This week, we interview Thomas Prieur, Executive Director of Stepwest, an internship and work experience placement provider in Canada, about how new regulations in the International Experience Canada scheme affect international students and the industry.


What impact are the changes to the International Experience Canada programme likely to have on the work experience sector?

Prior to these new regulations, host companies who were interested in hosting international students only had to provide an internship offer letter and indeed sign an internship agreement with the educational institution of the student. This process was pretty simple for them, and the only real competition for internationals students was coming from local Canadian institutions’ students for which the hiring process was even easier as they are either Canadian citizens not requiring a work permit - or if they are foreign nationals but enrolled in a Canadian coop study programs then a coop work permit was already provided to them for the purpose of finding an internship.

With the new regulation, there is a definite disadvantage for international students to find an internship in Canada compared to locally based students, not just in the practicality of assessing a candidate profile, but now time-wise; the employer has to create an application and submit to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) which will require them to spend time following this new process; as well as monetary - the employer has to pay a $230 compliance fee per intern, which they do not have to do with local students. So it seems logical, that if a company has the choice between two candidates with similar profiles; except one is from a local Canadian institution and the other one is based overseas, they will go for the locally based student.

This will make it harder for international students to find a viable host company willing to go over this whole process. This will make the use of a placement agency like Stepwest, very important for international students. We are able, via our network, to find these suitable host companies, and also have the resources and expertise to explain to them how the application process works. So in the end I believe it will bring more international students to use the help of a placement agency to help with securing their required international internship in Canada. So from a pure micro economic point of view, I believe this will increase the demand for professional internship placements.

Did the timing of the announcement take the industry by surprise?

However, for this year since the timing of the announcement by Citizenship and Immigration Canada was very sudden - only two weeks prior to the opening of the International Experience Canada - this took a lot of people by surprise. Many students had already found and agreed their internships with host companies, and now they have to explain to them there is a new process and fee for them. We have seen an increase of over 200 per cent in inquiries for our Student Internship programme in Canada since the announcement from CIC. I believe this is a direct result of students who had an internship secured but with the new regulation their host companies decided to cancel their internship offers, and these students have deadlines with their universities, so they are now panicking as most of them need these international internships to validate their year.

How does the policy impact on Canada’s competitiveness?

This all brings another potential threat for the Canadian work experience sector; the possibility for international students to simply look at other destinations if they seek an internship in an English-speaking country. The USA and Australia have always been very popular worldwide. And also let’s not forget the UK for European students as it does not require any work permit for EU citizens. So from a macroeconomic point of view, these regulations might actually bring down the numbers of international students doing their internships in Canada, in favour for other English-speaking countries who will directly benefit from the tougher Canadian process.

Does this mean that costs to students/agents will have to rise?

From a cost of service point of view, it will most likely make it more expensive for placement agencies to find a suitable host company, as we will have to spend more time searching, but also once we find one, we will now have to be very thorough explaining the application process and how to pay the fee online so the whole process will require more time investment. So we may have to impact this decrease in net profit by increasing slightly the retail price of these programmes. This could be done, as long as the demand from students increases, and the offer from host companies decrease, then logically the market will regulate itself, with the law of supply and demand.

But again if we look at the global market of the internship placement industry, Canadian internship providers cannot be too high retail wise, otherwise they will push these students with restricted budgets towards other countries. For this reason, at Stepwest we have decided not to increase our retail fee, but instead create very straightforward guideline documents for host companies so our net profit per client may decrease but we are hoping the overall demand for these programmes increases, to balance our revenue or even increase it.

What happens to the compliance fee if the application is unsuccessful or withdrawn?

The fee is refundable in case the work permit is refused or if the employer withdraws the offer before the work permit has been issued.

With this policy along with the removal of the work co-op stream from language schools last year, does it seem like CIC is pursuing a policy of restricting work experience/internship opportunities for international students?

I think the intentions of CIC are viable. They are trying to ‘clean-up’ the industry from any abuse that could have or did occur due to the easy access of these work permits. Also I think they are trying to protect the Canadian education industry by giving a bit of an advantage to students (Canadian citizens or foreign nationals) studying at [higher education or vocational] Canadian institutions. These students are investing their money in the Canadian education industry by paying tuition, which finances public but also private educational institutions which hire thousands of teachers and workers. Students who graduate from Canadian institutions also are trained and ready to integrate into Canadian sectors and tend to begin their careers in Canada after graduation, so they eventually can become future tax payers, starting businesses etc. which contributes to fuel the Canadian economy. In contrast, most international interns will return to their country to finish their study and only a small percentage will come back or stay in Canada to contribute to the industry.

The only thing that I can regret is the timing of the announcement of these new regulations. If these would have been announced several weeks prior to the opening of the IEC, this could have avoided many international students ending up in very difficult situations towards their current study requirements. So, hopefully, future new regulations will be added in a more comprehensive timely manner by CIC.

Finally, let’s remember that CIC recently took over the IEC initiative which used to be managed by the ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it seems logical that the Immigration Department will have a more conservative and protective strategy with a more country-focused mind when it comes to internships, compared to the Foreign Affairs Department, which was logically more open to the international.


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