UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The influence of higher education on immigration policy in Canada Schinnerl, Sandra


The number of international students with a valid study permit in Canada has more than tripled since 1998 to 827,586 in 2019. Once described as a laggard, Canada is now an industry leader in international student recruitment. Federal government investment and policy change in visa processing, temporary work authorizations and immigration pathways for international student graduates have facilitated year over year increases in international student enrolments since the mid-2000s. These changes are in stark contrast to international student immigration policy only twenty years prior but little research exists to explain this major policy shift. The literature that does exist hypothesizes that policy change is prompted by competitive policy diffusion in which Canada considered the policies of other countries to create their own for competitive advantage. I argue this explanation is incomplete and does not account for the internal special interest lobbying taking place by the higher education sector. Through an outcomes-based process tracing approach I establish that higher education institutions and their associations did not respond to government policy change, but instead lobbied government for changes to temporary and permanent immigration. This research provides a detailed within case account of the chronology of policy change using lobbying records, media and document analysis and elite interviews to develop a series of causal process observations. Policy influence or success is then determined using the degree of preference attainment methodology that compares policy preferences of special interests with policy outcomes and contributes to the understanding of interest group theory. The results highlight the cross- jurisdictional and inter-departmental challenges both between the provinces and the federal government and across federal departments. Higher education sector leaders navigated this jurisdictional logjam by looking for government allies and creating a coalition to advance their interests. As increasing numbers of international students graduate with work authorization and an aspiration to immigrate to Canada permanently, there is a question about the evolving role of higher education institutions in the migration pathway in terms of becoming a de facto portal for migration and as a migration hub along the responsibilities that come with it.

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