Montreal Tops List of Best Cities for International Students

Cultural attractions like the iconic Montreal Museum of Fine Arts helped give Montreal the top spot in the ‘social experience’ sub-index of the Sea Turtle Index

An index commissioned by the Bank of Communications (BoCom), one of the largest banks in China, places Montreal, Canada as the best city in the world for international students.

Other Canadian cities that ranked well include Toronto (4th) and Vancouver (15th).

Created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with design input from BoCom management, the Sea Turtle Index (a name referring to Chinese students who study abroad only to return, like sea turtles, to their country of origin) ranks foreign student destinations according to five sub-indices:

  • Educational returns: the international value of the education provided in the city relative to its cost
  • Financial returns: the openness of the investment environment to foreign nationals and the amount of volatility risk that could effect investment returns
  • Real estate returns: the return on investment in the local real estate market
  • Work experience: the local job market for foreign students and graduates in terms of availability of jobs, wages and low-taxes
  • Social experience: the city’s level of culture, worldliness and multi-culturalism

Of the 80 cities included in the index, Montreal came in 6th place in the ‘educational returns’ sub-index, behind only Cambridge (1st), Oxford (2nd), London (3rd), Seoul (4th), and Beijing (5th).

Montreal benefited from having comparatively affordable universities and cost of living while providing high quality tertiary education. Vancouver and Toronto also had their score helped by their low cost of living, although not as much as Montreal which was found to be a more affordable place to live.

None of the American cities included in the study made the top 10 in the educational returns category, despite several being home to some of the best educational institutions in the world. The poor showing was largely due to the high cost of tuition for their undergraduate programs.

Some cities, including Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, saw their educational returns ranking pushed down due to a high cost of living.

The EIU included a ‘financial returns’ sub-index owing to the fact that the parents of international students and often international students themselves like to make investments in the city where the students live.

None of the North American cities included in the study made the top 30 in this sub-index, due in Canada to relatively high taxes and in the United States to excessive “money laundering regulations and terrorism legislation” stifling financial freedom.

Hong Kong placed first in this ranking, followed by Auckland, New Zealand (2nd) and Santiago, Chile (3rd), which benefited from having comparatively few regulations on finance and banking that restrict international capital flows.

Three Canadian cities made the top 30 in the ‘real-estate returns’ sub-index: Toronto (4th), Montreal (12th), and Vancouver (13th), while Hong Kong took the top spot thanks to its hot real estate market.

Canadian cities did well due to a combination of well-performing real-estate markets and avoidance of the boom-busts that affected many other world cities in the period leading up to and following the global mortgage crisis.

Canada’s openness to foreign investment also helped push its cities above those in countries with real-estate markets that have seen substantial gains in recent years but which have more restrictions on foreign property ownership, like Shanghai, Bangkok, Mumbai and Seoul.

Immigration rules benefit Canada

Canadian cities took the top five spots in the work experience sub-index due to immigration laws that allow foreign students, upon completion of their study programs, to obtain post-graduate work permits that are valid for durations equaling the length of their study in Canada.

This contrasts with the U.S. where international students have few options to stay and work in the United States upon completing their studies.

Edmonton’s combination of a hot labour market and low provincial taxes gave it an edge over its Canadian counterparts and earned it the top spot in the ranking, followed by Hamilton (2nd), Toronto (3rd), Vancouver (4th) and Montreal (5th).

Montreal managed to also share the top spot in the ‘social experience’ sub-index with London, England, thanks to its low rates of violent crime, high cultural diversity and its world renowned cultural attractions.

Canada’s high levels of multiculturalism and low crime rates helped three other Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton, make the top 30 in this ranking.

As incomes in China rapidly grow, parents in the country’s large and education-minded population are increasingly able to afford a foreign university education for their children.

Therefore the good showing of Canadian cities in the Sea Turtle Index, which caters mostly to Chinese students seeking to study abroad, portends well for Canadian efforts to make the country a top destination for international students.

With the federal government having committed itself to making it easier for international students to stay and work in Canada and become permanent residents through programs like the Canadian Experience Class, Canada’s appeal to international students could increase even more in coming years.

Nova Scotia Premier to Press for End to Diplomat Strike Citing Visa Delays

Nova Scotia Premier Darrel Dexter says Atlantic Canada is being harmed economically by the strike of foreign service officers (Government of Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says the strike by Canadian foreign service officers is hurting Canadian provinces by delaying the processing of student visas.

