Insights on Canadian Society
International students who become permanent residents in Canada

by Yuqian Lu and Feng Hou

Release date: December 10, 2015

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Overview of the study

This article provides information about the number and characteristics of international students in Canada, and about their rate of transition into permanent residence. The article also examines the extent to which the transition rate varied across characteristics and cohorts, and whether these variations affected the profile of immigrants who are former international students. It does so by using a new administrative database—the Canadian Employer–Employee Dynamics Database (CEEDD).

  • Between 1990 and 1994, Canada admitted 158,000 international students (i.e., temporary residents with a new study permit), or about 31,000 per year. Between 2010 and 2013, Canada admitted nearly 385,000 international students, or about 96,000 per year.
  • In the early 1990s, international students were more likely to be aged less than 18 and study in primary or secondary/high schools. In the late 2000s, they were more likely to be aged 18 to 24, and study at the bachelor level or above.
  • Between 20% and 27% of international students became permanent residents in the 10 years following the receipt of their first study permit, depending on the cohort of arrival.
  • International students from countries with a lower GDP per capita (such as India) typically had higher transition rates into permanent residence than those who came from countries with a higher level of GDP per capita (such as South Korea).
  • Nearly one-half (48%) of immigrants who first came to Canada between 2000 and 2004 as international students applied as principal applicants in the economic class. This compared with 30% among those who were international students between 1990 and 1994.

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Introduction

Every year, tens of thousands of international students from all over the world are attracted to Canada to pursue educational opportunities. Since the 1990s, Canada has experienced rapid growth in its numbers of international students. Together with temporary foreign workers and International Experience Canada, international students are one of the three classes of temporary economic residents that are admitted to Canada.Note 1 According to a strategic plan released in early 2014, the Canadian government hopes to attract 450,000 international students by 2022, which will double the number of international students currently studying in the country.Note 2

The large inflow of international students provides Canada with a large pool of well-educated individuals from which to select permanent residents. Among temporary foreign residents who obtained a study permit between 1990 and 2014, more than 270,000 (19%) became permanent residents by 2014.Note 3 Additional measures to attract highly educated international students and facilitate their transition to eventual immigration were added in the late 2000s, when Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) permitted international students to seek work opportunities and acquire the skilled work experience required to apply for permanent residence.Note 4

Landed immigrants who first arrive in Canada as international students have some advantages over other immigrants. They enter Canada at a relatively young age; their Canadian educational qualifications, unlike foreign credentials, are easily understood by Canadian employers; they tend to be more proficient in one of the official languages; and they are likely to have a better knowledge of the Canadian labour market and social networks that may facilitate job searches. Accordingly, immigrants who are former international students are expected to face fewer integration barriers than immigrants who have been educated abroad.Note 5 The labour market outcomes of international students who become landed immigrants, however, vary across characteristics such as education level, language ability and source region.Note 6 A better understanding of the profile of international students provides additional insights into the ability of these potential future immigrants to integrate into the Canadian labour market.

This article examines trends in the number of international students to Canada and their rate of transition into permanent residence. The analysis focuses on the characteristics of international students in different cohorts, defined in terms of the year in which they first received a permit authorizing them to study in Canada. The article also provides information on international students who subsequently became landed immigrants.

The data originate from the Canadian Employer–Employee Dynamics Database (CEEDD), a data initiative matching Canadian business enterprises with the workers they employ on the basis of multiple sources of administrative data. These sources include the Temporary Residents File and the Immigrant Landing File (see Data sources, methods and definitions), allowing researchers to draw inferences about the immigration pathways of international students in Canada.

International students in Canada

In this paper, the number of international students refers to total entries of temporary residents who obtained a study permit for the first time (“initial” entries).Note 7 The number of international students in Canada rose steadily between the early 1990s and the early 2010s. Between 1990 and 1994, Canada received approximately 158,000 international students (an annual average of approximately 31,000). By the end of the period from 2005 to 2009, the number of international students doubled to approximately 340,000 (an annual average of approximately 68,000), and by 2010 to 2013, the number reached 385,000 (an annual average of about 96,000) (Table 1).

