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Canada caps study permits at 360,000

Canada will decrease the number of study permits it issues to international students by 35% to 360,000 in 2024, the federal government announced today. 
January 22 2024
3 Min Read

Canada will decrease the number of study permits it issues to international students to approximately 360,000 in 2024, the federal government announced on Monday. 

This will equate to a 35% fall in the number of study permits issued to new arrivals, compared to 2023 levels.

The bold move will have major ramifications for stakeholders in the country – and especially hit colleges hard if they are operating under a curriculum licensing agreement with a public college – since no access to the post-graduate work program will be possible for any graduates of these programs from September 2024.

Each province and territory will be given a cap weighted to reflect population – the most significant impact will be in urban metropolitan areas notably the Greater Toronto Area. The government release noted provincial proportional caps “will result in much more significant decreases in provinces where the international student population has seen the most unsustainable growth”.

The number of international students in Canada has grown significantly in recent years. There were over 800,000 foreign students in the country in 2022 – almost a third more than the previous year. 

The temporary cap, which aims to reduce numbers back to 2022 levels, will initially last for two years and excludes students enrolled in master’s and PhD programs. Current study permit holders will not be affected.

“It’s unacceptable that some private institutions have taken advantage of international students by operating under-resourced campuses, lacking supports for students and charging high tuition fees, all the while significantly increasing their intake of international students,” said immigration minister Marc Miller, speaking at a press conference on Monday. 

Ontario is expected to be the hardest-hit province, with student numbers predicted to fall by up to 50%, according to ministers. 

From January 22 2024 – the day the cap was announced – every study permit application submitted to IRCC will also require an attestation letter from a province or territory. 

The government said it will re-assess the number of study permit applications that will be accepted in 2025, once it has worked with provinces and institutions to develop a “sustainable” path forward for international students. 

Ottawa also announced changes to the post-graduation work permit program, including excluding those studying at public-private colleges from the visa. The visa will be extended for master’s graduates, who will be eligible to apply for a three-year work permit. 

Advocacy bodies in the international education sector have welcomed the crackdown on “bad actors” but warned that the new measures could harm Canada’s global reputation and damage the financial sustainability of the country’s institutions.

“This sort of overall cap is drastic”

“This approach… will have far-reaching consequences across the sector, especially in key regions, including the possibility of layoffs, closures and increased tuition fees – all of which will inevitably affect both Canadian and international students,” said Colleges and Institutes Canada in a statement. 

“Any measures to limit the flow of international students should really be focused on bad actors with the sector,” Graham Barber, assistant director of international relations at Universities Canada, told The PIE News.

“This sort of overall cap is drastic and a bit reactionary. We feel it’s a bit of a blunt instrument,” he added. “Universities really want to welcome people on their campuses.”

Others argue that the move is overdue, given growing concerns over international student welfare and housing shortages.

“Industry lobbyist and corporate interests have put the federal government in a place where it is no longer tenable to ignore the mess that has been created,” said student immigration consultant Earl Blaney.

“In the months and years that follow, hopefully Brand Canada can be restored, but the damage that has been done to international students and the industry should not be easily forgotten.”

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