The Liberal government is looking to ease some rules to make it easier for international students who have been "shortchanged" by express entry to obtain permanent residency, says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum.
Express entry was launched by the previous Conservative government as a way to fill the country's labour needs by fast-tracking permanent residency, in six months or less, for highly skilled foreign nationals.
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"We must do more to attract students to this country as permanent residents," McCallum said following a meeting this week in Toronto with his provincial and territorial counterparts.
"International students have been shortchanged by the express entry system," McCallum said. "They are the cream of the crop, in terms of potential future Canadians."
Many international students have been calling on the Liberal government to give them extra points for post-secondary credentials obtained in Canada by making some changes to the system used to rank foreign nationals under express entry.
Harpreet Singh, 24, is an international student who emigrated from India in 2011 after he finished high school.
He told CBC News that he applied for express entry over a year ago and although he has obtained a two-year post-secondary degree from a college in Ontario, he still doesn't have enough points to obtain permanent residency.
"If nothing works out, I'll have to go back," Singh said in a phone interview with CBC News.
Singh is currently pursuing a four-year university bachelor's degree in business management.
Court international students 'first'
Mark Holthe, an immigration lawyer and partner at the law firm of Holthe Tilleman in Alberta, said that while the government has acknowledged that international students do make an important economic contribution to the country, a report tabled by the Department of Immigration last week fell short on details.
"There was very little within the report to suggest anything will change for international students or many temporary foreign works who were hit the hardest" by the launch of express entry.
This week, McCallum said he was committed to reforming the system "to be more welcoming to international students."
"I do know that it's become more difficult since express entry for international students to become permanent residents, and I believe that international students are among the most fertile source of new immigrants for Canada.
"By definition they're educated, they speak English or French, they know something about the country. So they should be first on our list of people whom we court to come to Canada," McCallum said on Monday.
'Other possible reforms' to express entry
McCallum also said he is reviewing the need for employers to apply for a labour market impact assessment — a document required to hire a foreign national over a Canadian one.
"I also spoke about other possible reforms, including whether there's a need for labour market impact assessments for express entry," McCallum said on Monday.
Some businesses said the assessment requirement was the biggest flaw with express entry, in a report published earlier this year by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber said the introduction of this new requirement was a "misstep" that made it "extremely challenging" for businesses to attract highly skilled workers.
The Liberals are moving forward with reversing some changes made to the Citizenship Act that were made under the Tories.
Bill C-6 proposes to count 50 per cent of the time a foreign national spends in Canada before receiving permanent residency toward Canadian citizenship — a move that would also help international students.
More details are expected to come in the Liberal government's first budget on March 22.