When 163 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada in December 2015, the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, told them they were “safe at home now” as he greeted them at Toronto’s international airport. “Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,” he said. They were just the first wave of 25,000 Syrians who resettled in the country by the end of February.
For Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, Canada’s commitment to welcome thousands of refugees “stands out as an important symbol” of the country’s “openness and eagerness to attract newcomers”. This is further strengthened by the country’s target to attract 450,000 international students by 2022, roughly double the number in 2011.
He says this ambition is an opportunity for Canadian universities to attract British and other European students and academics given the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and its tough stance on immigration. “There’s no question that with the kind of uncertainty that Brexit has triggered and also with the political climate south of the border in the US and the kind of election campaign (there) over the last… months, Canada has certainly emerged as a place of stability, of openness, of inclusiveness,” says Gertler.
Earlier last year, the Canadian government announced amendments to legislation to relax the citizenship process for international students, repealing a number of changes made to the law under the previous Conservative government. For Prof. Gertler, this change is “key” to achieving the government’s 2022 target. “There’s no question that one of the factors that attract students to study in Canada is the opportunity to stay here after they graduate and build lives and careers here,” he says.