When Truong Nguyen (called simply ‘T.’ publically) decided to attend high school in America in 2001, his reason was simple: “I wanted to live the American dream.” He added he felt a bit of pressure from his parents, who encouraged him to complete his education abroad and gain his citizenship in the foreign country.
Funding his first year with an international scholarship, Nguyen and his parents paid for the rest of his high school career themselves. After graduating, he went on to complete a BA in computer science from the University of Louisiana. He said he liked the culture of the South.
“I found a job in San Francisco working for a startup and I got a company to sponsor my [H1B] visa application,” he said. “But it’s hard. You have to stay in the same job for three or four years before getting a green card, and if you switch jobs, you have to start the process all over again.”
As an engineer in Silicon Valley’s quickly rotating startup community, sticking to one job wasn’t feasible or realistic. “When I moved to Canada, the process was a lot easier. It’s just a lot better.”
As Vietnamese youth become sought-after students in the international education system, concerns like the difficulty of the application process and new visa laws start to matter. Is the American dream becoming the Canadian dream?
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As Christopher Runckel, America’s first diplomat to Vietnam after the war, told us, “In some markets, like the United States +and Canada, the recruiter is basically trying to recruit the kid, but here [in Vietnam] they’re trying to recruit the parents, and they’ll often choose the programs the kids will go off to.” For parents, the decision has many factors at play: safety is typically the number one concern, though price and prestige also enter into the decision-making process.
Chi Thuc Ha, the Director of University Counseling at American Education Group (AEG) says that family ties also play a strong role. If the future college student’s uncle lives in Texas, chances are parents will feel more comfortable if their child attends the University of Dallas rather than Cal State.
While these factors undoubtedly play a part, more and more often Ha says that the parents are changing, not just their kids. “[P]arents are a lot more savvy now,” she said. “I think in the past, especially with the EB5 [visa], they were just focused on where they had put financial and economic roots. [...] Now they’re trying to find what’s the best fit for their kid.”
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According to the Vietnam Department of Statistics, almost 130,000 Vietnamese students studied abroad in 2016, and almost all of their tuitions were self-funded.
It’s a student group that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to a country during each four-year education cycle, not counting higher education after college.
Universities have caught on to the potential windfall; hundreds of university representatives come courting to Vietnam’s major cities every year in the hopes of swaying kids and parents towards their schools. At the Global Education Fair coming to HCMC this March, for example, representatives from 13 countries will be present, all ready to woo.
In particular, Canada has made systemic efforts in their immigration and education system to appeal to a broader range of international students, and their efforts have been paying off.
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Although Ha works primarily with students focused on American schools, she has seen a dramatic shift in interest. “It hasn’t been until the last few years that students have been like, ‘Hey, by the way, can we also apply to these other countries?’” And because Canada’s application process runs a few months after most colleges in the United States have sent their acceptance letters, she sees many students opting for Canadian applications.
“Almost every student I have this year submitted an application to McGill and Toronto,” she said.
The proof is in the numbers: According to statistics from a survey put out by “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada”, students from Vietnam studying in Canada have risen dramatically: in December 2016, the survey cited a 55 percent year-on-year student increase, second only to India’s 57 percent. Compare this to the United State’s more modest 5 percent gain in the same period.
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However, this accounts for almost 5,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, still a paltry sum compared to the around 22,000 studying in the US.
Runckel says the increase doesn’t have so much to do with the schools, but with the government. “I’ve seen an increase in interest in Canada this year in particular. And a lot of that’s because they changed their immigration law.” Making the immigration process easier has made Great White North more welcoming to students and immigrants, just as the United States have been shutting their doors increasingly tighter.
Getting the Right People
How to make Canada more appealing to Vietnamese students? It starts with the application process. According to Deren Temel of University World News, in 2015 Vietnam was ranked third-slowest for Canada’s study permit processing time, a major factor as a student makes plans for his or her future. In response, two programs have been started to increase the efficiency of Canada’s application process: the Canada Express Study (CES) program, an 18-month program launched in 2016, and the Study Direct Stream (SDS), which will be officially on line in March 2018 and will focus on post-secondary college applications.
Both programs are similar on paper, and work to accomplish the same goal: to make the transition from Vietnam-based application to Canada-based student as quick and effortless as possible. The system requires less financial documentation and has a faster visa processing time than traditional methods, and all forms and documents are easily accessible online.
Eligibility for the fasttrack are relatively simple: an IELTS score of 6 or above is one of the several conditions, along with an investment of CAD$10,000, to be deposited to Scotiabank, Canada’s national banking chain, which will be used by the student during their first year abroad.
So far, the changes have made a positive difference for the northern country’s educational goals. Speaking from the Consulate General of Canada’s office in HCMC, Consulate General Kyle Nunas said that the changes have made a large difference: now that the process is easier, over 50 percent more Vietnamese applicants are choosing to apply to Canada than two years previously.
What’s more, completing education in Canada gives that student credit in the country’s point-based permanent residency application program.
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A complete education gets the aspiring Canadian resident up to 30 points, almost half of the 67 points currently required to live in the country legally.
“The point is to have more people come into the country, but to have the right people come—skilled, smart, experienced,” Runckel said. This is in direct contrast to the United States’ process, which encourages students to stay on a student visa and then return home after they gain their degree due to the U.S.’s difficult immigration process.
For Consulate General Kyle Nunas, the changes work to make Canada more welcoming to a wider group of people. “We’re a nation made by immigrants, after all,” Nunas said.
As Canada makes efforts to accommodate new residents, immigration and international laws have been tightening since President Donald Trump has stepped into office, and even before. “I think we’ve done more to lose some of the good will that we’ve with some countries in the last year than we’ve done in any one-year period in our history,” Runckel said. He said the the policy changes have had unintended victims, like small colleges who previously depended on international students as an important source of revenue.
For Vietnamese citizens hoping to move to the United States after college, the H1B visa has made a concrete difficulty for their plans. Multiple people we talked to agreed it’s getting harder to nab one of the visas, especially with the current lottery system in place.
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Hillary Huong Vu, a video animator who attended Missouri State University from 2012 to 2016, said that during her time in the country, the increase of anti-immigration sentiment became palpable, both socially and in the government. “I personally didn’t experience anything huge,” she said, when trying to recall instances of racism directed against her. “It was just little things, like people talking slowly because I have an accent.”
Vu’s worst experience came at the tail-end of her time in the U.S., when a man approached her on the street loudly asking her if she was from China or Korea, and telling her to go back to her country. “It was scary,” she said.
Hate crime incidents in America have gone up over the past year, from 5,800 in 2016 to more than 6,100 last year, according to FBI statistics. Ha at AEG says it’s unlikely any safety concerns would affect a Vietnamese family’s decision to study or move to the country. “For most families that I work with, that’s not something that they really see, primarily because as Asians we’re not the primary target [...] when people talk about anti-immigration,” she said.
Vu agreed, saying simply, “I don’t think Trump has any affect on the students that go there to study. If they find a program, they’ll go.”
“And I would just say, ‘Be careful, choose wisely.’ It’s not bad if you’re comfortable with it.”
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