I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to meeting number five of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “floor”, “English” or “French”. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately, and we will ensure that interpretation is properly restored before resuming the proceedings. The “raise hand” feature at the bottom of the screen can be used at any time if you wish to speak or alert the chair.
Please follow all the health guidelines and the protocols.
I wanted to bring a few things to members' notice before we begin hearing from the witnesses. First of all, I'll remind you that the deadline for the prioritized witness list for the study of the differential outcomes is Friday, February 18. All parties should submit witness lists to the clerk by Friday, February 18.
Second, I'll remind all participants, including members, that a hard-wired connection rather than Wi-Fi is preferred for all the committee meetings. Please ensure that your CPU is not overburdened and not many tabs are open. If you can, please try to use a hard-wired connection rather than a Wi-Fi connection.
In regard to the 's appearances next week, on Tuesday the minister will provide a briefing on current and projected processing timelines and acceptance rates. That's the meeting we will have on Tuesday.
Is it the will of the committee to allocate 10 minutes for the to provide opening remarks for this important briefing? It would be just the minister giving opening remarks. Are there any comments from the members?
Thank you, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe.
Based on the discussion, I think the majority of the members are in favour of five minutes for the opening remarks. I'll have a discussion with the clerk. We will try to see the best way to accommodate that.
I have one last point before we go to our witnesses. The minister has also confirmed that he's available to appear on the estimates on Thursday, March 3, 2022. I will work with Madam Clerk. Before the next meeting, we will give an overview of the calendar to all members.
With that, I would like to resume our study on the recruitment and acceptance rate of foreign students.
It is my pleasure to welcome the witnesses and to thank them for appearing before the committee today.
In this panel we have Madame Carole St. Laurent, associate vice-president, international, Kwantlen Polytechnic University; Mr. Paulin Mulatris, professor, Université de l’Ontario français; and Madam Pirita Mattola, manager, International Student and Study Abroad Centre, University of Saskatchewan.
Just for the benefit of the witnesses, before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. All comments should be addressed through the chair. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like a regular committee meeting. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
The witnesses will all have five minutes for their opening remarks. I will be showing colour cards—a beige card for a one-minute warning and a 30-second warning, and a red card showing that your time is up. Please try to see these cards on the screen. This is for the benefit of all the members as well as all the witnesses.
Once again, I would like to welcome our witnesses. We will begin our discussion with five minutes for opening remarks, followed by rounds of questioning.
We will start with Madame Carole St. Laurent, associate vice-president, international, from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
You have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please begin.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm not sure exactly what was expected, but I can speak to our international student population at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
We are a university of approximately 20,000 students, about 6,000 of whom are international students coming from 60-some different countries. They're very important to our institution and very important to our entire community in the Lower Mainland.
During the COVID period in particular, we noticed significant delays in study permit approvals, which put institutions at risk in their sustainable enrolment planning. Of course, this really affected the plans of the students to come to Canada. Some took the risk and started their studies in their home country without a study permit approval, and thanks to all the changes that occurred this year, the flexibility within that portfolio was very much appreciated by all institutions. We're hoping to see that a version of it is going to continue.
What I'm referring to in particular is the post-graduation work permit program and the flexibility that was brought to that particular program so that students are able to study more than 50% of their program outside of Canada.
I will leave it at that for my opening remarks. We're hoping that these changes will continue in the future given. I will point out the importance of the international student population to the community in western Canada, particularly in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland area.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank all the committee members.
This issue is very important to me because of its ramifications in terms of Canada's linguistic duality, francophone post-secondary institutions in minority settings, and fair and equal access to education for francophones. In my opinion, all of these factors contribute to establishing Canada's role in building an inclusive society, both at home and abroad.
To give you a sense of the numbers at the Université de l'Ontario français (UOF), this year, our refusal rate for study permits was 65% to 70%. That includes the 30% of applications left unanswered.
In the vast majority of cases, the primary reason for refusal was that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is not convinced that the student will return to their country once they have completed their studies. To me, the primary reason for refusal raises the question of dual intent, but also judgment of intentions. Study permit applications are treated like immigration applications. This begs the question, are decisions based on immigration criteria, academic performance, or financial conditions being met?
If these applications are treated as immigration cases, then two reports by the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne should been taken into account, because this has to do with strengthening the French fact in Canada. I can talk more about that in the question period. French-speaking Africa has the largest pool of francophones in the world, with 70% of francophones. All the studies confirm that. So we're talking about fairness with respect to linguistic duality considerations here.
The second most frequent reason for refusal is lack of financial guarantees. However, in most cases, applicants provide bank guarantees, shares or deeds, for example, and sometimes they pay part of their tuition fees upfront. There seems to be a disparity here in the criteria related to student provenance. Compared to students who come from China or India, French-speaking Africa is seen or perceived as a continent that yields poor students, so they are seen to represent a risk to Canadian society.
If immigration legislation has evolved, we have to wonder if the criteria for granting study permits contain traces of social, economic or racial exclusion factors, which were prevailing principles prior to 1967 in immigration legislation. So it's very important that we reflect on this issue.
