By Chantal Moore

How US immigration changes could drive international students North

Earlier this year, American President Donald Trump signed a revised travel ban blocking the issuance of visas to people from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and suspending the refugee program. This ban could impact roughly 15,000 of the 1,000,000 international students in the US. [1]

Given the normal application-admission-registration cycle, it is premature to gauge the impact the Trump administration will have on international student numbers in Canada, but post-secondary institutions are reporting large increases in applications and web hits. According to The Globe and Mail, the University of Toronto had an 80% increase in US applicants this year; mid-to-small size institutions are reporting similar increases. [2]

Populist sentiments being expressed from high levels towards specific ethnic and immigrant populations may be enough to drive some international students North to Canada.

Complicating this, proposed H1-B Visa reforms could limit work visas for foreign workers and graduates. Legislation, actions and rhetoric that reinforces “America first” and “Us vs. Them” will be detrimental to attracting international students into the US.

Canada has been open and welcoming in reaction to US immigration changes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a welcome message to those escaping terror and persecution and Universities Canada issued a statement warning against the effects of a travel ban on International Education.

The appeal of a Canadian degree

Political factors aside, a Canadian degree is economical. The relative value of the Canadian dollar has made a Canadian education more affordable for many. For example, first-year international student tuition at University of British Columbia is roughly $34,000 CAD, the same as an American student might spend on domestic out-of-state tuition.

Canadian post-secondary institutions are known globally for high standards of quality and perform well in world rankings, with the University of Toronto, McGill and the University of British Columbia landing in the top 50 of the World University Rankings results.

Then there is the draw of safety and liveability. Canadian cities are known for their peaceful nature. Vancouver has been ranked the #3 most liveable city in the world by The Economist magazine due to factors such as health care and education.

Removing barriers to residency and employment

In a competitive market for international students, the world’s top education destinations must put more on the table than just attractive schools. Students are asking: “Will I fit in here?” “What are my long-term career prospects?” and “Can I become a permanent resident?”

As one American graduate who studied in Canada writes:

“When I was looking for graduate school, Canada seemed like a great option for many reasons. I liked the idea of being an international student given my research was looking at international student experience, I liked that there was an option to stay and work after graduation on a post-graduation work permit, and I will admit, the lower tuition (due to the exchange rate and my program choice) was a draw as well. Plus, I could take out US government loans to attend if I needed.

I am now going on my 8th year here and still loving BC. I have been working since the second year of my graduate program and received my permanent residency just over a year ago. For me, my decision to move here for further education was a win-win. I could receive a world recognized degree, gain international work experience, not go in to copious amounts of debt, meanwhile, knowing that my experiences and education here would easily translate back to the US should I decide to return”.

Canada offers exciting career opportunities. Vancouver, for example, is known as “Hollywood North” for its thriving film and entertainment sector. According to the Seattle Times, employment of highly skilled tech workers in Vancouver has grown 27% over the past decade. Many US tech companies have set up shop in Canada due to more flexible policies on foreign workers. Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook now have outposts in Vancouver and more are expected to come. [3]

Canada has recognized the need to do more for its international students and is opening doors to recruit the best and the brightest. With a dwindling workforce and rising skills gap, attracting strong students who can contribute to Canada’s workforce is important. At the institution level, more universities and colleges are recognizing the need to help international students transition into the local job market. At the community level, organizations such as the Immigration Services Society of BC are supporting newcomers.

Canada offers full-time international students at designated learning institutions the chance to work up to 20 hours per week, easing their entry into work. Post-secondary advisors might also encourage international students to enrol in cooperative education (co-op) placements that introduce them to the BC workforce. The Province recently invested $1.3 million in co-op and has been promoting its benefits to students and employers. [4]

Finally, recent changes for Canada’s Express Entry immigration process have made it easier for international degree holders to become permanent residents. In 2016, the Express Entry program was updated to award more points for international students who complete degrees in Canada. Canada also lifted the Visa requirements for travellers from Mexico. Post-secondary advisors are staying up-to-date on Visa changes and how this may affect students.

While there is no guarantee that a Canadian education is a golden ticket to citizenship and a lucrative career, there is reason to be optimistic. Political, economical and social factors are combining to create the ripest conditions for Canada as an education destination.


Chantal Moore is the Manager, Communications at the British Columbia Council for International Education. She is a believer in the value of intercultural experiences, having lived abroad and travelled to over 25 countries. She has post-secondary degrees from Queen’s University and Acadia University and now lives in Vancouver, BC.


[1] (13/03/2017). A pause in international students. URL:

[2] (23/01/2017). Canadian universities see rise in US applicants. URL:

[3] (21/03/2017). Trump’s immigration policies give Vancouver’s tech sector an extra bump. URL:

[4] (7/04/2017). Students and employers both benefit from co-op education opportunities. URL: