There were a total of 807,750 study permit holders in Canada in December, over 190,000 more than in 2021. The new figures surpass by some way Canada’s target of 450,000 foreign students by 2022 set out in the country’s 2014 international education strategy.
IRCC issued 551,405 new study permits in 2022, an increase of 24% on 2021, in what Canadian immigration described as a “record-breaking year” for visa applications.
Canada struggled to cope with an influx of applications, despite commitments from the government to tackle ongoing backlogs. After months of delays, in November, IRCC said study permits were mostly back to the normal 60-day processing times.
Some 41% (226,450) of these went to Indian students as growth from the country continued to accelerate. The number of Indians has almost quadrupled since 2019 when 58,435 study permits were issued to this cohort.
China was the second leading source country for international students, with 52,165 permits issued in 2022, compared to 55,900 the previous year. This marks a continued decline from pre-pandemic levels, when 84,155 permits were issued in 2019.
In total, there were 319,130 Indian study permit holders in Canada, followed by 100,075 from China. Other leading source countries included the Philippines (32,455), France (27,135), Nigeria (21,660), and Korea (16,505).
Alain Roy, vice president international partnerships at Colleges and Institutes Canada, said the surge was “not surprising”, given pent-up demand easing after the pandemic.
Canada “continues to be attractive,” Roy added, “with its openness to diversity, affordable quality education, and the opportunities that exist to gain work experience during and after their studies. Based on what we’re hearing from our members, this year’s increase has been manageable.”
“It’s true that this growing international student demand, combined with a range of other factors, has placed renewed pressure on the capacity of the key destination cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver – and in other regions that have also experienced rapid growth.
“Colleges and institutes have largely prepared for this, planning the availability of seats as well as scaling up student services,” he said.
The most popular study destination was Ontario, with 52% (289,835) of all new permits issued to this region, followed by British Columbia, which accounted for 19% of total 2022 permits. Over half (411,985) of all international students in Canada held permits linked to Ontario institutions.
Other regions have attempted to lure foreign students away from Canada’s most populous province with new investments, including New Brunswick, Alberta and Nova Scotia.
Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, said the growth “underscores Canada’s strong and continued positioning as a highly valued destination for learning”.
“The international education community remains committed to ensuring a high quality and supportive learning experience for our students in order to allow them to achieve their personal, academic and professional goals,” said Bezo.
“While the current global context and growing interest has created complex challenges and administrative backlogs in processing times, we are encouraged by the growing number of study permits being issued as part of a concerted effort to ensure the sector’s full recovery and growth over the long-term,” she added.
The majority of permits were issued at higher education level, but the k-12 sector also saw growth, with 82,000 study permits issued for secondary level or below, compared to 63,745 in 2021.
But the influx of international students has set off alarm bells across some parts of the international education sector, with critics warning that the country may not be able to accommodate the number of permanent residency applications that will likely enter the pipeline from international students in the coming years.
Similarly, affordable housing is in short supply in parts of Canada, with some students falling victim to scams.
“Institutions could probably keep accepting students as long as they want,” said Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates. “The questions is whether communities have the space to accept that many short-term residents. And the answer is no, they don’t. At least not in Ontario, which is where the bulk of the increase is occurring.”
Roy said CICan has been working with “local and provincial authorities to address the availability of affordable housing for incoming students”.
“This has been a big issue in 2022, with colleges and institutes organising various local and regional summits and roundtables to develop strategies to continue to provide a quality experience to international students,” he said.
|Canada’s 2019-24 international education strategy aimed to diversify the country’s student base, naming 11 priority countries for recruitment.
The latest data shows growth in nine of these regions, with significant increases in some areas, including the Philippines where student numbers jumped from 14,365 to 25,380.
French students dipped from 20,020 in 2021 to 16,725, despite Canada’s Francophone immigration strategies.
The number of students coming from Turkey also fell from 3,870 in 2021 to 3,220 in 2022.
Over 5,000 more students came from Ukraine, presumably in part linked to the ongoing war, although the country was selected as a target region before the Russian invasion.
There were modest increases across Latin America, with Brazil, Colombia and Mexico all hitting the 10,000 students mark.