Newfoundland is dying. As of 2014, 17.7% of our population is above the age of 65, while youth aged 18 to 24 make up only 8.1% of our population.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest fertility rates in the country, and the natural growth rate has turned negative in the past few years. Despite the oil boom, youth are still emigrating from the province, and our ageing population will soon become a tax burden on a smaller number of people.
The employment sector in Newfoundland mostly relies on temporary construction projects or government budgets, such as in the health care, social assistance, and educational services. This lack of diversity has created a volatile economy, heavily dependent on oil and mineral prices.
To sustain our population and our economy, we need to attract and retain more immigrants. Immigrants are often more educated and motivated than the general population, resulting in entrepreneurship and new skill sets in our economy.
While the provincial government is aware of these solutions, little has been done to attract and retain immigrants. In 2013, 825 immigrants became permanent residents in NL, the lowest number for a province that isn’t covered by snow eight months of the year (Yellowknife and Northwest Territories – I’m looking at you). This is pitiful when compared to the 103, 494 immigrants that gained permanent residents in Ontario in 2013.
While there are a variety of immigrants seeking to become Canadian citizens, we look at international students, as they are well-educated, motivated, and youthful – the ideal citizen for any country. Convincing them to stay here should be a major focus of our government’s immigration strategy for the prosperity and longevity of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Provincial Immigration Strategy 2007
In 2007 the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador developed an immigration strategy to deal with declining demographics and increase the number of immigrants living in the province.
Worries about declining youth population and lower enrolment rates for Memorial University compelled the government to introduce strategies directed at attracting, integrating and retaining international students.
These strategies included streamlining international students through the Provincial Nominee Program, improving application processing times, providing the Medical Care Plan (MCP), and implementing the Memorandum of Understanding, which allows international students to work off-campus during their studies and up to two years post-graduation.
In 2015 the federal government introduced their new immigration plan to mixed reactions. While the target for new permanent residents increased from 260,000 to 285,000, the Conservatives changed the application process from a points-system to one led by employers.
The old system emphasized language skills and education, with additional points for age, job offers, work experience, and adaptability. The new “Express Entry” system instead streamlines applicants with job-offers and downgrades the emphasis on other qualifications. This streamlining is meant to remove the mismatch between available skills and those in demand, but has the potential to result in the privatization of immigration. Employers can handpick their workers’ country of origin, increasing the likelihood for discrimination or preference towards friends and family. Visa officials worry this new emphasis may promote fraud and the creation of fake companies alleging job offers.
The new immigration strategy seeks to increase the number of engineers and computer scientists in the country, with hopes that this will lead to diversification and innovation in the economy. This could help international students become permanent residents quicker—provided they have the right degree.
Provincial Nominee Program for International Graduates
Most provinces have a provincial nominee program focused on creating a quicker and easier immigration process for international graduates, though their requirements vary. Some require a person have a full-time job or job offer in an occupation that requires a university degree. Most provinces require the graduate completed some studies in Canada. Ontario, for example, considers only those who completed their Masters or PhD in that province into their international student stream. Applicants must demonstrate an ability to speak English or French to varying degrees and have a certain amount of money in savings, which start around $11,000 for one person.
The following chart gives a rough idea of how requirements for international students in the provincial nominee program vary across the country.
The International Student Association: limitations and services
In 2011, the federal government introduced Bill C-35 to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This amendment made it illegal for anyone other than an accredited immigration consultant or lawyer to provide advice on the immigration process.
This has been restrictive for the staff of organizations like MUN’s International Student Association. Staff who previously provided aid must now merely direct people to the Citizen and Immigration Canada’s website or help them find a consultant.
“All that stopped very quickly, so it was very difficult, at least for Memorial to provide immigration support for students,” said Juanita Hennessey, Managing Director of the ISA. “Previously, we could help students by filling out applications, making enquiries on their behalf, and so being involved in the process, helping them renew documents or apply for permits. But since the introduction of Bill C-35 we’ve had to stop that and it’s only through the immigration consultant.”
The ISA’s immigration consultant works six to eight hours per week; before Bill C-35, the ISA had a full-time staff member. Students get 20-minute appointments with the consultant, for which they often must wait weeks.
“If there’s something urgent or requires more time, then we will certainly ensure that whatever that issue the student is bringing forward gets addressed,” said Hennessey.
Hennessey also voiced concerns with the federal governments new “Express Entry” program that may inhibit international students ability to immigrate to Canada.
