The impact of COVID‑19 pandemic on international students’ school-to-work transition and pathways to permanent residency
Under the recently announced 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Canada will aim to welcome over 400,000 new permanent residents each year emphasizing how immigration will be the cornerstone of Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan. International students will play an essential role in this endeavor, as they are identified as an ideal pool of highly skilled immigrants that can fill the essential skill gaps and demographic needs. In Canada, approximately 20% of post-secondary students are international students, and approximately half of these graduating international students apply for permanent residency and remain in Canada. However, in the midst of current uncertainty due to COVID-19, some are raising concerns about retaining international students in Canada post-graduation. Even before the COVID-19, prior empirical research has found that international students experience difficulties during their school-to-work transition, particularly in career planning and job search. These challenges may have been further exacerbated by the pandemic as opportunities to establish and/or expand their social network and acquire cultural capital became even more limited. This raises an important question about whether their school-to-work transition experiences during this pandemic period may impact their future pathways to permanent residency. The inattention to providing international students with adequate resources to address their needs during the pandemic may adversely affect future recruitment and retention of these students in Canada. This is especially important for non-traditional immigration destinations (e.g., mid-sized cities such as Halifax, Nova Scotia the context of this proposed project). Given international students’ contribution to Canada’s economy and the broader community, this is of critical importance. Nonetheless, limited research has currently been conducted in this realm.
To address such gap, we will conduct a longitudinal qualitative study with 40 international students in their graduating year at Saint Mary’s University (SMU), Halifax, Nova Scotia. Through three separate qualitative interviews to follow each of these students’ school-to-work transition experiences, our goal is to examine how international students are planning and navigating their transition during the pandemic period, and what supports they are receiving from their post-secondary institution, community, and government. Further, we also consider how these may impact graduating international students’ decision to stay in Canada and consider applying for permanent residency in the future. The proposed study will be informed by an intersectional framework to assess how COVID‑19 has impacted international students’ school-to-work transition experiences, and how it may also vary by their socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic status, length of stay in Canada). Despite numerous studies outlining career-related challenges by class, gender, race/ethnicity, and so forth the current literature examining international students’ school-to-work transition has not sufficiently considered the simultaneous intersection between these social dimensions. In response to this notable gap, the proposed project will integrate an intersectional approach to examine how international students’ experiences of school-to-work transitions may also be strongly shaped by these intersections. Ultimately, our goal is to provide valuable insights into international students’ experiences and their immediate needs in navigating the school-to-work transition during the current COVID‑19 pandemic, so that relevant stakeholders can utilize the results in implementing adequate response strategies in a timely manner.