Table 1
Demographic characteristics of international students at the time of their first study permit, Canada
Table summary
This table displays the results of Demographic characteristics of international students at the time of their first study permit First study permit obtained in , 1990 to 1994, 1995 to 1999, 2000 to 2004, 2005 to 2009 and 2010 to 2013, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  First study permit obtained in
1990 to 1994 1995 to 1999 2000 to 2004 2005 to 2009 2010 to 2013
percentage
Gender  
Male 51 50 51 54 55
Female 49 50 49 46 45
Age at first study permit  
Under 18 33 25 22 25 21
18 to 24 41 49 55 55 58
25 and over 26 26 23 21 20
Level of study at first study permit  
Primary and secondary 43 28 24 25 22
Trade 10 15 15 12 6
Postsecondary, other 21 24 27 25 34
Bachelor 10 13 16 19 18
Above bachelor 8 8 8 10 11
Other 8 12 10 8 8
Source country/region  
Northern and Western Europe 17 17 13 13 10
Southern and Eastern Europe 5 4 3 4 4
Africa 8 6 6 7 7
China 5 5 15 16 24
India 1 1 3 5 13
Japan 11 13 9 6 4
South Korea 3 15 20 19 9
Other Asian countries 26 16 13 14 14
United States 10 9 7 6 4
Other 13 15 13 11 11
Destination of first study permit  
Atlantic 5 4 5 6 5
Montreal 13 13 12 11 11
Quebec, excluding Montreal 7 6 4 4 4
Toronto 11 12 16 16 22
Ontario, excluding Toronto 27 21 18 18 21
Prairies 14 14 12 11 10
Vancouver 11 20 20 20 16
British Columbia, excluding Vancouver 13 12 13 13 12
Territories 0 0 0 0 0
Number of observations 158,000 219,000 330,000 340,000 385,000

International students come to Canada at various ages and attend various types of educational institutions. For example, some come to Canada through student exchange programs at the high school/secondary level while others come to obtain a post-graduate degree from a Canadian university. In short, they are a heterogeneous group.

The majority of international students (74% to 80%, depending on the cohort) are under the age of 25. However, the proportions who were aged 18 to 24 increased over successive cohorts as an increasing share of international students reached higher levels of educational attainment. In the early 1990s, 43% of international students came to Canada to attend primary and secondary schools, while 18% pursued a university education. In the early 2010s, more international students attended universities (29%) than primary and secondary schools (22%).Note 8

The composition of source country/region also changed considerably. Most notably, the proportion of international students arriving from China and India increased from 6% to 37% from the early 1990s to the early 2010s,Note 9 while the share from the United States and Europe declined from 32% to 18%. The proportion of international students from Africa changed little, ranging from 6% to 8% over the period.

The geographic distribution of international students within Canada generally follows the patterns observed among new immigrants. The majority of international students resided in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, particularly in the metropolitan areas of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Transition to permanent resident status

International students likely come to Canada for various reasons. Some may intend to return to their home country once they have acquired their Canadian qualifications, while others may intend to remain in Canada for a period of time to obtain work experience in an advanced economy. Still others may hope to become landed immigrants and remain in Canada permanently.Note 10

It is possible to estimate the proportion of international students who become permanent residents by calculating a cumulative transition rate. The cumulative rate, which can be calculated for any cohort, is the share of international students who become landed immigrants a number of years after obtaining their first study permit.Note 11 For example, among international students who obtained their first study permit between 1995 and 1999, about 15% became permanent residents in the five years that followed. When the period of observation is extended to the first 10 years after the study permit was received, that proportion rises to 20%, and then to 22% by the fifteenth year (Chart 1).

Description for chart 1

The title of the graph is "Chart 1 Cumulative rates of transition to permanent residence among international students."
This is a line chart.
There are in total 21 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 30 with ticks every 5 points.
There are 4 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage of transition."
The horizontal axis is "Years since first study permit."
The title of series 1 is "1990 to 1994."
The minimum value is 2.1 and it corresponds to "0."
The maximum value is 28.8 and it corresponds to "19 and 20."
The title of series 2 is "1995 to 1999."
The minimum value is 1.2 and it corresponds to "0."
The maximum value is 21.9 and it corresponds to "15."
The title of series 3 is "2000 to 2004."
The minimum value is 0.6 and it corresponds to "0."
The maximum value is 25.3 and it corresponds to "10."
The title of series 4 is "2005 to 2009."
The minimum value is 0.5 and it corresponds to "0."
The maximum value is 16.4 and it corresponds to "5."

