points-system competition, which has an annual cut-off point.

“The math says you’re soon going to end up with 250,000 people who came here when they were aged seven, nine and 11 and now they’re 22, 23 and 24 and they’re going to college and they’re going to get a three-year work permit and most of them are likely to apply for permanent residency,” Kurland said.

Many foreign students who come to Canada as young teens will end up battling for permanent resident status against not only hundreds of thousands of more recently arrived foreign students, Kurland said, but also against the more than 400,000 people who are in Canada at any one time on various foreign-worker visas.

The future might be dark for once-young foreign students who, after one or two decades in Canada, discover they aren’t being accepted as potential immigrants. Said Lee: “How can they return to the home country after all those years away?”

Canada is the world’s fourth most popular destination for foreign students, according to Project Atlas. There are 140,000 Chinese students in the country, with more than 50,000 in British Columbia, which hosts one quarter of all the country’s international students. The second largest cohort is from India (130,000), followed by much smaller numbers from South Korea, France and Vietnam.

Kurland and Lee says the federal government’s new, streamlined Express Entry immigration program, which allows people to apply online for a points-based permanent resident’s visa, is proving extremely popular, with parents around the world devising ways their children could come out ahead in Canada’s would-be immigrant-ranking system.

If a foreign student comes to Canada at a young age and survives the process of getting an education, learning English or French and developing workplace skills in Canada, Kurland and Lee said he or she is sure to be at the top of the pool for acceptance as a permanent resident.

“But the designers of the foreign-student programs, and the Express Entry programs, never figured out, well, wait a minute, what if people do exactly what we want?” Kurland said.

Canada is going to get far too many permanent resident applicants from foreign students, Kurland said, with Lee adding that the trend among Mainland Chinese parents “is to eventually follow their children” to Canada “while investing in the local housing market and transferring their assets overseas.”

In the next six years, Kurland predicted, Canada will end up in a difficult situation, similar to those faced by Germany and the United States.

Germany has had to give amnesty to millions of Turkish workers who were supposed to have come to the country for only temporary work. And U.S. politicians are agonizing over what to do with roughly 800,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as youngsters. They’re often called “Dreamers,” with some officials wanting to offer them permanent citizenship.

Lee believes Ottawa may solve the problem of too many over-qualified applicants by deciding to increase the number of skilled people it allows in as permanent residents. “I think the government will be flexible on this, depending on the job market. In B.C. there is a shortage of workers in every field. There’s especially a shortage for young workers who are bilingual.”

However, Kurland, who has frequently advised Ottawa on immigration issues, warns that, as a backlog of applications builds up in Canada, federal immigration officials will be flooded with a surge of requests from foreign students to stay permanently in the country on “compassionate” grounds.

Kurland wants to send a warning to parents around the world that they should be aware of “the long-term risk of immigration failure (among their foreign-student offspring). I wouldn’t be blowing the whistle on this problem without strong evidence, because so many people might be affected.”

(Author Douglas Todd, a highly decorated journalist and author based in Canada, specializes in migration, ethics, diversity, spirituality and psychology, while remaining curious about most everything else. Writing mostly for The Vancouver Sun, PostmediaNews and Religion News Service (Washington, D.C.) You can reach him through [email protected] )

(Many international students who first come to Canada as young teens will end up battling for permanent-resident status against not only more recently arrived foreign students, but also against the more than 400,000 people who are in Canada at any time on foreign-worker visas. JONATHAN HAYWARD-CP)

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