One emerging demographic that has crept into the student population comes from Latin American countries.
While more than 55,000 in 2022 come from the region and make up just under 7% of all international students in the country, demand to study in Canada has skyrocketed over the past 10 years.
All but two countries saw more than a 100% increase in the number of students sent to study – Mexico has more than 200% more, with 14,440 students in 2022, up from 4,955 in 2012.
Another huge leap that places it in the position of an emerging source country is Colombia. In 2012, only 1,540 students from the country studied in Canada. By 2022, that number had exploded — there are currently 12,440 in Canada — and it looks set to continue on that trajectory.
“Fall 2023 application trends indicate increased interest from some new markets in the region … such as Colombia,” noted Isaac Garcia-Sitton, Executive Director of International Student Enrollment at Metropolitan University of Toronto. PIE news.
The founder of Study Union International in Colombia, Ana Maria Betancur, also told PIE that as the founder of an agency that has been researching the market for 25 years, she can say that interest in the country is not going to die down anytime soon. We’ve all “seen the evolution” of Canada as a destination, he says.
Colombia was listed as one of the priority countries in Canada’s updated international education strategy in 2019 – along with other Latin American countries Brazil and Mexico, as part of its goal to diversify student nationalities coming to Canada to study.
After having only 350 students in 2012, Ecuador now has over 2,500 students in Canada. While the numbers aren’t big in absolute terms, Representaciones Académicas – one of the country’s largest education agencies – talked about how Ecuadorians see Canada as a viable destination not just for study but beyond.
“Canada is very interesting for both quality of life and study; in many cases today, they want to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and the possibility to stay in the country, they are attracted by the quality of life and security,” Marketing Director Carmen Jaramillo explained to PIE.
Garcia-Sitton’s rating of appeal also hinged on the quality of life to be found studying in Canada — the available currency and “overarching values of multiculturalism, tolerance and inclusiveness” also help.
While there has been some controversy in recent months over smaller colleges outnumbering students, and some even seeming to need full-time jobs to afford to live there, the general consensus among students is that it’s largely about practicing , what it preaches – a useful, safe and interesting experience.
Visa processing rears its ugly head
Like countries around the world, Canada’s visa processing speed has slowed down extremely over the past three years. It was one of the destinations that failed to catch up as others did – and in Latin America, where embassies and consulates are few and far between, the impact was felt strongly.
“Ecuadorians are very interested in Canada, but visas are taking longer than normal”
“Ecuadorians are very interested in Canada, but visas are taking longer than usual, so we ask students to apply as soon as possible so they can arrive on time,” Jaramillo said.
Ecuador is far from the only affected country. In an interview with The PIE, Shannon O’Brien, a Canadian born and raised working as an education agent in Bolivia for Minerva Consultos Académicos, also said that the issue has greatly affected them.
“A huge limiting factor for Canada is visa processing time. As a proud Canadian, I hate to admit when the US has something that is considered better than its Canadian counterpart, but when it comes to visas, the US wins.
“I can take a student through the US student visa process in a month, while the Canadian study permit process takes up to four months. We often hear that they are going to streamline the process, and if that actually happens, the number of applications to Canadian universities and colleges will certainly increase,” she explained.
As recently as September 2022, there were reports of students actually waiting up to four months for visas to be processed, with some students losing out entirely – including financially – due to conflicts between universities, provincial officials and IRCC.
While the pandemic has hit Ecuador hard, according to Jaramillo, it has only sparked more interest in studying abroad: “It’s unfortunate, but the pandemic has caused many people and families to leave their country of origin in search of better opportunities.”
That’s true of Ecuador – not only do they send good numbers to Canada and the US, but they sent the second most international students to Spain, according to the latest data from a study in Spain.
Sarah O’Sullivan, Brazil-based and Latin American consultant for SOS Education Consultancy, told The PIE what she saw in terms of the landscape – and that the biggest countries are not necessarily the biggest drivers of recruitment.
“While the number of students from Brazil to Canada has increased by more than 180% in 10 years, pre- and post-pandemic numbers are relatively static, from 10,230 in 2019 to 10,405 in 2022,” she explained.
“Meanwhile, the number of students from Peru has grown exponentially since pre-pandemic times, from 685 students in 2019 to 3,200 in 2022 – an increase of nearly 370 percent.”
Peru clearly sees the benefits of being among the three countries in Latin America to be included in the Student Direct Stream in 2021, along with Brazil and Colombia, with interest in the Andean country continuing to rise.
She also mentioned that from 2019 to 2022 there was 200% growth in Bolivia, 128% in Colombia, 124% in Argentina and 113% in Ecuador – which bodes well despite the pandemic.
While growth in 2021 has not been as pronounced for the Toronto Met, emerging from the pandemic has given the institution a boost, according to Garcia-Sitton. Compared to an 8% increase in fall 2021 – in the midst of the pandemic – 2022 saw a more than 40% increase in applications.
“[Universities] they are very interested in adding Latino culture to the mix”
“Many colleges and universities are also trying to diversify their student populations and have historically accepted large numbers of students from India and China, so they are very interested in adding Latino culture to the mix,” O’Brien noted of her own experience dealing with universities.
The job shortages that have largely materialized as a result of the pandemic could also provide opportunities for those students — O’Brien emphasized that the smallest cities need skilled workers.
“I believe that as long as there is a labor shortage in Canada, the number of international students will continue to increase.”
Forward trajectory – up and up?
Canada has seen explosive growth from countries like India in recent years, to the point where there were fears it could bring the system to its knees.
Even if Latin America is not sending students at such a high rate, will the upward trajectory continue and we will see it start to take up a larger share of the student population?
“With regular geopolitical turmoil in the region, Latin American students will increasingly choose destinations that exemplify this return and that deliver on long-term promises,” O’Sullivan emphasized.
“Canada’s success in recruiting in Latin America depends on several factors. In order to maintain and increase market share, it is essential that long-term immigration options remain available and achievable.
“To keep the region growing in Canada, it’s important that we work on federal policies.”
Noting the popularity of Spain and Portugal among Latin American students — as evidenced by Ecuador’s high ranking at Spanish universities — Canada is constantly competing with the U.S. and the U.K., Garcia-Sitton warned.
“To sustain the region’s growth in Canada, it is critical that we work intentionally on both federal policies and institutional practices to develop our ability to attract, retain and support international students from the region.”
For agents on the ground in Latin America — as well as the growing number of local offices being opened by universities — it’s about what will be available in Canada when the students arrive.
“There will certainly be more students in the future, but one of the problems we have is the lack of housing and the high cost,” Jaramillo said.
“We’re trying to get students to apply to the center of Canada [the Prairie Provinces] where they can maintain the same quality of life and find better housing and labor costs,” she explained.
“I see huge potential for growth in this sector and benefits for both students and Canada. Latin students are incredibly sociable, caring and hardworking. Students solve problems easily and are able to adapt quickly to new situations,” noted O’Brien.
While Canada’s Latin American student population is still in the early stages of growth, it’s clear that it’s time to make way—students will come, and Canada will need to be ready for them.