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Masters and PhDs exempt from caps as Canada preps PGWP and visa changes

Provinces across Canada will be prescribed allotments from the federal government as to how many international study permits they can hand out, the federal government has announced.

More details around the recognised institution framework are expected in 2024. Photo: pexels

A 450,000 international student target – set out in 2014 – was significantly surpassed in 2022 when the country welcomed 800,000+

“To ensure there is no further growth in the number of international students in Canada for 2024, we are setting a national intake cap for a period of two years,” immigration minister Marc Miller said today.

For 2024, the cap will be set to around 364,000 new study permits – a net decrease of 35% from 2023. The cap for province will be based by population.

Some provinces will see much more significant reductions, potentially a 50% drop in Ontario, the minister said.

IRCC is aiming to bring total numbers back in line with 2022, when Canada hosted some 800,000 international students. IRCC said student numbers then were at “more sustainable levels”. In 2021, there were 621,565 international students in the country.

Latest figures show that there are one million international students in the country.

Effective immediately, Miller said that applicants must provide provincial attestation with their study permit application.

From September 1, postgraduate work permits will no longer be available to public-private institution models, he said.

Open work permits will only be available to spouses of students on masters and doctoral programs, as well as professional programs such as medicine and law.

“The number of international student study permits is still undetermined”

The cap will run for two years as a “stopgap measure”, before government can introduce its “recognised institution” framework. The changes do not apply to current students.

“We’ve got two years to get the ship in order,” Miller added. “It’s a bit of a mess and it’s time to rein it in.

“These are blunt measures from the federal government.”

Protecting the integrity and ensuring that sham institutions are shut down is the highest priority, he said.

Once the vetting and student support scheme is in place, the cap will no longer be necessary.

Master’s and PhD students are to be exempt, while the length of the post-study work permits may be changed to “match the numbers of years spent studying in Canada”, according to one memo leaked last week. That will mean additional years for PhD and masters students, it suggested.

In August 2023, former immigration minister Sean Fraser – who had taken up the housing brief – revealed that authorities were considering a cap on international students as a solution to the country’s housing crisis.

A 450,000 international student target – set out in 2014 to be reached eight years later – was significantly surpassed in 2022 when the country welcomed 800,000+ students from overseas.

Some in the country, particularly from the college sector, are concerned that any caps could have lasting adverse effects, including exacerbating labour shortages.

By exempting masters and PhD students, it is likely that Canadian employers will have continued access to highly-skilled graduates.

Education professionals have however warned that any national caps could be challenging for remote regions of the country, many of which have been experiencing demographic decline in recent decades.

Federal government has announced plans to combat fraud and “punish bad actors”. As well as the “recognised institution” framework which will give ‘trusted’ schools access to fast-track study permits for their overseas students, it also raised the proof of funds amount to CAN$20,635 in late 2023.

Speaking in December, Miller said federal government was “prepared to take necessary measures, including significantly limiting visas”.

“If provinces and territories cannot do this, we will do it for them and they will not like the bluntness of the instruments that we use.

“The provinces have a number of tools at their disposal, namely the regulation of the designated learning institutions, that in some cases just need actually to be shut down,” he told reporters last year.

Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, suggested that the measures “surgically target” public-private partnerships, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area.

Speaking with The PIE, Usher said, “This is overdue but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.”

Ontario’s post-secondary sector stakeholders have been appealing to government for more support, saying they are at “breaking point”.

Funding caps on domestic enrolment, tuition fee cuts and freezes and inflationary pressures and rising interest rates have added pressure.

Usher says that Ontario looks “to be hardest hit in the new student visa changes”.

Currently, Québec links visa applications to institutions via its Québec Acceptance Certificate. It is this that other provinces will now need to figure out.

Some provinces could struggle to rationalise their share of international students – that will be proportional to population size, not overall international student size – Usher continued.

“This is going to cause chaos [in provinces],” he said. “It will be tricky at best, catastrophic at worst.”

The measures are “not against individual international students”, Miller added.

“They are to ensure that, as future students arrive in Canada, they receive the quality of education that they signed up for,” he said.

“It would be a disservice welcoming them knowing not all of them are getting the resources they need and have them returning home disillusioned and disappointed.”

Antonio Aragon, VP of business development at Bayswater Education, commented, “I believe that those who have benefited the most from this rate of growth will be the most affected.

“That includes provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, the Public Private Partnerships and the institutions associated with them.

“With these new measures, I see opportunities to grow diversity, attract students to lesser known destinations and for smaller institutions to thrive. Our sector has a chance to rethink itself and improve the academic offerings. A student-centric approach is a sustainable win-win situation for all.”

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2 Responses to Masters and PhDs exempt from caps as Canada preps PGWP and visa changes

  1. Those who got admission in cape breton university, to study baccalaureate diploma in supply chain, are they affected? With PGWP

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