International students studying in Canada provide a significant economic boost to communities across the country, including several in Nova Scotia, through the spending money they bring with them.

A report done last year by University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives found that international students contribute $6.5 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

Dexter warned that this could be jeopardized by the foreign service officers strike, as universities in the U.S. will be more appealing to students wishing to study abroad if they are unable to get their Canadian student visas quickly:

“If you’ve got five universities on your radar and two of them are in Canada and three are in the United States and you get your visa into the United States in three days then when you are trying to plan for the future if you have to wait two months before you know if you’re even going to get a student visa it makes it a heck of a lot more likely you are you going to choose one of the three options in the U.S.”

Strike action by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) is affecting the processing of visa applications in 12 foreign missions, including those in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

The premier says the provinces should urge the federal government to escalate the labour dispute in order to resolve it, which most likely would lead to a court ordered end to the strike.

Immigration Canada Announces That Over 100,000 International Students Entered Country in 2012

UBC campus in downtown Vancouver. The number of international students entering Canada has increased by 60 percent from 2004, to over 100,000 last year (CICS News)

Canada admitted over 100,000 international students in 2012 according to an announcement by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on Tuesday. The number marks a 60 percent increase over the number of foreign students hosted by Canada 2004, and demonstrates the growing significance of international education to the country.

CIC promoted the milestone by noting that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)’s report on international students in Canada, titled International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity, estimates that the annual economic contribution of international students is more than $8 billion.

In another report, commissioned by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and released last summer, the author of the report, University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope, argued that in addition to the direct economic contribution foreign students make to Canada through their spending on tuition, rent and other living expenses, they also benefit the country by creating economic and cultural links between it and other countries.

Toope wrote that those links would enable Canada to conduct more international trade and investment with rapidly growing economies in the future, particularly in Asia where many of the international students originate.

In a statement on Tuesday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney extolled the trend of an increasing international student population in Canada: “Attracting and retaining the best and brightest immigrants from around the world is part of the government’s commitment to grow Canada’s economy and ensure long-term prosperity.

The steady growth in numbers confirms that Canada remains a destination of choice for international students because of the remarkable educational opportunities that exist in our world class institutions.”

CIC has attempted to make it easier for international students to transition into permanent residence in Canada with new immigration programs like the PhD stream of the Federal Skilled Worker Program, and the Canadian Experience Class, which allows those with one year of work experience in Canada to become permanent residents.

Visitors and Students to Canada From India Booming According to Immigration Department

The Canadian High Commission in Chandigarh. The visa office has seen rapid growth in the number of study permits and visitor visas issued to Indian nationals in the region (GOOGLE MAPS)

The number of visitor visas the Canadian government issues in India’s Punjab region has increased by 300 percent from 2005 levels according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

CIC says that approximately 17,608 visitor visas were issued in 2012 by its Chandigarh office, which serves the Punjab region.

The growth in the number of Indian visitors to Canada has corresponded with the rapid growth of India’s economy and the emergence of an increasingly sizeable Indian middle class with the disposable income to travel abroad.

The number of student visas issued has seen an even more dramatic increase. According to CIC, 5,200 student permits were issued by the Chandigarh office in 2012, a more than 3000 percent increase from the 173 issued by the office in 2004 when it first opened.

At Friday’s press conference, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney lauded his department’s achievements in reducing processing times for visitor visas for Indian visitors, from 12-days for 80 percent of cases in 2011, to 5-days in 2012 for the same portion of cases.

He also celebrated an 80 percent approval rate for applications it received through the office for its new Parent and Grandparent Super Visa, which CIC introduced in December 2011 as a replacement for the parent and grand-parent sponsorship stream of the Family Class permanent residence immigration program.

The Super Visa grants parents and grand-parents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents permission to stay in Canada for up to ten years without the need to apply for extensions to their visa.

B.C. Government Unveils New Website For International Students

Over a dozen English language schools in downtown Vancouver cater to international students. The government of B.C. is seeking to increase the number of foreign students who choose to study in the province (CICS News)

On Monday, the provincial government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, unveiled an updated LearnLiveBC website to promote B.C.’s post-secondary institutions to international students and provide foreign students with information on the educational programs available in the province.