Data table for chart 1
Table Summary
This table displays the results of Chart 1 Cumulative rates of transition to permanent residence among international students 1990 to 1994, 1995 to 1999, 2000 to 2004 and 2005 to 2009 (appearing as column headers).
  1990 to 1994 1995 to 1999 2000 to 2004 2005 to 2009
0 2.1 1.2 0.6 0.5
1 8.4 4.7 2.3 2.6
2 13.6 8.3 5.0 5.7
3 17.4 10.9 8.8 9.4
4 20.2 13.0 12.4 13.2
5 22.3 14.8 15.5 16.4
6 23.9 16.2 18.3 Note ...: not applicable
7 25.1 17.6 20.6 Note ...: not applicable
8 25.9 18.7 22.7 Note ...: not applicable
9 26.5 19.6 24.2 Note ...: not applicable
10 27.0 20.3 25.3 Note ...: not applicable
11 27.4 20.8 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
12 27.6 21.2 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
13 27.9 21.5 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
14 28.1 21.8 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
15 28.3 21.9 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
16 28.4 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
17 28.6 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
18 28.7 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
19 28.8 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
20 28.8 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable

Of the international students in the early 1990s (1990 to 1994), late 1990s (1995 to 1999) and early 2000s (2000 to 2004) cohorts, those in the early 1990s cohort were the most likely to subsequently become permanent residents in Canada. Over the 10 years after they received their first student permit, 27% of the early 1990s cohort became permanent residents, while this was the case for 20% and 25% of individuals in the late 1990s and early 2000s cohorts, respectively. The transition rates of international students in the late 2000s cohorts looked like those of the early 2000s cohorts over the first 5 years after receiving a study permit, but additional data must be accumulated to see whether this trajectory continues over the longer term.

In addition to varying across cohorts, rates of transition into permanent residence also vary across sociodemographic characteristics such as sex, age, level of study and source country. Again, transition rates by characteristic are examined at the tenth year after the first study permit is received (Table 2).

Table 2
Cumulative transition rates to permanent residence in the ten years following the receipt of the first study permit
Table summary
This table displays the results of Cumulative transition rates to permanent residence in the ten years following the receipt of the first study permit First study permit obtained in , 1990 to 1994, 1995 to 1999 and 2000 to 2004, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  First study permit obtained in
1990 to 1994 1995 to 1999 2000 to 2004
percentage
Gender  
Male 28 21 26
Female 26 19 24
Age at first study permit  
Under 18 33 26 24
18 to 24 20 16 25
25 and over 30 24 28
Level of study at first study permit  
Primary and secondary 31 25 25
Trade 25 10 13
Postsecondary, other 23 17 26
Bachelor 22 21 32
Above bachelor 33 42 49
Other 21 14 15
Source country/region  
Northern and Western Europe 14 13 16
Southern and Eastern Europe 38 35 36
Africa 38 46 55
China 61 57 47
India 47 53 55
Japan 7 6 6
South Korea 23 12 14
Other Asian countries 36 24 32
United States 20 16 16
Other 24 17 17

Within all cohorts, male international students tended to have higher transition rates than females by a margin of about two percentage points. In terms of age groups, transition rates were lower among international students who first obtained their study permit between the ages of 18 and 24—but this was only the case for the early 1990s- and late-1990s cohorts. Within the early 2000s cohorts, transition rates were more consistent across age groups, ranging from 24% to 28%.

In terms of educational attainment, international students in the early 2000s cohort who were studying at the bachelor level or above had higher transition rates than students at other levels of study. Moreover, the transition rates for university students increased across cohorts. Indeed, almost one-half (49%) of international students in the early 2000s cohort who pursued graduate studies obtained permanent residence in Canada in the subsequent 10 years, while this was the case for 33% of those in the early 1990s cohort and 42% of those in the late 1990s cohort. The transition rate among international students who came to Canada to study at the bachelor level also increased, from about 22% to 32%.

