Covid-19 Just the Final Blow for US—Canada already the Preferred Study Destination for International Students

Hit hard by the disruptions caused by the pandemic, international students in the US received a double whammy when the US President announced that international students choosing online classes over in-person classroom instructions will be stripped of their study visas.

Following intense criticism, this rule was withdrawn but only for those already studying in the US. A foreign student applying for the F1 visa will not be allowed if he applies for an online course.

The policy flip-flop and uncertainties have led to questions whether the US will lose its status as the preferred study destination for foreign students? Recent data shows that perhaps this has already happened and the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will only serve to reinforce Canada’s status as the study destination for foreign students from across the globe.

US and Foreign Students—the Numbers Say it All

Between academic years 2016-17 and 2018-19, there has been a 4.3 percent fall in enrollment of international students in US universities. Undergraduate admissions fell by 3.5 percent while graduate admissions fell by more than five percent.

A significant reason for this fall was the steep decline in number of Indian students getting admitted into graduate-level computer science and engineering courses in the US. Between the above-mentioned years, Indian admissions fell by a staggering 25 percent.

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The Preferred Alternative? Canada!

And where did these foreign students go? To Canada. Indian admissions in Canadian universities rose from around 76,000 in 2016 to more than 172,500 in 2018, a 127 percent jump in just three years.

Why Canada?

The answer to this question likes in another bit of data that has nothing to do with university admissions at all. The number of Indians becoming Canadian permanent residents jumped by 117 percent from 39,340 in 2016 to 85,585 in 2019.

For students from India, China, Vietnam and other countries, foreign education has always been the pathway to something more than just a foreign degree. The US was popular as long the F-1 student visa—24 month Optional Practical Training—H-1B work visa—EB-Category immigrant visa route was a predictable and stable option for international students.

Now, F1 students won’t be admitted unless they expose themselves to Covid-19 infection risks in classrooms. There have been proposals to shut down the OPT program.

The H-1B visa is beset with frequent rule changes, a complicated lottery system, huge backlogs, and adverse policy changes and administrative decisions. And waiting periods for EB-category visa approvals range from a few decades to more than 150 years.

Canada, on the other hand, is doing all it can to make foreign students and skilled workers feel welcome. The Post-Graduate Work Permit allows international graduates to quickly transition from the student visa to a work permit in Canada.

The Global Skills Strategy offers two-week processing of work permit for high-skilled foreign professionals. A foreign student qualifying for a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program can plan for permanent residence through Express Entry within a year of completing his/her degree.

With H1-B and EB-category immigration suspended till the end of 2020, US employers are offshoring to Canada, which means a degree from Canada has become the simplest and easiest route to a satisfying career and prosperous future for the ambitious foreign student.  

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