I'd also like to point out a disparity to some extent in terms of the distribution of application processing centres. For example, all applicants from French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa are directed to the processing centre in Dakar. That centre serves a vast area that includes twenty-odd countries with very young populations. This inevitably results in bottlenecks, and it probably leads to biases in processing applications, as well as automatic refusals with no proper, consistent analysis of applications and significant processing delays. Statistics on the number of students granted study permits show that, even among French-speaking African countries, not everyone from any of those countries has the same chance of being accepted.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
The University of Saskatchewan is part of a diverse post-secondary system that attracts international students to Canada. We recognize the tremendous value that students bring by contributing to Canada's culture, to our economy and to the richness of our education system. Canada's investments in international students can build mutually beneficial lifelong relations and result in long-term investments back into the Canadian economy and local communities. These reciprocal benefits should be kept in mind when making policy decisions and in thinking of how Canada can best support this special group of temporary residents.
During the pandemic, we have greatly appreciated the responsiveness of the federal government and IRCC in finding flexible ad hoc solutions and supporting our international students. As a designated learning institution, we have also appreciated the opportunities to engage in discussions with federal decision-makers through our province and other representative bodies. Knowledge sharing is vital for understanding the practical consequences of policy decisions, and we hope that this dialogue can continue in the future as well.
When it comes to our international students and the factors that impact their desire or ability to study in Canada, I would like to highlight the importance of post-graduate work permit eligibility, students' ability to gain work experience in Canada and study permit processing-related concerns. I would like to start by sharing some of the challenges that our province has encountered.
Saskatchewan has had one of the highest provincial study permit refusal rates for new study permit applicants, at least since 2013. As an example, in 2019, 64% of Saskatchewan-bound study permit applicants outside of Canada were refused, which was a much higher rate than in many other provinces. We are working to understand the factors that are affecting our students' approval rates.
In addition to delays, we know that post-graduate work permit eligibility remains a key driver for why some international students choose Canada over another country that can offer comparable programs. In an era of growing global competition in the international education sector, these linkages between students' short-term and long-term goals should not be ignored.
Currently, one of the challenges our students are facing is uncertainty about how remotely completed studies during the pandemic will impact the length of their future post-graduate work permit. Another concern is the hour restriction on study permit holders that limits off-campus work eligibility to 20 hours per week during an academic term. This puts international students in an unequal position compared to their Canadian peers and increases the risk of financial hardship, particularly at a time of record-high inflation. Easing this hour restriction on off-campus employment and improving access to co-op work permits are some considerations that could help level the playing field between domestic and international students and perhaps result in an easier transition to the workforce after their graduation.
In the case of Saskatchewan, considering that we have a fairly high percentage of rural population and an aging demographic, international students' entrepreneurialism and their keen interest in business ownership can also help sustain and grow the provincial economy in the long term. For this reason, international student-specific pathways to permanent residency should also be a priority to help retain talent where it is developed.
In the past, there may have been a perception that higher education in Canada is an inelastic good, meaning that cost increases or complex immigration requirements will not have a significant impact on global demand. The appeal of the country and quality education have been sufficient in attracting international students here. In the future, however, the regionalization of international education, increasing global competition and geopolitical factors may have an impact on Canada as an international education destination.
What can be done collectively to prepare Canada for this changing environment? From a practitioner's perspective, I would suggest that we give careful consideration to having flexible and expedited study permit pathways and building strong two-way relations with international students, who make significant contributions to our economy and society from the moment they arrive in our country.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, and thanks to all the witnesses for being here today. Your testimonies are very helpful.
I want to speak to Ms. Mattola. It's great to see the University of Saskatchewan here. My colleagues will get to know the U of S very well, as my colleagues on the environment committee did in the last Parliament.
Earlier this week, the Bangladeshi high commissioner was at this committee. He spoke about the very strong economic ties between Saskatchewan and his country, Bangladesh. His message was quite simple. It was that he wants Bangladesh to be included in the student direct stream so that post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan could benefit from an exchange of knowledge and economic activity, and he specifically mentioned the U of S and Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
Ms. Mattola, can you tell me how the presence of international students expands economic activity in Saskatchewan, particularly for my constituents in Saskatoon West?
Thank you for the question.
As I mentioned, our international students are highly motivated and very entrepreneurial. Their interest in business ownership, whether it is in taking over existing businesses or starting their own businesses, is very high. They often also come from more collectivist cultures, so there is a very strong community orientation in the way they operate also outside of their academics and our campus community.
Going to your remarks on Bangladesh, it is one of our top five largest source countries, so we would certainly be happy to see more Bangladeshi students in our community and on our campuses.
Switching gears a bit, Ms. Mattola, I want to get your perspective on the rejection rates. You spoke of that, and that it's an issue. We've heard that even in the granting of student visas for individuals coming to Canada, there is some bias and racism built into the system.
Student direct stream countries in Asia, such as China and India, have quite high acceptance rates by IRCC, while francophone student direct stream countries from Africa, such as Senegal and Morocco, have quite low acceptance rates.
As an English-speaking institution, what is the University of Saskatchewan's experience on dealing with applicants in terms of students coming from former British colonies in Asia versus the French colonies in Africa?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being here.
My questions are mainly for Mr. Mulatris.
Good morning, Mr. Mulatris. We're pleased to have you with us.
The Université de l'Ontario français has been waging quite a battle since day one. I'm very grateful that you are here today. In keeping with its mandate, it's a francophone university designed by and for francophones.
First, in your view, what do francophone international students from Africa bring to Canada's francophone community?
So as I was saying, students are asked on the questionnaire if they intend to stay in Canada after their studies. If a student has the misfortune to check that box, their chances of getting a visa are nil, because then they are suspected of dual content: the authorities believe that they really do not intend to study in Canada, and they want to stay in Canada. In my opinion, they are asking ambiguous questions to applicants who want to come study in Canada. Things like this need to be made clearer.
Another thing to consider are the bottlenecks in processing centres. We know that the largest pool of francophones in the world is in Africa. When all those applications are directed to a single country, inevitably that leads to delays. It's not the visa officers' fault, but the sheer number of applications coming in sometimes results in superficial and mechanical processing of applications. I am vice-president of studies and research at UOF, so I've noticed it in a number of items students have sent to us: the responses are automated.
I'm going to describe a case to you to show you what can happen. A set of twins who enrolled with us had wealthy parents. One twin got his visa, but the other one didn't get a study permit for conflicting reasons. However, their data was identical and the parents had proof of financial sufficiency. In a case like this, I wonder what the refusal was based on. Their applications went through different processing centres and each agent had a different interpretation. Therefore, in my view, the criteria used in a case like this are not objective. You need to have a closer look at this, because it can have real consequences.
I have one more thing I wanted to mention. An article in Le Devoir says that French speaking African countries are not at all on a level playing field. More students get visas in certain countries, and that is leading to discrimination against African countries when it comes to access to visas. We have to wonder what criteria are being used to give some countries more visas than others. Do the criteria vary from country to country? What is the determining factor in the decision?
I wouldn't want to interfere with decisions founded on administrative policies, but this raises some fundamental ethical issues. The same criteria should be used for everyone. It has to be fair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being with us today on this extremely important study. We want to move quickly with recommendations to initiate changes without delay, so that we can implement them before the fall 2022 academic year begins.
Mr. Mulatris, I listened carefully to you. What you've told us is very intriguing. We are realizing from the testimony given before this committee in the past two weeks now that study permit applicants from French-speaking Africa are definitely discriminated against.
I'd like you to tell the committee of the resulting impact on your institution.
For us, a newly established institution, there has been a major impact. For example, this year's refusal rate was almost 75%. Add to that the fact that, as my colleague from Saskatchewan pointed out, courses were done virtually, which delayed the process. Many applicants, about 30%, never even got a response. We sent emails to our candidates to see what was happening, and 30% of them said they had never received any response from the application processing centre. We therefore assumed they had been rejected.
You also have to understand that, when students apply for a study permit, generally they wait to hear back before they decide to enroll at a university. This is detrimental to them, if you consider that they wait several months and miss out on their academic year because the response arrives maybe three, four or five months later, after courses have begun. It also tarnishes Canada's brand image abroad. That's something else to consider.
To conclude my answer, I would say that the repercussions for an institution like ours are huge, and they will stay that way until this problem is taken seriously.
Thank you, Mr. Mulatris.
We must find solutions. We have no choice, we need to make some changes happen. We understand that IRCC is not being very transparent. As you said, sometimes the student doesn't understand why they have been rejected and it's not explained to them either. That will need to be addressed first.
Last Thursday, we heard testimony from Thibault Camara, of Le Québec c'est nous aussi. I really enjoyed his testimony, because he gave us specific proposals. One thing he said was that creating an immigration ombudsperson position could change things.
I would like to hear your opinion on that.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for your presentations today.
I would like to first go to Mr. Mulatris with a question on one of the issues that surfaced in this study, although some of us knew of it even before the study. The student direct stream requires the applicant to hold a $10,000 government bond, which can be cashed out later, while the new Nigeria student express program requires the applicant to have the equivalent of $30,000 in their account for six months, which of course, as you can see, is much more onerous not only in amount, but in the way the money has to be held.
By having this significant difference for different applicants from different countries, do you think this is a gatekeeper to keep people out and that doing it is discriminatory?
I think it may be discriminatory, but I would go in another direction. For the time being, it hasn't yet been proven that these students, who come from French‑speaking Africa, for example, are from poor families. No studies show this. These are middle‑class families who can afford to pay for their children's education, as other people from elsewhere would.
With respect to your question, there is certainly a huge difference between $30,000 and $10,000. Some universities charge an application fee. At UOF, it's $1,000. At the Université de Hearst, I believe it's around $5,000, but I'm not sure. We'd have to check that. Whatever the case may be, these fees must not be prohibitive. We just need to make sure that when parents are paying that kind of money for their child, they are guaranteed that the child will get a visa, because life goes on after that. Sometimes money is paid, but at the end of the day it doesn't lead to a study permit. That puts these people in very difficult situations, and in order to get refunds, they have to go through additional procedures.