Such increases reflect various modifications to the points system of immigrant selection during the 1990s and 2000s. These modifications enhanced the requirements for educational attainment and language ability in the evaluation of economic immigrants, and thus likely benefited international students who came to Canada for a university education.

The transition rates also differed by source country/region. International students from Northern/Western Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea had lower transition rates than those from Southern/Eastern Europe, other parts of Asia and Africa. More particularly, the transition rates among international students from India, Africa and China were about three times higher than the rates obtained by those who came from Northern/Western Europe and the United States.

The large variation in the transition rates by source country/region may be related to the differences between source countries in economic development, job opportunities, and social and political environment. It is possible that international students from countries with lower levels of economic development and less favourable social and political environments are more motivated to seek permanent residence in Canada.

The relationship between the transition rates of international students (at the tenth year) and the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (in 2005 constant US dollars) of their source country supports this hypothesis (Chart 2). In the chart, each bubble represents a source country. The location of the bubble indicates a source country’s position in the log of GDP per capita and the transition rate of their international students in Canada (among those who arrived between 1990 and 2004). The size of the bubble is weighted by the number of students. The lower the source country GDP per capita, the higher the rate of transition to permanent residence among international students in Canada.Note 12

Description for chart 2
Data table for chart 2
Table Summary
This table displays the results of Chart 2 Transition rates to permanent residence in the ten years following the receipt of the first study permit. The information is grouped by Country of birth (appearing as row headers), Log GDP per capita, Percentage of transition 10 years after the first study permit, Sample size and Predicted regression line, calculated using percentage of transition units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Country of birth Log GDP per capita Percentage of transition 10 years after the first study permit Sample size Predicted regression line
percentage of transition
United Kingdom and Colonies 10.4 26.5 16,345 12.2
Austria 10.4 9.8 1,440 12.0
Belgium 10.4 14.4 2,864 12.2
Luxembourg 11.1 17.5 126 5.7
Czechoslovakia 9.6 35.7 311 19.3
Czech Republic 9.2 23.2 706 22.5
Slovak Republic 8.8 32.7 578 25.5
Denmark 10.6 6.0 2,563 9.9
Estonia 8.7 25.0 132 27.2
Latvia 8.4 28.9 159 29.4
Lithuania 8.5 34.8 184 28.6
Finland 10.3 6.2 2,682 12.9
France 10.3 15.6 39,804 12.5
Germany, Federal Republic of 10.4 8.4 21,569 12.3
Greece 9.7 25.5 909 17.8
Hungary 9.0 27.1 1,385 24.2
Ireland, Republic of 10.4 22.8 941 12.0
Italy 10.2 16.5 2,842 13.3
Malta 9.4 17.6 74 20.4
Netherlands, The 10.4 14.1 2,948 11.6
Norway 10.9 5.9 2,232 7.4
Poland 8.6 47.5 2,198 27.5
Portugal 9.7 53.0 607 18.2
