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Source: Toronto Star Date: Feb 12, 2020

International students who are being kept out of Canada due to pandemic travel restrictions will still be eligible for coveted postgraduate work permits even if they complete their entire studies online from overseas.

In another bid to save the country's lucrative international education sector, Ottawa announced on Friday its plan to extend and expand the interim measures in place to keep the appeal of a Canadian education even without the in-person learning experience.

"This new policy means that students hoping to work in Canada after graduation won't miss out on opportunities, while ensuring that our economy and society continue to benefit from all that international students bring," said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

"Our message to international students and graduates is simple: we don't just want you to study here, we want you to stay here."

International education was among Canada's biggest "export" sectors. In 2019, the country welcomed more than 572,000 foreign students, who contributed $21 billion to the Canadian economy and supported 170,000 jobs through tuitions and spending.

International students are charged three to four times more in tuitions than their domestic peers, and the sector will be a centrepiece of Canada's economic recovery post-COVID-19 when border reopens and travel is safe again.

According to Statistics Canada, a quarter of new enrolments in Canadian universities were international while in colleges, foreign students accounted for more than 16 per cent of the new students.

However, international enrolment has dropped considerably due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and the shift to online learning. Under normal circumstances, international students from government-designated schools are issued postgraduate work permits that are good for one to three years, depending on the length of their studies.

However, distance learning and time spent studying outside Canada don't count. The rationale is that they need to acclimatize in Canada during their studies to prepare them for the Canadian labour market.

Maintaining international student enrolment appears to be the top priority now.

Last year, in response to the first wave of COVID-19, Ottawa decided to allow international students to complete as much as half of their program via distance learning while still counting it toward their work permit. Initially this only applied to those in virtual programs last spring, summer or fall and the winter semester that just started recently.

But Mendicino said the new measure will include counting studies completed outside Canada up to Dec. 31 toward the eligibility and length of a future postgraduate work permit.

Over the past five years, Canada has nudged its way up as a top destination for international students by allowing them to work up to 20 hours a week off-campus and providing them with a pathway for permanent residence with the Canadian experience they earn after graduation.

Canada's international education program, by default, has become a pipeline of prospective permanent residents for the country. In 2019, more than 58,000 graduates successfully applied to immigrate permanently.

"Whether as health care workers on the pandemic's front lines, or as founders of some of the most promising startups, international students are giving back to communities across Canada as we continue the fight against the pandemic," Mendicino said. "Their status may be temporary, but the contributions of international students are lasting."



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