To come back to my answer, I would say that it hasn't yet been proven with certainty that the issue of money is necessarily the barrier to obtaining a study permit. A study would have to establish this. In this respect, I would like to see an ombud.
Yes, but there is a fundamental question: Why would there be a discrepancy between countries? Why apply $10,000 to some countries and $30,000 to others? What possible explanation could there be for this significant difference?
The other issue, of course, that's worth pointing out is with the approval rates. What we have heard from other witnesses is that for francophone African applicants, the approval rate is 26%, so there's a significant rejection rate. Even after you have met the requirements, you are still rejected.
You're right. It's not necessarily about the question of whether you're a wealthy applicant or not. Regardless, why is there a discrepancy? That is the issue I'm trying to get at, and having that differential treatment, to me, is concerning.
That's the question I would look at. I totally agree with you. I think it's a fundamental question. Why do these differences exist? Why are the criteria different for countries on the same continent? That defies any fair approach. Criteria like this shouldn't be applied, because they're discriminatory, in my opinion.
You mentioned Nigeria, but we also need to look at the linguistic borders within the continent.
According to the studies that have been conducted, fewer study permits are granted to students from French‑speaking African countries than to those from English‑speaking African countries. In my opinion, this is something that should be considered. The linguistic borders also exist in this regard.
If a $30,000 deposit is required, it's even more discriminatory. Since the operating principles are already opaque and discriminatory, it becomes even more serious, in my opinion.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming today to share their testimony.
Ms. Mattola, you said something very interesting at the beginning that I wanted to make a point of agreeing with. You mentioned that knowledge sharing is “vital for understanding the practical consequences of policy decisions”. Just looking at where we are today in Canada, I think it's just so imperative that there's always that form of dialogue open, because tangible things can happen because of policy.
You mentioned that Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of refusals for provincial study permits and that you are working on understanding the factors that are affecting the student approval rates. Has there been any headway in understanding why this is?
We have been working with the provincial government, the Ministry of Advanced Education, to look into the numbers a bit more, and to have some institutional data as well.
This is just my opinion at the moment—there's no hard data—but some of it has to do with, again, the student direct streams and where the applicants are coming from. Depending on what your largest source countries of international students are, it could affect different institutions in different ways.
The other question I have had in my mind, going back to the significant role that individual immigration officers play in assessing applications, is bias in decision-making, whether it's regarding the applicants or the destination as well. I know that we are a less-known international education destination and province. Sometimes there's unawareness of what Saskatchewan can offer. I've wondered if that has played a role in decision-making at times as well.
Thank you so much for your question.
KPU has developed a good relationship in some countries in particular. Because of the population that we're seeing in the Lower Mainland, it is attractive for international students—particularly from India—to come to Canada.
The strong linkages with industry and employment is something that students seek.
Again, we have some of the smaller classes. As far as a university goes, you don't see many universities where you have a maximum class size of 30 students. It's more like something in a college set-up or a rural area.
The small class size, the integration into the community and the hands-on experience are very attractive for students. All students have either a co-op experience or some type of not only academic, but also hands-on experience to better prepare them for their jobs.
Most students get jobs. More than 90% of students get jobs in their area of study. That's really important to international students.
Thank you, Ms. Kwan. The time is up.
With that, I thank all the witnesses for appearing before the committee, for your time and for providing your important input to this study.
If for any reason you were not able to bring something to the members' attention, you can always send written submissions to the clerk of the committee and those submissions will be circulated to all the members.
With that, our panel comes to an end. I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes so that the sound checks can be done for the second panel.
I call the meeting to order.
I will take the opportunity to thank all the witnesses for appearing before the committee. Thanks for your time today.
In this panel, we have with us Mr. Luc Bussières, rector of Hearst University; Yan Cimon, deputy vice rector of external and international affairs and health, and director of international affairs and la Francophonie, Université Laval; and Alain-Sébastien Malette, associate vice-president, international, University of Ottawa.
Welcome to all the witnesses. You will have five minutes for your opening remarks, and then we will proceed to the round of questioning.
For the benefit of all the witnesses, before we begin, there are a few points I would like to bring to your attention.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. As a reminder, all comments should be addressed through the chair. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like at a regular committee meeting. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute. For your opening remarks as well as during the round of questioning, I'll give you a one-minute warning, a 30-second warning and a red card to show that the time is up, so please watch for these cards.
With that, we will go to Mr. Luc Bussières, rector of Hearst University.
Mr. Bussières, you will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please proceed.
Madam Chair, vice‑chairs and committee members, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss a very important matter.
The Université de Hearst has a completely francophone mandate. It has been around for 70 years and is on its way to achieving full autonomy this year, after being affiliated with Laurentian University in Sudbury since 1963. Our university is small, very small, but we have three campuses in northeastern Ontario, in Hearst, Kapuskasing and Timmins.
Our mandate was initially regional, but since 2014, we have reorganized our service offering according to an original model that now allows us to recruit throughout the Francophonie.
As a result, 70% of our total student base now comes from abroad. In 2013, that percentage used to be zero. So we are demonstrating that it's possible to attract international francophone students to a region, in an English‑speaking province. Everyone will agree that, for an environment like ours, this is an important, necessary and decisive contribution to the vitality of our francophone communities and our university.
Post‑secondary education in French in Canada is attractive. This interest hasn't wavered, particularly in the case of French‑speaking Africa, and it suggests that the number of study permit applications will continue to grow significantly.
Since 2014, our experience with the international recruitment process has taught us that, in order to welcome 100 students a year, we had to make four or five times as many offers of admission, and that's after personal contact with twice as many applicants, about 1,000 applicants. So we're dealing with a large volume of cases, and that's true for all institutions. As a result, this is especially true for IRCC officers.
It therefore seems inevitable to us that the current way of working needs to be reformed. It's necessary if we are to meet the rapidly growing demand. It's also necessary for efficiency reasons to properly screen these applications, both for IRCC and for the institutions. Finally, it's necessary to restore the credibility of our system. The current refusal rates for applicants from French‑speaking Africa are difficult to explain.
I'll now give you an idea of the situation for a small organization like ours.
We have processed close to 4,000 applications since 2014, but this phenomenon really exploded starting in 2018. Of these applications, 70% come from West Africa, 7% from Maghreb countries, and 23% from the rest of Africa. In the end, almost 400 people enrolled with us after they obtained their study permit.
Although we have a large number of applicants to process, the graduation results for this clientele are excellent and currently range from 85% to 90%. These numbers indicate that the effort put into the system from IRCC to our institution are really worth it, especially when you consider that almost all of our graduates apply for post‑graduation work permits in Canada, and almost all of them get them. Of these, about half found employment in northern Ontario and the other half found employment elsewhere in Ontario and Quebec.
In conclusion, I would like to add that considerable energy and money is currently being invested, and rightly so, in the current study permit application system. However, we think it is crucial that the system be reformed to take into account the growing interest in studying in French in Canada and to ensure a better level of confidence in the process. Indeed, this process must not be undermined by abnormally high refusal rates for applicants from French‑speaking Africa or because the process seems unclear as to the criteria to be met—I'm thinking, for example, of the dual intent test—or the reasons given to applicants to justify refusing them a permit.
IRCC is responsible for reforming the current system. However, we think that francophone universities could contribute, since they have been serving and working with this clientele for many years.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Members of the committee, dear colleagues and interested parties, thank you for giving Université Laval the opportunity to contribute to your work on the recruitment and acceptance rates of international students, including francophones from African countries.
It must be said that Université Laval is a resolutely international university that is committed to supporting its community, the leaders of tomorrow, in carrying out projects and to affirming its commitment to meeting the major challenges of our society. In that sense, Université Laval is the first French‑language university in the Americas, and it has been in existence for more than 350 years. We are resolutely forward‑looking and have been actively developing our international sector for several decades now.
The International Affairs and La Francophonie Department is mandated to increase international recruitment, develop and strengthen strategic international partnerships, and integrate cohorts of scholarship students and partner institutions. As such, we attract international students from 132 countries, who represent 15% of our student population. Two‑thirds of our international students come directly from French‑speaking places. These students represent the majority of students in some programs and are an important part of the high‑level talent needed to keep us on the cutting edge of research in the world. Laval's international graduates are literally changing the world through their leadership in their communities.
I will give you an overview of the situation. Our university recruits a majority of francophone international students. Our main recruitment pools are France and sub‑Saharan Africa, both of which account for one‑third of international students. Moreover, 11% of francophone international students come from North Africa. In total, 42% of our international students come from the African continent, and since the fall of 2012, the African contingent on campus has more than doubled.
However, we have some challenges that remain significant. Despite the importance of the African continent for francophone universities, it's clear that we have to deal with major problems. The first paradox is that Africa represents the future of the francophone sector, but Africans have great difficulty coming to study in Canada and may be tempted to go elsewhere. For example, in the case of Africa, enrolment growth is less than admissions growth. At Université Laval, only 32% of African applicants who were admitted following a very rigorous process accepted their offer of admission, for reasons related to the study permit, of course.
For French students, the percentage is 70%. That means that a typical African student who has a file allowing them to be admitted to a Canadian university and who wants to come to Canada will not be able to enrol with us. Because Canada is known for the quality of its universities, we do attract the best talent from around the world. In this context, we need to give them the tools they need to develop and thrive. Many international students from French‑speaking places, especially those from Africa, don't have access to the same opportunities to help them develop their full potential as students from English‑speaking places.
I will now address the second challenge. The francophone and anglophone sectors do not have the same recruitment pools, so there is a significant imbalance between the two sectors. For example, in Quebec, in francophone universities, 29% of international students come from Africa. That percentage is 33% for my institution—when we look at all the international students enrolled—but it's only 8% for anglophone universities. For their part, English-language universities have 50% of their students from Asia, while Asia generates only 10% of international students for the francophone sector.