Azores 10.2 55.6 18 13.4
Spain 10.0 7.1 2,954 15.6
Canary Islands 10.4 0.0 3 12.0
Sweden 10.4 5.9 5,116 11.9
Switzerland 10.8 10.2 6,163 8.8
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 8.3 44.6 166 30.3
Croatia 8.9 43.2 192 25.0
Yugoslavia 7.8 60.4 1,000 34.4
Turkey 8.6 29.3 3,367 27.4
Germany, Democratic Republic 10.3 0.0 7 13.2
Slovenia 9.5 36.5 96 19.5
Bosnia-Hercegovina 7.2 59.6 94 39.6
Armenia 6.9 77.2 92 42.4
Azerbaijan 6.8 49.1 53 43.2
Belarus 7.6 58.6 249 36.2
Georgia 6.7 26.0 50 44.4
Kazakhstan 7.8 47.0 266 34.9
Kyrgyzstan 6.0 43.8 48 50.3
Moldova 6.4 62.4 133 47.3
Russia 8.3 42.4 3,532 30.6
Tadjikistan 5.5 21.4 28 54.5
Turkmenistan 7.3 31.6 19 38.8
Ukraine 7.2 48.7 1,761 39.8
Uzbekistan 6.1 44.9 89 49.6
Serbia and Montenegro 7.8 75.8 33 34.8
Serbia, Republic of 7.8 70.0 10 35.0
Republic of Kosovo 8.0 100.0 3 32.9
Macedonia, FYR 7.7 69.9 73 35.2
Albania 7.5 56.0 125 37.1
Andorra 10.1 12.5 16 14.2
Bulgaria 7.9 59.4 751 33.6
Gibraltar 10.4 57.1 7 12.3
Iceland 10.7 13.1 496 9.6
Liechtenstein 10.3 0.0 21 12.4
Monaco 11.7 32.5 40 0.5
Romania 8.2 65.5 1,460 31.4
San Marino 10.4 0.0 3 11.6
Egypt 7.0 52.4 1,609 42.1
Malawi 5.3 17.3 197 57.0
Zambia 6.4 35.3 550 47.1
Zimbabwe 6.2 35.1 890 48.9
South Africa, Republic of 8.4 53.5 3,275 29.3
Namibia 8.0 23.1 78 32.7
Tanzania, United Republic of 5.6 36.6 1,163 53.6
Algeria 7.9 61.7 1,177 34.0
Kenya 6.2 38.3 2,842 48.4
Morocco 7.4 61.0 6,114 38.3
Tunisia 7.8 51.7 3,899 35.1
Uganda 5.6 34.4 541 53.9
Angola 6.8 17.1 158 43.3
Lesotho 6.3 7.0 115 47.8
Botswana, Republic of 8.3 9.1 526 30.1
Burundi 5.1 60.1 301 58.0
Cameroon, Federal Republic of 6.8 55.4 1,799 43.8
Chad, Republic of 5.9 29.7 172 51.2
Central African Republic 5.7 42.7 131 52.8
Congo, Democratic Republic of the 5.1 54.9 910 58.5
Congo, People's Republic of the 7.4 45.0 260 38.2
Benin, Peoples Republic of 6.2 50.4 677 48.4
Ethiopia 4.9 46.8 489 60.2
Eritrea 5.6 61.8 34 53.7
Gabon Republic 8.9 28.7 1,047 24.7
Gambia 6.1 20.3 133 49.8
Ghana 6.0 50.4 1,970 50.3
Guinea, Republic of 5.7 43.8 729 53.5
Guinea-Bissau 6.1 37.5 16 49.8
Ivory Coast, Republic of 6.8 51.0 1,599 43.1
Liberia 5.0 36.7 60 59.2
Libya 8.8 23.5 3,035 25.7
Madagascar 5.7 37.5 432 53.4
Mali, Republic of 5.9 49.0 594 51.1
Mauritania 6.3 30.3 188 47.9
Mozambique 5.4 27.4 62 55.7
Niger, Republic of the 5.5 41.7 343 54.7
Nigeria 6.4 59.2 2,541 47.1
Guinea, Equatorial 8.5 12.1 58 28.6
Rwanda 5.5 48.0 325 55.2
Senegal 6.5 48.0 1,622 45.9
Sierra Leone 5.7 54.2 153 53.2
Somalia, Democratic Republic of 5.8 57.7 267 52.7
Djibouti, Republic of 6.8 40.0 125 43.6
Western Sahara 6.6 0.0 2 45.2
Sudan, Democratic Republic of 6.5 46.4 183 46.5
Swaziland 7.6 10.2 127 36.4
Togo, Republic of 6.0 58.0 402 50.8
Burkino-Faso 5.8 52.0 502 52.2
Africa NES 10.4 0.0 6 11.9
Sri Lanka 6.8 57.4 1,618 43.1
China, People's Republic of 7.1 50.2 67,823 41.3
Taiwan 6.8 26.8 28,850 43.4
Hong Kong 9.9 28.2 29,802 16.4
India 6.3 53.3 14,174 47.5
Israel 9.8 33.5 2,916 17.4
Japan 10.4 6.5 73,506 11.9
Lebanon 8.5 59.6 1,989 29.0
Pakistan 6.3 45.1 4,428 47.5
Syria 7.2 58.7 445 40.2
Bangladesh 5.8 55.2 2,891 52.6
Palestinian Authority (Gaza/West Bank) 7.1 43.4 152 40.8
Cyprus 9.9 21.3 230 16.7
Indonesia, Republic of 7.0 19.7 5,208 41.8
Iran 7.7 53.4 5,933 35.3
Iraq 6.5 60.8 263 46.2
Jordan 7.6 44.0 925 36.9
Kuwait 10.1 36.2 966 14.4
Philippines 6.9 53.0 2,706 42.8
