Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
1st Nov 2023

Canada will require colleges and universities to verify international admissions offers

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has announced Canadian colleges and universities will be required to confirm every applicant’s letter of acceptance directly with IRCC as of 1 December 2023
  • In fall 2024, a new framework will reward institutions “recognised” for providing excellent services and outcomes to international students with priority visa processing
  • The government will also be reviewing the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program in the coming months to ensure it aligns with the needs of the Canadian labour market

Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced last week that three new measures will strengthen the integrity of Canada’s International Student Program. These measures are to be staged over time, with the first taking effect before the end of this year.
As per the government’s press release, the measures are:

  • “Starting December 1, 2023, post-secondary designated learning institutions (DLI) will be required to confirm every applicant’s letter of acceptance directly with IRCC. This new, enhanced verification process aims to protect prospective students from letter‑of‑acceptance fraud and to help them avoid similar problems that some students faced earlier this year as a result of fraud investigations. It will also ensure that study permits are issued based only on genuine letters of acceptance.
  • In time for the fall 2024 semester, IRCC will adopt a ‘recognised institution’ framework to benefit post-secondary DLIs that set a higher standard for services, support and outcomes for international students. These DLIs will benefit, for example, from the priority processing of study permits for applicants who plan to attend their school.
  • In the coming months, IRCC will complete an assessment of Post-Graduation Work Permit Program criteria and begin introducing reforms to better calibrate it to meet the needs of the Canadian labour market, as well as regional and Francophone immigration goals.”

Mr Miller adds:

“International students are talented, bright and deserving of a positive experience as they pursue their studies in Canada. We will continue to improve Canada’s International Student Program by protecting students and weeding out those who try to take advantage of them. Whether an international student stays and works after graduation or returns home, we want their time as a student in Canada to have been beneficial to their growth and aspirations.”

Breaking it down

The first new measure, the “enhanced verification process” aimed at protecting prospective students from letter-of-acceptance fraud, goes into effect in just one month’s time. IRCC informed ICEF Monitor via an email that the department has begun “holding virtual training sessions to guide DLIs on how to use the new IRCC portal and how to verify the letters of acceptance for their institution.” IRCC continued:

“Starting December 1, all post-secondary designated learning institutions (DLIs) will be required to use an enhanced verification solution that will systematically verify all letters of acceptance for all overseas study permit applications up front before study permit applications are assessed. With this new process, all post-secondary letters of acceptance will be validated by the designated learning institutions (DLIs). This will help better protect students and designated learning institutions from fraud in the system.”

ICEF Monitor also reached out to IRCC on the second measure, i.e., the announcement that as of fall 2024, a “recognised institution” framework will be put into place that accords benefits to Canadian post-secondary institutions deemed to provide “a higher standard of services, support and outcomes for international students." IRCC did not share details of the framework but told us that:

“IRCC has consulted with DLIs, provinces and territories, and national education associations, and will use the feedback to refine the planned framework as we prepare to implement it in time for the fall 2024 semester … We have been testing the framework with some DLIs recently, allowing us to refine and improve the model.”

The context

Canada enrolled a record number of international students in 2022 – more than 800,000 – and has been among the most popular study abroad destinations for the past five years. However, this growth (+179% since 2013) has not been accompanied by a systemic expansion of student housing or by increased protections for students.

The Canadian and international media carried a series of stories in 2023 documenting rising cases of students unable to secure suitable accommodation, agents submitting fraudulent applications on behalf of students, and private colleges accepting more students than they could possibly serve well.

It is in this context that we can understand IRCC’s current policy changes.

Better student protections mean better competitiveness

There are also signs that stricter quality control mechanisms are needed to keep Canada competitive with other destinations. A recent Studyportals survey measuring 126,000 students’ satisfaction with their study experience in various countries found Canada trailing the US, UK, Australia, and several other countries. On a scale in which 5 was the highest level of satisfaction, the US scored 4.32, the UK reached 4.18, and Australia came in at 4.13. Canada was last with 4.11 despite improvement in every dimension since 2021.

IDP research shows that Australia drew even with Canada at the end of summer 2023 as the most popular destination for study abroad. Australia gained two percentage points since March 2023, while Canada lost two.

Student ranking of their first choice destinations. Source: IDP

A link to immigration debates?

Along with record-breaking international student enrolments in 2022, Canada also achieved record-breaking immigration targets. More than 430,000 foreign-born people became permanent Canadian residents last year, a number not seen, as the government notes, since 1913.

The target of 465,000 immigrants in 2023 is likely to be met – and then some. Some experts believe the 2023 tally could surpass 525,000, which, if it happened, would beat not only the target set for 2024 (485,000) but also 2025 (500,000).

The pace of immigration is beginning to stoke serious debate among Canadian economists and the public at large. The federal government has linked the immigration strategy to the ability of Canada to fill skills gaps and to improve labour force productivity, but in many Canadian communities, what is more apparent are strains on the healthcare system and a scant supply of affordable housing as the number of new residents rises sharply every year.

A Nanos polling report released in September found that that 53% of surveyed Canadians favoured a reduction in the 2023 immigration target of 465,000 – up from 34% who felt that way in March 2023.

Writing in The Globe and Mail, columnist Konrad Yakabuski argues that immigration strategy is veering towards plugging immediate needs in the economy rather than attracting the talent needed for global competitiveness:

“…the vaunted ‘points system’ Canadian immigration bureaucrats have relied on since 1967 to select applicants (based on education, skills, work experience and proficiency in at least one official language) is increasingly being bypassed in favour of short-term labour-market demands, mostly in low-wage sectors.”

One of the three points outlined by IRCC Minister Miller in his announcement about reforms to Canada’s International Student Program relates directly to the link between international students and immigration targets:

“In the coming months, IRCC will complete an assessment of Post-Graduation Work Permit Program criteria and begin introducing reforms to better calibrate it to meet the needs of the Canadian labour market, as well as regional and Francophone immigration goals.”

A vital sector that must be protected

In Canada, international students make up a much larger share of the total post-secondary student population than in the US. American higher education institutions enrol just over 1 million international students out of a total enrolment of 16.2 million. In Canada, nearly 800,000 students of a total full-time post-secondary enrolment of just over 2 million students are international.

The Canadian post-secondary system is therefore highly dependent on international students, and the Canadian economy is also well served by their presence. As per the October 2023 IRCC press release:

“International education accounts for more than CDN$22 billion in economic activity annually, greater than Canada’s exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft, and supports more than 200,000 jobs in Canada. The temporary drop in international students in 2020 resulted in a loss of more than CDN$7 billion for Canada’s gross domestic product that year.”

Australia is also tightening policies

Australia, which enrolled more international students than Canada did before the pandemic and which quickly recovered its foreign enrolment once borders reopened, is also introducing policies aimed to improve the integrity of its international education sector.

A recently released parliamentary report asked the government to urgently address the short supply of student housing in the country and to identify and penalise unscrupulous institutions and agents recruiting international students.

The government has also closed loopholes in the student visa system that were encouraging some visa applicants to apply as genuine students and then transition quickly away from studies and into the workforce.

The Australian government’s intention is “to ensure the integrity of one of our biggest exports.” In both Australia and Canada, there appears to be a growing acknowledgement at the top levels of government of the massive importance of international education to the national economy and to immigration goals in general.

For additional background, please see:

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