The third challenge is that it is very difficult for Africans to obtain a study permit. Only a third of African students who are admitted to our university are able to complete their enrolment because of problems related to various and important reasons for refusal. The IRCC data show us, for example, that financial factors and factors related to the actual purpose of the study project are important. For our university, that represents 1,000 students a year. So it's a net loss, not just for Canadian universities and the education sector in Canada, but also for research, because we don't have enough talent. We're at a bit of a disadvantage there. For our Quebec City region, the economic impact of international students is $150 million a year.
The solutions we are proposing include revising the criteria for selecting students; improving the transparency of processes; reducing processing times; increasing access to quality services; improving access to biometric data collection centres; allowing more flexibility on the evidence used for financial criteria; developing a distinctive brand such as the Canadian Bureau for International Education initiative; and, most importantly, stop wasting talent and damaging Canada's reputation in Africa.
Canada must help the world and Africa by providing access to quality university education that changes lives and transforms societies.
Madam Chair, we begin by paying tribute to the Algonquin people, the traditional guardians of the land where the University of Ottawa buildings are located. We recognize their long‑standing sacred connection to this unceded territory.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, I'm very pleased to be here today on behalf of the University of Ottawa to discuss an issue that is crucial, not only for Canadian post‑secondary institutions, but also for the communities they serve across Canada.
My remarks today will be in French and English and will focus on four areas: a view of the global student mobility landscape, a discussion on the vital importance of Africa, the University of Ottawa view and considerations for the future.
As to the global landscape for international student mobility, there is no doubt that Canada has been a tremendous success story these past years. The numbers are clear to this effect, and we wish to thank the Government of Canada for important policy decisions that contributed to this, like, for example, poststudy work rights and implementation of the student direct stream, or SDS.
Previous testimony given to this committee has also rightly referred to international student mobility as being the gold rush of this era. We cannot stress the importance of this enough. A 2019 study by Choudaha estimated that the global economic impact of international students in 2016 was roughly $300 billion U.S. It is therefore not surprising to see all the competition from countries and their higher education institutions.
Previous testimony to the committee has also alluded to the competition from many of the main destination countries that we all know: the U.K., France, the U.S. and Australia. However, the competition is also coming from non-traditional destinations, namely China, Russia, Malaysia and India. These countries also have their global ambitions, with national and international education strategies and targets. There are many contributing factors to this: financial, geopolitical positioning and soft power, research, rankings, national immigration policies and building a skilled workforce.
With respect to Africa, the data on international mobility are clear for Canadian institutions, and they demonstrate the critical importance of China and India. However, there are profound changes taking place in these regions that could affect the future mobility of international students in Canada. Therefore, Africa is a continent of growing importance. The demographics are clear on that. More than half of the world's projected population growth by 2050 will be in Africa, and the impact on the Francophonie will also be profound. According to an article by the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, entitled “Why the future of French is African”, published in April 2019, the proportion of francophones in the world living in sub‑Saharan Africa could increase from 44% to 85% by 2050. That's the reality. We understand the significant competition that countries and their institutions have.
As to the University of Ottawa, in the fall of 2021, we had close to 10,000 international students. We are tremendously proud of these students, who contribute to our vibrant university community, enhance our research efforts, pedagogy and financial viability, and help preserve our unique bilingual character. A significant proportion of these students, roughly 40%, are from Africa, especially French Africa, and from various regions within French Africa, northern Africa, western Africa and central Africa. We are very proud of this and of the contributions that these students are making to ensure the sustainability of the Franco-Ontarian community that we serve. However, this has not come without significant challenges, heartache and frustrations, especially with regard to the study permit process.
Previous testimony, which we strongly support, has put into context the difficulties facing international students from certain regions, including the different regions of Africa. These include a much higher refusal rate than in other feeder markets, often lengthy processing times and subjective and inconsistent reasons for refusals, such as the dual intent test, for example.
The University of Ottawa wholeheartedly supports the work of this committee. We are committed to working with stakeholders, including IRCC and others, to identify solutions that will allow Canada to remain a premier study destination on the global stage. This will benefit all Canadian communities. There is a raft of measures that could be taken to improve this, including, to name a few, reviewing subjective assessment criteria such as dual intent to ensure that it is aligned with our immigration policy for highly qualified personnel, implementing a guaranteed turnaround time for processing applications and expanding the SDS program to more countries and to important hubs such as Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, to name a few.
Thank you for your question.
I would like to come back to some of the words used. There has been a lot of talk about opaqueness, lack of transparency and confusing criteria. In this future reform, we need more transparency. Everyone has to know the criteria, which must be really listed, explained and defined. The documentation must also be as clear as possible. All of that is understood here, but since it's being received in another culture, in another context, we have to ask ourselves whether sufficient efforts have been made in this respect.
I'll give you an example. In the documentation that students provide, they may include a letter of motivation, in addition to the completed form. In it, they may say things that could harm their own file, because what they have to say is not clearly stated. It's not a question of language or of being lost in translation.
In terms of intent, do they have to say what they want to do after their studies? Do they have to say there's a chance they’ll stay? Does that put them at a disadvantage?