Saudi Arabia 9.4 14.4 2,846 20.3
Myanmar (Burma) 4.9 44.8 174 60.6
Malaysia 8.3 15.4 6,504 30.4
Singapore 9.9 15.2 3,859 16.3
Afghanistan 5.2 75.8 62 57.9
Bahrain 9.7 20.3 311 18.4
Bhutan 6.9 5.5 181 42.8
Brunei 10.2 23.4 244 13.8
Cambodia 5.8 56.3 396 52.3
Korea, People's Democratic Republic of 6.3 20.4 54 47.6
Korea, Republic of 9.6 13.8 101,607 19.1
Laos 5.8 33.9 109 52.6
Macao 9.7 24.4 623 18.5
Mongolia, People's Republic of 6.6 35.2 54 45.2
Oman 9.3 10.0 241 21.4
Nepal 5.6 35.9 529 54.2
Qatar 10.7 18.6 231 9.3
Thailand 7.7 11.5 4,511 35.7
Tibet 7.1 100.0 2 41.2
Vietnam, Socialist Republic of 6.1 54.6 3,845 49.3
Yemen, Republic of 6.6 34.7 251 44.9
Yemen, People's Democratic Republic of 6.3 100.0 1 47.5
United Arab Emirates 10.2 33.3 1,456 13.4
Asia NES 6.0 14.9 47 50.1
Australia 10.4 8.6 8,346 12.2
New Zealand 10.0 14.8 1,914 15.1
Nauru 8.9 0.0 2 25.0
Papua New Guinea 6.7 19.8 101 44.2
United States of America 10.5 17.0 58,974 11.2
Mexico 8.9 9.2 32,690 25.1
Canada 10.3 16.3 129 12.9
Greenland 10.4 2.4 41 12.2
St. Pierre and Miquelon 10.3 1.8 57 12.7
Belize 8.0 15.2 165 32.9
Costa Rica 8.2 29.3 652 30.9
El Salvador 7.7 48.6 407 35.3
Guatemala 7.6 28.4 479 36.6
Honduras 7.1 35.4 288 40.7
Nicaragua 6.6 33.3 249 45.7
Panama, Republic of 8.3 24.3 440 30.3
Bermuda 11.0 4.8 1,985 6.5
Jamaica 8.3 47.5 2,935 30.3
Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of 8.9 40.9 2,721 25.1
Barbados 9.2 27.9 1,214 22.4
Anguilla 9.2 4.5 22 22.6
Antigua and Barbuda 9.1 16.1 299 23.4
Bahama Islands, The 9.9 7.3 1,552 16.6
Cayman Islands 10.8 6.6 137 8.2
Dominica 8.3 38.6 324 30.7
Grenada 8.3 73.9 586 30.7
Montserrat 9.0 49.0 49 24.3
Nevis 10.3 10.0 20 12.5
St. Kitts-Nevis 8.9 26.6 139 25.0
St. Lucia 8.5 34.9 764 28.9
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 8.0 60.4 553 32.6
Turks and Caicos Islands 9.8 8.5 47 17.6
Virgin Islands, British 10.1 4.4 45 14.9
Cuba 8.0 35.1 405 33.3
Dominican Republic 7.9 32.5 314 33.7
Netherlands Antilles, The 9.7 20.5 73 18.0
Guadeloupe 10.3 25.9 259 12.5
Haiti 6.2 52.5 1,504 48.9
Martinique 10.3 26.3 274 12.6
Puerto Rico 9.9 17.5 80 16.7
Virgin Islands, U.S. 10.5 21.4 14 11.3
Aruba 10.0 25.9 27 15.1
Argentina 8.3 34.3 1,962 30.0
Brazil 8.4 12.9 11,774 29.7
Guyana 7.3 56.5 825 39.2
Chile 8.7 21.7 1,688 27.0
Colombia 8.0 19.0 8,668 32.8
Peru 7.8 42.2 1,196 34.9
Uruguay 8.5 45.9 259 29.0
Venezuela 8.6 24.2 4,873 28.0
Bolivia 6.9 30.8 305 42.9
Surinam 8.0 56.8 74 32.8
Ecuador 7.8 26.5 894 34.8
French Guiana 9.5 55.0 20 19.5
Paraguay 7.2 25.2 163 40.3
Fiji 8.1 45.1 195 32.4
New Caledonia 10.3 19.1 47 13.2
Vanuatu 10.3 19.0 21 12.8
Solomons, The 10.3 27.3 11 12.9
Soloman Islands 10.4 0.0 1 11.9
Tuvalu 10.3 0.0 3 12.7
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 7.5 22.2 9 37.6
Kiribati 7.7 25.0 4 35.5
Guam 7.0 0.0 5 41.8
Federated States of Micronesia 10.4 0.0 1 11.6
Cook Islands 8.8 0.0 3 25.7
Wallis And Futuna 10.2 100.0 1 13.4
Samoa, American 7.4 0.0 1 38.3
Samoa, Western 7.5 17.6 17 37.5
French Polynesia 10.4 15.9 63 12.4
Tonga 7.7 17.4 23 35.5
Maldives, Republic of 7.7 11.6 43 35.5
Mauritius 8.3 59.3 805 30.2
Reunion 10.4 15.0 207 12.2
Seychelles 9.2 41.0 78 22.6
Comoros 6.5 31.1 61 46.4
Mayotte 7.5 50.0 2 37.7
Cape Verde Islands 7.4 18.2 22 38.6
Falkland Islands 10.3 0.0 2 12.7
Sao Tome and Principe 6.6 50.0 4 45.4
East Timor, Democratic Republic of 5.9 0.0 1 51.5

Characteristics of immigrants who are former international students

Having considered the size and characteristics of the international student population and the factors associated with transitions to permanent residence, this analysis now focuses on selected characteristics of international students who became permanent residents.

As noted above, the points system that Canada uses to select principal applicants in the economic class was changed in the 2000s. Specifically, principal applicants in the economic class received more points for being of prime working age, proficient in the official languages, and having Canadian work experience and a university degree.Note 13 Changes in the characteristics of international students who became permanent residents in Canada were observed in subsequent years.

For the international students who became landed immigrants in Canada, the number of years they studied in Canada increased. For example, the proportion who completed at least three years of study in Canada increased from 57% to 79% among those from the early 1990s and early 2000s cohorts, respectively. The increasing length of study reflects the increasing portion of international students who were at the postsecondary level rather than at the primary or secondary level, along with an increase in their age profile (Table 3).

Table 3
Characteristics at landing of immigrants who were former international students
Table summary
This table displays the results of Characteristics at landing of immigrants who were former international students First study permit obtained in , 1990 to 1994, 1995 to 1999 and 2000 to 2004, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  First study permit obtained in
1990 to 1994 1995 to 1999 2000 to 2004
percentage
Years of study in Canada before landing  
2 years or less 42.6 33.6 20.6
3 to 4 years 40.5 42.9 52.7
5 years or more 16.9 23.5 26.7
Had work permit in Canada before landing  
With high skill 19.8 18.1 22.3
With low skill 4.1 2.5 3.6
Skill level unknown 17.2 16.8 25.0
No work permit 58.9 62.5 49.1
Age at immigration  
Under 18 24.8 19.1 9.7
18 to 24 23.6 18.7 19.6
25 and over 51.6 62.2 70.8
Education qualifications at landing  
Primary and secondary 43.1 31.4 21.5
Trade 5.3 2.9 2.1
Postsecondary, other 15.4 16.7 20.1
Bachelor 17.0 25.9 35.4
Above Bachelor 19.2 23.1 20.8
Canadian official language ability at landing  
English mother tongue 17.9 15.6 10.2
French mother tongue 6.6 8.2 7.1
Other mother tongue, speak English 54.6 55.1 62.6
Other mother tongue, speak French 3.6 3.0 2.0
Other mother tongues, speak English and French 5.1 8.5 11.3
No English or French 12.3 9.8 6.8
Class of immigration  
Economic, principal applicant 30.0 39.3 47.7
Economic, spouse or dependant 32.1 25.8 22.0
Family 30.4 27.7 22.5
Refugee 4.7 6.6 7.7
Other 2.9 0.6 0.1
Number of observations 41,000 44,000 71,000