As part of the province’s efforts to build upon its strength as a top destination for international students and promote B.C.’s colleges and universities overseas, the LearnLiveBC website will be made available in several languages, including Korean, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese, over the course of 2013.

The website includes links to resources like the educationplanner.ca site, which catalogues and allows users to digitally search thousands of programs available in B.C.’s post-secondary institutions.

The B.C. government says that there are currently 100,000 international students in the province, and that it will gain 1,800 jobs and increase its GDP by $100 million for every 10 per cent increase in the number of international students coming to the province.

The creation of the LearnLiveBC website is one part of British Columbia’s International Education Strategy which was unveiled in May 2012.

Canadian Government Proposes Limiting Student Visas to Attendees of Provincially Recognized Schools

International students in Vancouver, Canada. International students are estimated to contribute nearly $6 billion to the Canadian economy annually (CICS News)

In an effort to stop abuse of the International Student Program by those seeking to work illegally in Canada and stem the growth of a student-visa mill industry that harms the reputation of Canadian educational institutions, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on Friday proposed to parliament new regulations that would limit student visas to enrollees of institutions recognized by provinces and territories.

In announcing the measures, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney extolled the benefits of international students for Canada and his department’s intention to maintain the high educational standards of Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“Attracting the best and brightest young minds from around the world is key to the continued success of Canada’s economy and long-term prosperity,” said Kenney.

“But there are too many stories of international students who pay a lot of money and leave their families back home to study in Canada, only to find out they have been misled. These changes will help us better protect international students and the reputation of Canada’s post-secondary education system by making sure that international students are coming to quality institutions that comply with basic standards of accountability.”

The proposed rules would require that a student visa holder’s primary intent in Canada is to study, and would grant CIC the authority to request evidence from study visa holders to prove they are complying with this condition and revoke their student visas if they fail to do so.

The proposed rules would enact recommendations of a 2011 review of the International Student Program.

Canada Not Viewed As Top Destination for Foreign Students: Foreign Affairs Dept

'Old Vic' at the University of Toronto (U of T). The U of T was one of the few Canadian educational institutions perceived as a world class post-secondary institution by survey participants in China, India and Brazil

A Foreign Affairs department commissioned study completed in March finds that Canada is not seen as a top destination for prospective international students in Brazil, China, and India.

The sobering Ipsos-Reid report says that “Canada is a not top-of-mind destination for foreign study for participants in any of the three countries except with Brazilian participants interested in language studies” and that “there is no awareness that Canada has world-class educational establishments”.

Despite the poor survey results, Canada attracts nearly 100,000 international students every year, who contribute an estimated $6.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy.

There have been several high-profile calls on Canadian post-secondary institutions and governments this year to build on this success and increase Canada’s share of the international education market.

The federal government has heeded the calls and made efforts to promote the Canadian education brand, as reported by the Globe and Mail in an article on Tuesday:

Initiatives designed to forge educational links have been a feature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s strategy to deepen economic ties with Asia during his trips to China and India this year.

Meanwhile, Governor-General David Johnston travelled to Brazil in the spring with 30 university presidents in tow, one of the biggest delegations abroad to push the benefits of Canadian education.

The Ipsos-Reid study recommends that the federal government improve the “Imagine Education in Canada” campaign, which it promotes internationally.

Specifically, it says the campaign should provide more information on the advantages of Canadian education to foreign students, like the global school ranking of Canadian post-secondary institutions, the top majors offered, and famous/successful people who have attended Canadian universities.

It also recommends advertising the practical advantages of living in Canada, like the high standard of living, good value for money, and the natural beauty of the country.

Canada to Keep Immigration Level at 250,000 in 2013

International students in Vancouver, Canada. CIC is seeking to increase the percentage of immigrants admitted under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), which allows temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada to apply for permanent residence if they have Canadian work experience (CICS News)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced today that it will keep immigration levels at 240,000-265,000 in 2013, for the seventh straight year. The maintenance of immigration numbers from previous years amidst a growing Canadian population means Canada will have a lower immigration rate as a percentage of its population, and rebuff calls by several prominent organizations to increase immigration levels to one percent of Canada’s population.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said earlier this year that Canada would hold off on increasing immigration levels until the country does a better job of bringing immigrant employment and income rates up to the Canadian average, and until public sentiment, which in some recent opinion polls weighs against increases in immigration levels, supports higher levels.