People are trained to help them, they are regulated immigration advisors, and they themselves no longer know what to say about this dual intent test. Do you have to talk about your intentions in a letter of motivation that should help clarify the issue a little?
As far as consistency is concerned, we need to untangle what we're talking about. Others have talked about this. There seems to be a contradiction between the facts and Canada's stated desire to be a welcoming country, an immigrant country and all that.
Currently, we receive international students. About a third of them come to Canada for a second university degree. The others are at the undergraduate level. They spend three, four or five years with us. They are then integrated, trained, and ready to work, and they would be asked to leave to perhaps come back later. This issue of dual intent is really counterproductive.
There is one more thing I want to say about reform. Several people have mentioned the famous embassy in Dakar, which handles a very large number of files. Is it provided with sufficient resources? Reference was also made to the software or the Chinook program. What I've heard about it isn't reassuring either, but it's not clear either. There is concern without evidence, apart from the very high refusal rates we see.
Those are several things that need to be fixed. I think it could help reform the system.
Thank you for the question.
We are seeing an excellent retention rate of students after they complete their studies. I was saying that about 50% of them find a job in northern Ontario, where they were not expected. Many people are wondering how we are managing to welcome people in small northern communities, in regions that are pretty ethnically homogenous.
People are doing well in that respect. Our strategy consists in welcoming them and helping them complete their studies, but also in helping them integrate into the community, remain in good mental health and maintain a sense of well-being. They have [technical difficulties] stayed on, even though they were doubtful in the beginning.
Some of them arrive in January, when it is -40°C. They tell themselves they could never survive in that environment, but, a few years later, they want to settle in the region, and they begin to adopt our habits and wear half open coats in the winter.
Thank you for the question, Mrs. Lalonde.
We have deployed significant resources. I must admit that, when we began recruiting internationally, in 2014, we were hoping to get results, but never to the extent of the results we have had. Now, 70% of our clientele is from abroad, almost exclusively from Africa. So we have had to come up with solutions as we went along, and one of them was to use our own students to provide mentorship. That way, we established a model where every newly arrived students is paired with someone else, who is also an African student, although that is not always the case. So the new student is mentored throughout their first year of studies and beyond that, if they want. So truly individual guidance is provided. In a small institution, we have about 300 students, more than 200 of whom come from Africa. A new family has been created, with new solutions for a new situation.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I thank the witnesses who are joining us today to participate in this extremely important study, which is especially close to my heart.
We are here to find solutions, as I told the previous witness panel, and we want to do that quickly because we want to be ready for the fall 2022 semester. That is why this study is a priority today. We must identify problems to be able to resolve them.
Mr. Cimon, you talked about one aspect of the problem in your presentation when you said that refusal rates for foreign students differed between anglophone institutions and francophone institutions.
Do you think that speaking French can be a negative factor, or does a combination of several factors explain this?
Mr. Bussières, I will turn to you. You actually made me laugh earlier. Thank you for making me smile. That rarely happens to us in committees.
We are trying to find solutions, as I said before. We really want to change things. Since the beginning of the study, we have heard about the possibility of creating a position of immigration ombudsman. I don't know whether you have heard about that.
I will then ask Mr. Malette to answer the same question.
International students who don't receive their study permit cannot continue their studies or come to Canada to do so.
I will give you an example. At Université Laval, the study permit approval rate for sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa varies between 20% and 29%. By comparison, 98% of French students have their application approved, but 66% of French students can enrol in the university.
For students from francophone Africa, the main challenge is that a number of them are extremely talented and have records that would be the envy of many educational institutions around the world, but we cannot welcome them, even if they have been admitted. We cannot welcome them because they have not obtained their study permit.
There are two aspects to what you are saying.
First, there are delays, which are indeed difficult to tolerate. Second, there are refusals, which are significant and are unfortunately often poorly documented.
It should be said that refusals related to financial evidence, for instance, would be easy to modulate. The financial requirement could be modulated based on a laboratory research assistant contract, for example, or based on the applicants' potential income as Canadians.
International students in Canada have the option to work a few hours a week. That should be considered in analyses of their financial resources.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses.
I'd like to build on the question that Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe asked about students who have been admitted. During the pandemic period, the IRCC determined that because of the processing delays, the students could start their studies abroad virtually and then afterwards could come to Canada to complete their studies.
Regarding those students who started their studies and later their applications were rejected, have you had that experience at your institution? In those instances, were those students able to complete their study virtually or have they had to stop?
Maybe I can start with Mr. Cimon.
At Université Laval, students who were denied their study permits as a result of the pandemic had already begun studying online. Université Laval has ways for students to continue their studies online so that they can earn credits and graduate.
One key reason why students choose our Canadian universities, and Université Laval in particular, is obviously the experience of attending classes, living on campus, socializing and networking with international and Canadian students.
These aspects are very appealing online, but not for all international students. A number of international students want the campus experience. International students who are working professionals in their home countries want the online experience.
You could say that there are different categories of students. There are those who are looking for an online experience and those who are looking for an in‑person experience.
I agree with my colleague.
