International students in Canada face particular challenges in entering the working world, says a study co-authored by a University of Guelph professor.

The researchers asked 48 international students and recent graduates at the University of Guelph and York University what they need to succeed in the Ontario labour market. The study was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Ontario attracts the highest number of international students in Canada, with more than 43 per cent attending schools in the province. More than 328,000 international students enrolled in 2012 in Canada.

The study found graduates had difficulty finding jobs, the jobs they found often failed to match their skills and experiences, and it identified factors that keep graduates from realizing their full potential as “ideal” immigrants, said Guelph psychology professor Saba Safdar.

“There are several barriers which can prevent international students from integrating into the workforce,” she said.

“Language ability can impede academic performance. Another barrier is not having much peer contact with domestic students and community members. The third barrier was the perception of discrimination by some professors and prospective employers based on international student status in Canada, leading to a feeling of being undervalued.”

Safdar said universities need to offer programs and services to international students beyond first year.

“They talked about the importance of a feeling of belonging and community connectedness,” she said.

Most international students were generally pleased with their university education. Campus programs and services were beneficial to them, and students used them frequently.

The problem came in connecting with the wider community.

“We suggest a concerted effort by policy-makers, university support staff, and private-sector partners to increase international students’ access to formalized, off‐campus work opportunities in career-related fields,” Safdar said.

“We can’t force businesses to hire international students, but we can provide opportunities for students to have contact with prospective employers. Many participants believe that a lack of co-operative education opportunities and ways to connect with industry professionals contribute to their being unprepared for working in Canada after graduation.”

Success for international students also benefits Canada, she said. Ottawa is looking to increase international enrolment by more than 450,000 students by 2022, which the federal government estimates will generate 86,500 new jobs and add $10 billion to the Canadian economy each year.

“International students promote cultural knowledge, awareness and understanding. They are an important income source for institutions by paying higher tuition fees and spending money locally. The ability of international education to meet its ambitious economic and political targets is dependent on the psychological and sociocultural adjustment of international students to Canadian society.”

The study is called “International Education, Future Citizens and the Labour Market: Challenges and Prospects for Ontario.”