Confederation College says its population of international students has grown over the last few years from a couple dozen to 300.

International education director Miriam Wall said students from foreign countries bring diversity and culture to the campus, and keep programs open that might otherwise have to close because of insufficient enrollment.

"They play a key role … in making sure that ... Canadian students ... have the same choice that they had in the past,” she said.

Miriam Wall

International education director Miriam Wall says if Confederation College did not have international students taking some of the programs that otherwise would not have much enrolment "we would be challenged to continue to offer the full range of programs that we currently do." (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

“If that wasn't the case, those students either would be limited in their career choices or would have to move somewhere else to take those programs — and not everybody can afford that."

Engineering, aerospace and international business management are popular college programs for international students.

During a career workshop at Confederation College on Wednesday, Mayor Keith Hobbs told the dozens of international students in attendance there are plenty of job opportunities in Thunder Bay — and the city hopes they stay after graduating.

Bhargav Dholakiya, a student from India studying instrumentation engineering, said he wants to make his home in Thunder Bay.

"From past one-and-a-half years I loved Thunder Bay.  I went to Toronto for ... vacation and I see like, things are like too much crowded,” he said. “So now I'm planning to stay ... here if I get the good job."

The international students heard from local employers during the workshop about potential careers.

The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and the Multicultural Association also provided information about visa applications and community support.

Local student population dwindling

Wall said Thunder Bay has a declining student population in its elementary and secondary schools and focusing on meeting the needs international students is becoming more important.

“The mandate for Confederation College is to serve the needs of northwestern Ontario.  But we have to do that in a way that's viable,” she said.

“We've seen primary schools close, then we've seen high school, secondary schools close. If those students are not in those institutions they're not coming to our institution either.  And if we did not have international students taking some of the programs that otherwise we would not have a lot of students in, we would be challenged to continue to offer the full range of programs that we currently do."

Fengyi Zhang

Fengyi Zhang, from Beijing, China, is a first-year International Business and Trade student at Confederation College. She says she hopes to find work in Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Fengyi Zhang, a 1st year International Business and Trade students from Beijing, China said she hopes to find work in Thunder Bay so she can stay here after she graduates.

"I want to, first of all, settle down for a little while ... Thunder Bay is... a very good neighbourhood and I like the community here."

Zhang said Canada has the lifestyle she's looking for.

"Here... everyone is more independent and more free ... free to talk and free to do whatever they want. And it's less crowded than ... where I am [from]. And the environment is better. The natural scenery is very impressive,” she said.

“I think the living conditions [are] my first priority to choose to stay in Canada."