Hence, among landed immigrants who were previously international students, the proportion aged 25 or over at landing increased from 52% to 71% while the proportion who had a university degree at landing increased from 36% to 56% among the early 1990s and early 2000s cohorts, respectively. The share who received a work permit prior to landing also increased.Note 14

Finally, the admission categories through which they became permanent residents in Canada changed across cohorts. Specifically, the proportion who became permanent residents as principal applicants in the economic class increased from 30% among those from the early 1990s cohorts to 48% among those from the early 2000s cohort. This was consistent with the change in immigration policy noted above, as well as with changes in the characteristics of the international student population in general.Note 15

Overall, through the 1990s and 2000s, landed immigrants who had previously been international students spent a longer period of time studying in Canada, were increasingly likely to have studied at the postsecondary level, were increasingly likely to have received a work permit prior to landing, and were in their twenties when they became landed immigrants. The extent to which these changes subsequently improved the labour market outcomes of this group is a topic for further research.

Conclusion

This study has shown that the number of international students has increased continuously since the 1990s, and that their characteristics also have changed over time. A rising proportion of international students is arriving at the age of 18 or over to pursue a university degree. The composition of source regions has also changed. While Japan and the United States were the two top source countries in the early 1990s, they were replaced by South Korea and China by the early 2000s, and by China and India in the early 2010s.

This study also examined the transition rates of international students into permanent residence. Depending on the cohort of arrival, between 20% and 27% of international students became permanent residents in the 10 years after their first study permit was issued. The rates of transition to permanent residence, however, differed considerably by source country. International students from less-developed countries (or with a lower GDP per capita) typically had higher transition rates than those who came from countries with a higher level of GDP per capita.

Lastly, the period from the early 1990s to the early 2000s witnessed a major shift in the transition pathways to permanent residence for international students. Over time, international students who became immigrants increasingly initiated the application as principal applicants rather than being admitted as spouses or dependants in the economic class or family class. Accordingly, more former international student immigrants are prime-age workers who are proficient in one or both official languages, and who acquired a university education and work experience in Canada.

Yuqian Lu is a researcher with the Social Analysis and Modelling Division of Statistics Canada and Feng Hou is a senior researcher in the same division.

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Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The main data source for this study is the Canadian Employer–Employee Dynamics Database (CEEDD). The CEEDD is an employer–employee matched databank created and maintained by Statistics Canada, which links various administrative datasets and contains information on Canadian business enterprises and the workers they employ.

For the purpose of this study, two input datasets in CEEDD are used to construct the analytical file. The first is the Temporary Residents (TR) file. The TR file is created by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and contains sociodemographic and administrative information on all non-permanent residents in Canada. Foreign students were identified among non-permanent residents as anyone who ever held a study permit issued by CIC.

The second data source is the Immigrant Landing File (ILF), which contains sociodemographic characteristics at landing for immigrants who have arrived in Canada since 1980. This study uses the following characteristics at landing: highest level of completed education, class of immigration, mother tongue, and self-reported official language abilities.

In this paper, international students refer to the total entries of foreign students who receive a study permit for the first time, also referred to as “initial” entries. Most statistical reports published by CIC include renewals and/or re-entries in addition to initial entries, which means that numbers in this study are not comparable with official CIC reports on international students.

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