“It’s not for me to say, but for sure there is a lot of debate about the direction Citizen and Immigration Canada is taking with some of their programs, particularly related to permanent residency,” she said.
“Consistently I hear from students that they would love to stay in Newfoundland, and they want to be able to find meaningful employment here,” she said.
The ISA conducts a broad range of services, including outreach and academic and financial assistance. An arrival coordinator works on finding students off-campus housing, and there is a tax and health insurance program. The ISA also runs the Culture and Community program, a volunteer program where students visit a K-12 school and share cultural presentations. In the MUN Mentors Program, international students are matched with a student from their academic program. The ISA also provides career advising, in partnership with the Centre for Career Development, to international students and their spouse.
Fresh Perspectives: Three international students discuss life at MUN
By Conor McCann
To help shed some light on the experiences of being an international student at Memorial, we interviewed a few on-campus residents studying from abroad.
Home: Czech Republic,
Studying: Computer Science and Economics.
Studying: Physics major, Philosophy minor.
Studying: Business major, Spanish minor.
Do you get to see your families often?
R: Twice a year.
J: Yeah, twice a year.
S: Every summer.
Did you find there were many difficulties being at school so far from home?
J: Different styles of dinning and different ingredients, it doesn’t taste as good as it does back home, and you can’t get as much healthy food here for reasonable prices.
R: In Mexico everything is organic, we grow it ourselves. But no, to answer your question being with international friends does make it easier though. It would make a huge difference if I didn’t know any other foreigners.
So even though you come from vastly different parts of the world, what about being friends with international students and that community makes things easier?
R: You can relate, well, not to our similarities, but to the difference between us and Canadians.
What was the last news story that you heard or that you were keeping up with from your home country?
R: A lot of stuff goes down in Mexico. I don’t know if you guys heard, but the forty-two missing students.
S: Back home right now the biggest story is the killing of Albinos. They believe that you kill them and take their body parts, and you’ll get money somehow for each part. It’s a big issue.
J: There was a first ever mass shooting in Czech Republic, and that kind of scared me a little bit.
With stories like these, do you ever get anxieties being so far away when important things happen?
R: I wish I could be in Mexico, because they do, how do you call it, strikes or something like that to talk about the missing students. They go around signing petitions to the government, and I’d like to be involved in that.
Do you guys plan to stay in Canada after graduation, or will you travel?
R: I have no idea; I didn’t even know I was coming to Canada, it just happens. I’d like to move around.
J: Definitely I’m leaving it open. It’s good to experience other things than what you know, get out of your comfort zone. That’s how you learn the most by yourself.
S: I think I’m going to live here for a bit then go somewhere else.
Do you feel like you have any roots in the city now, or do you feel like you could still pick up and leave easily?
J: I definitely could, I mean, it’s always hard to leave friends behind, but I’ve had to do it twice already and you know it’s just part of it. Nothing you can do about it.
Do you guys find there’s pressure on you from friends and family at home to succeed and do well when you’re here?
R: Yeah, to my parents grades are very important.
J: They are pushing me to do whatever I want, but they want whatever I’m doing for me to do very good in it. So I can choose what I want to do, but as long as I’m good at it they’ll be happy.
S: There’s huge pressure because my family pays a lot of money, especially once you convert it into the Tanzanian currency. When you family sacrifices for you, they expect a good return.
On that note, how do you all feel about the excess fees that international students pay at Memorial?
J: I feel it’s sort of fair you know, I mean we didn’t grow up here, we didn’t pay all the taxes that contribute to school, right? I mean it’s still a lot of money. I come from a country where university is free.
J: Yeah, Czech universities are free, and I’m paying for university. So it’s sort of like a well-paid relationship because I wanted to have a different education than my peers in Czech.
R: Compared to a lot of countries and universities, MUN is very good. I can easily get cheaper and better education in Mexico though, no problem.
So you like studying here for the experience?
J: The diversity, yeah. It definitely helps to have an open mind, it helps to open your mind to different things and approaches to different problems, and it helps to refresh the culture back home.
R: I do not want to go back to Mexico; I see it as kind of boring now to go back home.
Do you guys feel like Memorial University, the Student Union, or the Student Societies at MUN can do anything to make international students feel more comfortable studying here?
R: I think that’s a very individual thing. It depends on the people themselves. I don’t think any society or group or whatever can actually help you other than make friends right? It’s up to you at the end.
S: Definitely very individual.
J: Coming here, I don’t use any international services whatsoever, because I come in here expecting that I’m on my own, and I’m doing my own thing. I don’t expect anyone to be here for me just because I’m from outside.