CIC said that it also intends to increase the number of new permanent residents admitted through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program from 6,000 in 2011 to 10,000 in 2013.

The Canadian Experience Class was created in 2008 to allow individuals residing in Canada on temporary resident visas to transition to permanent residence. Foreign temporary workers with at least two years of Canadian work experience, and foreign graduates of Canadian post-secondary institutions with at least one year of Canadian work experience are eligible to immigrate under the program, which CIC says admits the kind of immigrants that would be more likely to integrate well into the Canadian labour market.

Economist Tells Business Forum That Canada Faces Labour Shortage

Speakers at the 2012 Global Business Forum, held at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, included the US ambassador to Canada David Jacobson and Boom, Bust and Echo author David Foot (Hedwig Storch)

In a talk that could nudge policy makers toward increasing immigration levels, Toronto economist and demographer David Foot told an audience of business executives, academics, diplomats and government leaders that Canada will face a severe labour shortage over the next two decades as millions of Canadians enter retirement.

“Canada will have more old than young people and no amount of immigration can change the figure,” said Foot.

Foot is the author of Boom, Bust & Echo, a book that forecasts changes to Canada’s economy and way of life as the population ages.

At the talk, he counselled that Canada invite more international students to settle in the country, and suggested Mexico, which has the youngest population in North America, as a good place to “recruit”.

Focusing Canadian immigration on international students has been a recurring recommendation over the last year, which makes a change in immigration law that makes it easier for foreign students to become permanent residents more likely.

Foot was one of 25 speakers who gave speeches at today’s Global Business Forum in Banff, Alberta, an event hosted annually by the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Iranian Immigrants Being Singled Out For Extra Scrutiny by Canadian Government

Iran's largest car manufacturer, Iran-Khodro, is one of the hundreds of companies sanctioned under Canada's Special Economic Measures Act (SEPA). An employment history with the firm can potentially cause difficulties for Iranians seeking to immigrate to Canada.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said this week that Iranians applying for immigration to Canada are being “rigorously” screened by the Canadian government for links to the Iranian political leadership.

Kenney cited the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), saying it bars any one linked to “the Iranian Revolutionary Guard … the Basij or senior members of the regime” from immigrating to Canada.

This week the Harper government placed Iran and Syria on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and section 34 of the IRPA which Kenney referred to deems members of organizations believed to be engaged in terrorism to be inadmissible to Canada.

A number of Iranian-Canadian human rights and dissident group activists have for years urged the Canadian government to prevent individuals linked to the Iranian regime from immigrating to Canada. They say that senior members of the Iranian government have managed immigrate to Canada and worry that they will be able to extend the reach of the Iranian government into Canada and intimidate Iranian-Canadians who oppose the regime.

Prominent Iranian-born human-rights activist and former Miss Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who is married to Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said in July that the Iranian embassy in Ottawa should be shut down, saying it “has no purpose here” and is used to spread “propaganda”.

The Harper government has heeded their calls and put in place two rounds of sanctions against Iran, in July 2010 and November 2011, as well as shutting down the Iranian embassy in Canada and the Canadian embassy in Tehran and putting Iran on its list of state sponsors of terrorism this week.

The punitive actions have affected many with no links to the regime however. The closure of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa this week left thousands of Iranian students without consular services in Canada and no where to turn to receive them.

Likewise, Canadian economic sanctions, ostensibly put in place to prevent the Iranian government from funding its nuclear program, resulted in a major Canadian financial institution, TD Bank, shutting down the bank accounts of over 100 Iranian-Canadians.

It has also led to a few cases of Iranians with no relationship to the Iranian government having their application for immigration to Canada rejected in the last phase of the selection process. The reason given was that they had an employment history that included positions at companies sanctioned due to their links to the Iranian government.

For Iran’s professional class, avoiding employment at firms with links to the Iranian government is nearly impossible in some cases, as Iran’s government and Revolutionary Guard have major stakes in almost every large commercial entity in the country, so the effect of these sanctions is to prevent many of Iran’s best and brightest, who have no political links, and are seeking a better life in a new country, from being able to immigrate to Canada.

Would-be Iranian immigrants have also been facing extra difficulties in the immigration process due to the effects of financial sanctions imposed last year, which require any one wanting to send their money from Iran to Canada to first acquire a special permit from the federal government that can take any where from four to eight weeks to issue.