International Students are "Ideal" Immigrants: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Study-Migration Pathways in Canada, Australia and Germany


Funding Program:

SSHRC Insight Grant

Funding Amount:


This is a 4-year project to study the emergence and implications of the "international students are ideal immigrants" policy discourse in 3 countries that actively cultivate international students for skilled migration: Canada, Australia and Germany. This discourse is now circulating globally and has been translated into a policy priority in several countries. Together with her co-investigators Professors Sue Winton,  Kelly Thomson (Administrative Studies, York U) and international collaborators Simon Morris Lange (Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR)) and Christopher Ziguras (School of Global Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Australia), Professor Trilokekar will investigate how national contexts impact how this discourse is taken up and how it implicates the university as a key actor in "the selection (implied, weeding out) [and] policing ... of potential immigrants" (Cerna, 2014, 6).

In addition to these 5 scholars, the project team includes 3 graduate research assistants, carefully selected to complement the project's theoretical, methodological, cross-sectoral and cross-national approach. Together, they ask:

  • How has the imaginary of international students (IS) shifted over time to now make IS appealing as ideal immigrants across global, national and local, historical, political, social and economic contexts?
  • How are the relationships and power dynamics between different policy actors (government, educational institutions, businesses (employers), settlement agencies, IS) globally, nationally and locally, shaping their active promotion, adaptation or resistance of the IS are ideal immigrants discourse?
  • How do universities engage with this policy discourse and what are the implications for institutional IS policies and practices, globally, nationally and locally?
  • What does this comparative case study tell us about how the IS are ideal immigrants policy discourse travels globally, nationally and locally affecting (in) equities in higher education/ the broader society?

Departing from the extant literature on international students that sees policies as decisions made by elite authorities based on a rational decision-making process, we ground our study in critical policy analysis. We conceptualize policy as both texts and discourse and use a comparative case study approach to examine how policy discourses travel across multiple levels and locations by "following policies and 'studying through' the sites and situations of policymaking." Moving beyond critical policy analysis, we apply a new approach to collecting data (i.e., soft systems methodology (SSM)) consistent with the goals of Policy 3.0. scientificity and examine the representations and materialities of international student policy.

Adapting the comparative case study approach, we envision our comparison across 3 axes: horizontal, vertical and transversal. In each of the 3 countries, our study will engage key policy communities: the federal government, state government with the highest enrollment of international students, professional associations and organizations representing the university, businesses and settlement sectors, 2 universities with the highest international student enrollments, and international students at these universities. We will collect data from 3 sources: policy texts, interviews and focus groups (using SSM) addressing our research questions.

This study makes several significant contributions. It will be one of the first to: use a post-structuralist theoretical framework and apply new theoretical frames and methodological approaches to higher education policy studies; offer a cross-sectoral perspective on international education; and systematically examine the shifting role of universities within immigration policy. Training for graduate students, joint publications, a knowledge mobilization workshop (and future plans for an international conference on international students) are among the outcomes envisioned from this project.