Nova Scotia

Expert opinion mixed on changes to N.S. student immigration program

Immigration lawyers offer different predictions about how disqualifying some international students from a fast track program will impact immigration numbers overall.

Immigration lawyers differ on whether new rules will make a difference in population

International students raise their hands if they've already worked more than six months in Nova Scotia before being disqualified from the Nova Scotia Experience: Express Entry program because they graduated from other provinces. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

Immigration experts in Nova Scotia have mixed views about how changes to a fast-track program for international students will affect over-all immigration. 

Last week, the province disqualified students who studied outside the province from applying to the Nova Scotia Experience: Express Entry (NSEEE) immigration stream. 

It was a shock to hundreds of foreign students who had already moved to Nova Scotia and worked for months toward the program's one-year employment target. It offered the chance to apply for permanent residency after 12 months rather than the usual two years. 

"People have come here on the understanding that this program is available to them," said Elizabeth Wozniak of North Star Immigration Law in Halifax, "To have that program pulled out from under them midway through doesn't seem fair at all."

On Thursday Labour, Skills and Immigration Minister Jill Balser announced a record boost in Nova Scotia's immigration allocation from the federal government — 400 new spots for the provincial nominee program, and an extra 1,173 spaces under the Atlantic Immigration Program. 

Wozniak thinks restricting the NSEEE could make it more challenging to fill those new spots. 

Still a draw for students

"The changes to this program ... really are going to make it the least attractive of the immigration programs, whereas in the past it was one of the ones that was the most popular," she said. 

But an immigration lawyer in Bridgewater believes Nova Scotia officials will still be able to fill the province's expanded allocation. 

"I don't recall them ever falling below their quotas or allocations, so I expect that they will meet that," said David Nurse of McInnes Cooper. 

Nurse says the top tiers of Canadian student immigrants are graduating with master's and PhD degrees, and usually find work right away in their chosen fields. 

He says students in Nova Scotia's immigration streams play an important role in local labour markets while upgrading their language and employment skills. 

"They are adding to the labour market. They're contributing here in Nova Scotia," he said. 

Support from a former student worker

Samual Shaji came to Nova Scotia from southern India to study. 

He graduated from Cape Breton University in 2020 with a degree in environmental science. 

Then he secured a job managing a McDonald's restaurant in Bedford, and was able to apply for permanent residency after 12-months thanks to the NSEEE. 

But Shaji says many international students in Nova Scotia aren't so fortunate. 

He says it's difficult to get restaurant jobs in smaller communities such as Sydney and Antigonish, and that lack of experience means students from elsewhere often get hired first after graduation. 

"There is a McDonalds and a Tim Horton's in every street in Toronto or Edmonton, so they have more experience in that job," Shaji said, "Employers tend to hire them."

'They know the market of Nova Scotia'

"A lot of international students are moving from county to county because they cannot get into any job that will help them in immigration," he said. 

While Shaji sympathizes with the struggle of all international students in Canada, he thinks focusing the fast track on Nova Scotia students will lead to more graduates sticking around. 

He says familiarity with the local economy allows greater success opening businesses such as restaurants and grocers stores. 

"The graduates from Nova Scotia, know Nova Scotia and the needs of Nova Scotia better," Shaji said, "They know the market of Nova Scotia."


Jack Julian


Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian