In 2020, Canada was the third most popular country in the world for international students to study in with 503,270 university and college inbound students. Although the COVID-19 pandemic would put a dent in this figure in the next few years, this figure was the culmination of 10 years of growth in the country’s attractiveness as an international center for learning. Cumulatively, the past decade saw an 11.2 per cent increase in international student enrolment prior to the pandemic.

As Canada’s top university, U of T takes the lion’s share of students coming to Canada annually. Out of the 231,291 international students who enrolled in Canadian universities for the 2021–2022 academic year, 27,130 enrolled at U of T as of November 1, 2021. Upon graduation, many of these new alumni will face a tough question: where will they call home?

International students by the numbers

U of T’s international student enrolment has increased every year since 1997. From that year’s modest intake of 1,958, the international student intake has since increased by more than 1,000 per cent to the aforementioned 27,130 in 2021.

These students come from all over the world. From the 2021–2022 cohort, 15,671 students — or just under 58 per cent — originated from China. In a distant second place, India was the country of origin for 2,082 students — just under eight per cent. In third was the United States of America with 1,171 students, or just over four per cent.

Reasons to stay

These students may be attracted to U of T for many reasons. In its promotional material aimed at potential international students, the university website highlights its international academic reputation, its location in the heart of Toronto, its vibrant student life, and the “unparalleled academic opportunities” it offers.

However, some students just appreciate the intellectual and cultural stimulation that international education can bring. “In my opinion, overseas study experience can help individuals improve their cross-cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural awareness, cross-cultural competency and cultural intelligence,” wrote E Lai, an economics and book and media studies student, in an email interview with The Varsity.

Home is where the heart is

Third-year visual studies and media studies student Mingyu Guo hopes to land a job and become a permanent resident after graduation. “I came to Canada in 2015,” Guo wrote in an interview with The Varsity. “I have spent almost nine years living in Canada, and I really enjoy the peace of life here.”

Baiyi Chen is a second year Rotman Commerce Management specialist. “I think that home is a place that has family members, a place surrounded by love,” Chen wrote in an interview with The Varsity. Unlike Guo, Chen plans to return to China once their studies are complete.

They attribute this decision to their greater comfort level communicating in Mandarin. “Canada is an English speaking country, and my first language is Mandarin, which makes me feel ‘insecure’ in Canada,” Chen explained.

Staying in a new home

So what can international students looking to permanently call Canada home do to make their dreams a reality? The simplest path to trading a student visa for permanent residency is the Federal Skilled Workers Program (FSWP).

FSWP applicants are graded out of 100 points during the process with a minimum score of 67 points required for selection. Obtaining a four-year university degree already provides a candidate with 15–25 points, giving them a significant advantage during application. FSWP’s English comprehension requirements are also similar to U of T’s requirements for incoming international students, thereby guaranteeing that U of T students automatically meet another criterion of the program.

Permanent residency via FSWP is a long-term prospect, though. International students looking to stay in the country immediately after graduation would most likely need to look to transform their student visa into a work permit. This would allow them to get employment in Canada while they work to meet other FSWP criteria.

Luckily, the post-graduation work permit (PGWP) is designed specifically for international student alumni in this exact situation. PGWP applicants need to have been full-time students for their entire degree and must apply within 180 days of receiving their last set of final grades. Successful PGWP applicants are allowed to work in Canada for up to three years, putting them on the path for acceptance into the FSWP.