When we look at this issue, we can see that foreign students, such as African students—since this is the topic of today's discussion—who come to study often have opportunities to settle here. They often have many opportunities.
For example, our area has a labour shortage and our unemployment rate is far below the provincial average. Businesses need this highly skilled workforce.
Above all, it's important to help these students come and study here, to access an education in Canada and to take advantage of economic opportunities. It's necessary to simplify, if not eliminate, this duality related to the dual intent criterion, which hurts Canada, its image and our recruitment efforts. It's costly in terms of resources for our government authorities.
I completely agree with what has just been said.
I just want to outline the situation in northern Ontario in terms of how this issue is viewed in our communities, such as Hearst, Kapuskasing, Timmins and so on.
Not too long ago, when we started taking in international students, people would ask me whether I thought that these students would stay. I would tell them that I didn't know, since we were just starting to work with them. As I said earlier, over time, we saw that almost all of them applied for a post‑graduation work permit and almost all of them obtained one. That's the best news for us. Consider the demographic decline and the labour shortage.
In any case, as I said, for Canada and for northern Ontario, the students whom we take in and who stay constitute an extremely significant added value. If they leave Canada and return home with their Canadian education, they'll be our best ambassadors for the country and for our area.
This benefits everyone. I don't see the point of maintaining this strange dual intent criterion, which I think is counterproductive in every way.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
My questions will focus on immigration and ways to increase francophone immigration across Canada.
Mr. Bussières, I want to start by congratulating you on your great story.
You spoke about 2018 figures. It's now 2022. Do you have any idea what the situation will be in 2022?
You also told us that you must submit a very high volume of admissions offers to get enough students to enrol—you said 400 students. Do you think that this large volume of admission offers affects processing times?
Yes, it certainly has an impact. A small institution like ours receives about 1,000 applications a year. When we process the applications, we sometimes find that some files are incomplete. We then ask the people to complete them. Once the files are completed, the university offers the people admission, after which they can apply for their study permit. The university offers to provide them with the assistance of regulated Canadian immigration consultants, or RCICs. These consultants are allowed to help them directly. The university isn't allowed to do so.
The people then enter into the IRCC system and apply. There are deadlines, and the process unfolds.
To get 100 people to register, we must provide 400 to 500 offers of admission, after reviewing about 1,000 files. I can imagine how this could clog up the system at institutions such as Université Laval or the University of Ottawa, for example. That's why I was talking about the strong interest in studying in French in Canada, and certainly in English as well. This interest will continue.
The issue right now is that the high refusal rate brings the whole system into disrepute and makes it ineffective. It isn't lack of interest that makes it ineffective. There's a great deal of interest, which is the ironic part. As my colleague from Université Laval said earlier, a high refusal rate in a university like his can result in a loss of 1,000 enrolments a year, a loss that shouldn't have occurred. At our level, the loss is less significant. However, it's just as significant on a pro rata basis.
I feel that our efficiency would increase if the criteria were clearer. That would prevent people from entering the system without really knowing what is involved and without knowing the rules of the game.
We also have the dual intent issue. Today, we have not talked a lot about the reasons given for refusals. Sometimes, people share them with us. Sometimes it's dual intent and sometimes it's financial. Some decide to appeal and to submit a second application. What may happen then, when the reason for refusal was dual intent and the financial issue was not a problem in the first application, is that the financial issue is given as the reason in the second application and dual intent is no longer a problem. So there is such a perception of confusion, of inconsistency, that it causes problems in terms of the efficiency of the entire system.
We process a lot of files, but we could perhaps filter many of those files before they even enter the system, if people were more familiar with the rules.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Bussières, you just brought up the reasons for the refusals. They are sometimes difficult to understand.
I am going to try to cut to the chase, if I can put it like that. At a committee meeting last week, one witness—not to mention any names but it was Mr. Normand—came right out and told us that applications were refused because a course of study in French outside Quebec was not legitimate.
When I heard that, I fell off my chair. Maybe you did too.
Have you ever had to deal with cases like that?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
One of the issues that surfaced in this study from the other witnesses, based on an internal report done by IRCC, the Pollara report, was that there were attitudes of discrimination towards certain communities—and certainly to a great extent the African community. The government also proceeded to bring forward an artificial intelligence system, the Chinook system, whereby it would process these applications. Do you have any concerns that the Chinook AI system would have embedded within it potentially discriminatory or differential attitudes and would inject stereotyping into the processing? If so, what do you think should be done? Other witnesses have called for the Chinook system to be halted and for processing to be undertaken through a completely independent assessment.
Let me start with Mr. Cimon on this and then go down the line.
With that, our round of questioning comes to an end.
On behalf of all the members of this committee, I really want to thank all three witnesses for their time and their important input as we continue our study on this topic.
If there is anything the witnesses feel they want to bring to the committee's notice, but because of the time were not able to discuss today, they can always send a written submission to the clerk of the committee and it will be circulated to all members. We will duly consider that as we continue the study and get to the stage of drafting our report.
Once again, thanks a lot for appearing before the committee.
With that, the meeting is adjourned.