Convincing skilled students to stay put after graduation

New Brunswick offers tax rebates, Ottawa makes staying in Canada more attractive to foreign students
By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/11/2005

In the latest in a series of initiatives to improve New Brunswick’s skilled labour supply, Premier Bernard Lord announced last month that post-secondary students will get tax breaks worth up to $10,000 if they work in the province after graduation.

Lord said the New Brunswick Tuition Tax Cash Back program, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, will make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable. And by offering rebates for grads filing tax returns in the province, the program will “encourage skilled, well-educated workers to choose to live and work right here in New Brunswick,” he said.

Students attending post-secondary schools as of Jan. 1, 2005, will earn a credit for each year’s tuition. Beginning in 2007 (for the 2006 tax year), graduates working in the province can use those credits for income tax rebates worth 50 per cent of the cost of their tuition, up to $2,000 per year. Students can carry forward unused credits and redeem them in later years to a maximum of $10,000.

When fully implemented, the program will cost the province about $63 million each year.

Thomas Nisbett, president of the New Brunswick Chamber of Commerce, said the program is good news for employers looking to recruit and retain skilled labour.

The province is having a hard time holding onto young workers in a number of sectors, he said. “We felt that some kind of financial instrument to help students put money back in their pockets would be a real incentive to keep them here,” he said. “This is one more tool that we have that can help us.”

The tax breaks are a good first step, but the government can still be doing more, he said. In some provinces, government-awarded scholarships come with a caveat that recipients return to the province to work after graduation. Nisbett would like to see similar measures in New Brunswick.

Since 2003 Lord’s government has been busy trying to keep New Brunswickers working in the province and luring back home those who have left. A job board, www.nbjobs.ca, was created for the repatriation program, and Lord has travelled across the country with New Brunswick employers to extol the virtues of living and working in the province.

The repatriation program was launched with a goal of convincing 300 former New Brunswickers to return home, said Shawn Hearn, a spokesperson for the department of Training and Employment Development.

In a year and a half that goal has already been surpassed, he said. “Close to 400 have come back to the province.”

The government also offers wage subsidies for employers willing to take on New Brunswick graduates. Another 1,800 grads have been covered by this program, he said.

Meanwhile, Ottawa announced last month immigration policy changes intended, in part, to increase the number of skilled workers in the national labour pool, by keeping foreign students working in the country after graduation.

If the changes are passed, international students at post-secondary institutions will be able to work off-campus while completing their studies. And new foreign students outside of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver will be able to work for two years, rather than one year, after graduation. The geographic restrictions are intended to encourage foreign graduates to settle outside traditional immigrant destinations.

“International students who choose to stay in Canada after they graduate greatly contribute to our labour market,” said Joe Volpe, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. “It is important that they be exposed to the Canadian workforce at an early stage to increase their chances of success following graduation.”

There were suggestions that with the Liberal government barely holding onto power, the proposals were little more than thinly veiled electioneering. But Howard Greenberg, a Toronto-based immigration expert with HR law firm Greenberg Turner, said the changes are inevitable and a new government will likely enact these, or similar, improvements.

The positive ramifications are too good to ignore, and there is little if any downside, said Greenberg.

By letting foreign students work off campus, employers can start sooner to develop relationships, and eventually hire valuable skilled workers, he said. “It allows employers to sink their teeth into them and moves the recruiting for foreign students to an earlier period.”

And giving students two years to work after graduation will remove some of the considerable roadblocks for international graduates who want to stay in the country permanently, he said.

Symbolically, the proposals also send a very positive message, he said. “We are wrapping our arms around a major potential skilled worker segment.” And at a time when the United States is making it more difficult for foreign students to get inside its borders, it is wise for Ottawa to make Canada as appealing as possible. These changes tell foreign students that they are important to Canada, he said.

And there are indications that message is being heard. Just days after the announcement, one Indian writer on expressindia.com suggested anyone looking to move abroad consider Canada or Australia — though stereotypical portrayals of the two nations may yet present a better case for the latter.

In an article about anti-immigration sentiments bubbling to the surface of the British election campaign, Harish Dugh wrote of Canada: “Immigration authorities there have just announced an easing of rules to attract students, cut waiting time for already-approved immigrants and to help families unite. And, for permanent residents, the time taken for processing has been slashed in a major way — from two years to just one.” He also commended the changes to allow students to work off campus.

“As far as we are concerned, the rain-drenched, fog-bound island (United Kingdom) is passé, say G’day to sunny Australia where the boardrooms and the beaches hold equal allure for the Indian on the move. Or, get your mittens and snow coats out as the weather is chilly outdoors in Canada, but the opportunities are scorching and spicy at the same time — just what the Indian palate craves.”

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