The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), which previously allowed International Students to gain Permanent Residency (PR) upon completion of their Masters or PhD degrees, was ended on May 9, 2016. This decision occurred so that changes focusing on specific deficiencies within the labour market may be made to the immigration program. As such, Ontario has refrained from accepting applications through OINP.
Although there are other means through which international students can obtain residency in Ontario, the suspension of the OINP has underlying negative implications not only for the students, but for universities and the Ontario government as well.
It is no secret that Ontario universities make considerable amounts of money from international student tuition. Tuition fees for international students can be almost five times what domestic students are required to pay, and yet the government is making their path to residency measurably more difficult.
Aspiring university students from around the world, who might have planned to pursue higher education at Ontario’s top-tier universities, will lose some incentive to apply, as they will see fewer prospects of building a future career in the province, due to the more limited immigration options after graduation.
The significance of the OINP was that it offered international students a sense of security, as they always had the option of staying in the place where they had spent years studying and networking.
Now that this option has been taken away, universities ought not be surprised if applications from international students decrease, especially if the government decides to permanently cancel the program. Consequently, lower international student enrolment could mean less revenue for the university. This in turn might lower the quality of education for all students, given that there are fewer resources to work with.
The OINP, which streamlined educated immigrants into one shared pool of applicants, made the pathway to becoming a permanent resident faster. With the program suspended, longer wait times and gnawing feelings of uncertainty will discourage international graduates from seeking residency in Ontario.
Making the immigration process difficult for skilled applicants might hurt the economy as Canada’s population growth slows. According to Immigration Minister John McCallum, Canada has to significantly increase immigration, if it wants to keep up with the country’s labour shortages and its aging population.
In a speech to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines last month, McCallum stated that, in order to “make it easier for international students, [the government would] reduce some of the barriers in our immigration system.”
As an example of such a mentality and in an attempt to attract more high-skilled workers, Canada is presently seeking to double its visa offices in China, which will make it easier for Chinese students and workers to travel to Canada.
It is perplexing why the government would choose not to prioritize the needs of international students who have made an investment in Canada, having already spent a considerable amount of time and money in Canadian universities.
The collective expertise of international graduates, if not tapped into by the provincial government, is easily transferable to other provinces or even other countries. In this vein, the suspension of the program is an opportunity wasted. It is exemplary of Ontario missing its chance to capitalize on the graduates’ full potential.
Evidently, Ontario’s decision to suspend the OINP is questionable, especially at a time when Canada is in need of skilled workers. The long-term consequences of the suspension, particularly if the program is not reopened, are still to come.
Yet most immediately, it is the international students who suffer greatly — not only are they required to pay hefty fees, but they find their options limited once they complete their education. Demonstrating respect for international students and graduates is vital, considering the investments they have made.
Maryam Rahimi Shahmirzadi is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and International Relations.