Education and immigration policy: a two-way street

Sandra Schinnerl, PhD, examines how education and immigration policy overlaps in Canada. | The photo was taken by Serbulent Turan, UBC

Through her work Sandra Schinnerl observed that, despite policy changes that should have eased the transition, international students were often having difficulties finding opportunities to become permanent residents.

Given my experience as a practitioner in the international education field, I wish to share my knowledge of theories of immigration and policy formation in a way that better informs international students and their goals for study, work and residence in Canada,” she says.

A UBC Public Scholars Award recipient, Schinnerl worked for more than 25 years as an International Education administrator before returning to school to complete her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is currently working with the departments of Higher Education Studies and Political Science to examine how Education and Immigration Policy overlap in Canada.

Recent changes

Schinnerl’s research examines the impact that changing Canadian immigration policy has had on higher education institutions and their organizations, as well as how these fundamental policy changes took place.

“When I started my work in international education in the early 1990s, international students were denied visas if they had any connection to the place where they would study,” says Schinnerl.

Schinnerl explains such student applicants were seen as having the “dual intent” to study and then stay in the country.

“The position of government was that once their studies were over, they would be required to leave,” says Schinnerl.

According to Schinnerl, this policy position has radically transformed in the last 20 years. Students are now seen as “ideal immigrants” who are provided with special provisions to work and reside in Canada after they graduate.

“In the past, receiving students was about development and peace building, and helping other countries build capacity through training and education,” Schinnerl says. “Now there is an interest of governments to have international students as immigrants given our demographic and labour market needs.”

Schinnerl explains that post-secondary institutions have evolved their support systems in reaction to these changes in government policy. While university supports used to focus on helping international students transition to campus life, additional resources available today include providing support on immigration pathways and maintaining students’ immigration status, as well as exploring co-op or career development opportunities.

“There is a recognition that a large percentage of students come to not only study, but use those skills to work or reside permanently in Canada; and post-secondary institutions have responded in supporting the aspirations of these students as well,” says Schinnerl. “Higher education institutions have, either indirectly through provinces or directly through their associations, played a role in immigration policy formation.”

International students matter

Schinnerl notes international education offices also have a role to play in facilitating discussions about the ways in which international students positively contribute to campuses and communities.

“There is an engagement and advocacy role they need to play and they need to be a part of bringing people together, and possibly even reimagining student services in a way that does not pre-define you by your visa status, but by your individual learner needs and aspirations,” Schinnerl says.

Schinnerl emphasizes the importance of considering the unique needs of each incoming student.

“For those students who are not only new to an institution, but new to Canada and possibly new to a fundamentally different way of learning…these students need additional support to help them navigate everything about student life in Canada,” says Schinnerl.

Schinnerl notes some higher education institutions offer study abroad and exchange opportunities to all students in addition to support for international students.

“There was always the recognition that diversity of student on campus leads to a rich and meaningful interaction of ideas, and an opportunity to live and learn amongst different cultures,” says Schinnerl, “but there are concerted efforts to take advantage of the fact that there are international students on campus who can contribute to the internationalization of students locally.”

For more information about Sandra Schinnerl, visit