Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for having me here.
I've worked as an international student adviser at Memorial University of Newfoundland since 2005. In that time, Memorial has seen a significant increase in its international student population. In my years as an international student adviser, I've seen many students come and go. Some stay, and most wish to stay. I've experienced the many changes within the Canadian immigration system, some that make this dream a reality, and some that create barriers.
To provide some background and context, Memorial University is the only university in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The university was established as a memorial to the Newfoundlanders who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars.
Memorial is a multi-campus, multidisciplinary, public, and teaching/research university. Memorial has more than 18,500 students, 5,200 faculty and staff spread across four campuses, and nearly 85,000 alumni. As the only university in Newfoundland, Memorial has a special obligation to the people of the province, while at the same time it strives to be a globally distinguished university and inclusive of students and scholars from all over the world.
Memorial has 2,500 international students from over 80 countries. The international student population at Memorial forms approximately 13% of the student population and is growing.
In my role as an international student adviser, I provide advice to international students on any aspect of their adaptation to the new country, culture, and legal system, with particular emphasis on immigration law. As a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, I field many questions from students about pathways to permanent residency.
The Canadian Bureau for International Education conducts regular surveys of the international student population in Canada. In their most recent survey, they cite that 51% of international students plan to apply for permanent residency. I experience this statistic daily in my work with international students. More than half of all my meetings with students on immigration issues involve questions about remaining in Canada after graduation and eligibility for permanent residency.
I meet many students who qualify for the federal skilled worker program or Canadian experience class but do not score competitively on the comprehensive ranking system. I also encounter many students who wish to apply through the provincial nominee program but face challenges in securing skilled employment in their fields to qualify them for the program.
Fortunately, our office benefits from a good working relationship with the provincial government's Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism. The provincial government has identified international students as a desired pool of immigrants to the province and has a designated staff person who connects with students interested in staying here. This is an invaluable resource, as it provides a point of contact for international students early on in their journey to permanent residency in order to provide them with labour market and immigration advice.
Still, there are challenges. The provincial government has addressed many of these in their immigration action plan going forward. International students formed a large part of the immigration strategy launched in 2008 and form a focus in the recently released Way Forward document on immigration in Newfoundland and Labrador, a five-year action plan released in 2017.
In this plan, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador commits to continue to work closely with post-secondary institutions in the province to develop a program to assist international students in obtaining work placements and to explore new PNP categories related to entrepreneurship. The five-year action plan is an ambitious one. The province aims to attract 1,700 immigrants by 2022. In 2014, the total number was 899. The Atlantic growth strategy, I believe, will go a long way to helping the province achieve this target.
In giving consideration to the questions which are before the committee in this study on immigration to Atlantic Canada, I wish to share these thoughts.
First, as it relates to the challenges associated with an aging population and shrinking population base, for post-secondary institutions this really means a shrinking pool of university applicants. I believe it's important to maintain a focus on international student recruitment and the creation of an educational brand for Atlantic Canada.
Second, as it relates to the retention of current residents and the challenges of retaining new immigrants, two major challenges facing international students are the lack of labour market opportunities and the challenges to entering the labour market, and the lack of pathways for international students to become permanent residents. Through the Canadian experience class, and even with new changes to the comprehensive ranking system, an international graduate with a bachelor's degree and one year of work experience in Canada does not necessarily score highly enough to be competitive in the express entry pool.
Third, in terms of possible recommendations on how to increase immigration to the region and address these challenges, I commend the Newfoundland government's plan to partner with employers to create placement opportunities for international students and to pilot a My First Newfoundland and Labrador Job program for international graduates.
I think it is important to focus on new pathways for permanent residency, particularly around entrepreneurship and low-skilled employment. I hear from many employers that they struggle to hire enough low-skilled employees. This this seems to be a real disconnect with the current immigration system, which really focuses on skilled migrants.
I encounter many international students who are very entrepreneurial in nature, and our institution has various programs to support them in this realm. However, it is very difficult for them to immigrate as entrepreneurs. There is no provincial category for them, and at the federal level there is, of course, the start-up visa program. But it's challenging in this province, as there is only one recognized incubator company that incubates tech companies.
Many of our students are looking to create small and medium-sized businesses, which would ultimately help the Newfoundland economy in creating jobs. There is little opportunity for them to immigrate.
I have known several students who have sold their equity and ownership and essentially become an employee with a company in order to qualify to immigrate as a federal skilled worker.
Of course, another reason why entrepreneurial categories are so important is that in the absence of being able to find employment, or in the face of an economic downturn or recession, many individuals turn to business start-ups as a livelihood.
Lastly, my analysis of the Atlantic immigration pilot initiatives associated with the Atlantic growth strategy is this. I do find that the opportunity provided by AIPP for low-skilled immigrants—