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22nd Jan 2024

Canada announces two-year cap on new study permits

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Canada will establish a cap on the number of new study permits issued to international students
  • The cap will be in effect for 2024 and 2025, and is described as a temporary measure
  • Canadian immigration officials anticipate that the cap will result in a 35% reduction in the number of new study permits issued in 2024, compared to 2023 levels
  • In addition to the cap, the government also announced today that as of 1 September 2024, students enrolled in programmes delivered via public-private partnerships will no longer be eligible for post-graduate work permits
  • The government will also move to limit open work permits available to spouses of international students
  • However, post-graduate work rights will be expanded for students completing graduate studies in Canada, with such students soon being able to apply for a three-year post-graduate work permit

Immigration Minister Marc Miller has announced that Canada will establish a temporary, two-year cap on the number of new study permits issued to international students. The move is the latest in a series of measures the government has taken in recent months to tighten integrity controls within the student visa programme.

Speaking in Montréal on 22 January, Minister Miller said, "These measures are to ensure that as future students arrive in Canada, they receive the quality of education that they signed up for and the hope that they were provided in their home countries. It would be a disservice to welcome international students to Canada knowing that not all of them are getting the resources they need to succeed in Canada. Allowing bad actors to continue their operations would be a disservice to all of the good institutions who pride themselves on providing a top-tier academic experience."

Signalling the government's key concerns, he added, “It is 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."

The government is announcing three principal measures today, most notably a temporary two-year cap on new international study permits.

"[This] is the latest in a series of measures to improve programme integrity, and to set international students up for success in order to maintain a sustainable level of temporary residence in Canada as well," said Mr Miller. "For 2024, the cap is expected to result in approximately 364,000 approved study permits, a decrease of 35% from [the number of study permits issued in] 2023."

"In the spirit of fairness, we are also allocating the cap space by province based on population…some provinces will see much more significant reductions. Some provinces will actually have room to [grow] if they so choose but the provinces that have been most heavily effected will have to decrease by about 50% or perhaps even a bit more than 50%, when it comes to new incoming [students]."

The minister also announced that effective immediately, applicants must provide a provincial attestation with their study permit application. A related statement from IRCC notes that, "Provinces and territories are expected to establish a process for issuing attestation letters to students by no later than 31 March 2024."

He was quick to caution that the cap will not apply to students in graduate-level programmes, including master's or doctoral studies. Study permit applications at the elementary and secondary school levels will also be exempt from the cap. Those exemptions may call into question the minister's assertion that the cap will result in a 35% reduction.

However, the distribution of study permits for 2023 by level of study would suggest the actual reduction could be significantly less. IRCC data indicates that there were a total of 579,075 study permits issued during the year. Capping that total at 364,000 would indeed amount to more than a 35% decrease. But factoring out permits for K-12 students alone (of which there were 105,160), would bring the reduction to 23%. And, given that graduate students are also exempt, it would appear the actual reduction under the cap is likely to be closer to, perhaps even less than, 20%.

In any case, Mr Miller was quick to note that the cap will not impact continuing students, "To be clear, the cap will not apply to applicants within Canada looking to extend their studies as it wouldn't be fair to prevent someone from finishing their programme. Nor will the cap have an effect on study permit holders currently in Canada."

The cap will be in place for two years, and the number of new study permit applications that will be issued in 2025 will be assessed at the end of 2024. IRCC adds, "During [the two-year cap period], the Government of Canada will continue to work with provinces and territories, designated learning institutions and national education stakeholders on developing a sustainable path forward for international students, including finalizing a recognised institution framework, determining long-term sustainable levels of international students, and ensuring post-secondary institutions are able to provide adequate levels of student housing."

Changes coming for work eligibility

Minister Miller also announced today that as of 1 September of this year, post-graduate work permits will no longer be available to students enrolled in programmes delivered via public-private partnerships. This model is especially prevalent in Ontario where international enrolment in programmes offered via such partnerships or licensing arrangements has skyrocketed in recent years.

The Minister's concluded his announcements today by noting that, "In the coming weeks we will be announcing that open work permits will only be allowed and be available to spouses of international students enrolled in master's and doctoral programmes as well as those enrolled in professional programmes, such as medicine and law. Spouses of students enrolled in other levels of study, including undergraduate and college programmes, will no longer be eligible [for work permits]."

At the same time, the government is also moving to expand post-study work rights for graduate students, explaining that, "Graduates of master’s and other short graduate-level programs will soon be eligible to apply for a three-year work permit. Under current criteria, the length of a post­graduation work permit is based solely on the length of an individual’s study program, hindering master’s graduates by limiting the amount of time they have to gain work experience and potentially transition to permanent residence."

Stakeholders respond

Peak bodies and other stakeholders and observers have been quick to respond to the study permit cap.

A statement from the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) puts it plainly, "CBIE recognises that IRCC has chosen to take leadership on issues in international education using the policy levers available to them. However, we are concerned that IRCC’s earnest approach to ‘fix the problem’ through a wide-sweeping cap on the number of international students coming to Canada may have serious unintended consequences.  This hasty one-size-fits-all solution may jeopardize the benefits of international education that many communities across the country experience and rapidly unravel a strong global Canadian education brand that has taken years to build."

"We are concerned about the potential ramifications this decrease – and its rollout – will have on current and prospective international students, Canadians, their communities, and the country," said Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan). "This approach, characterised by Minister Miller as a “blunt instrument,” 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."

Writing on his blog this week, industry consultant Alex Usher added, "[IRCC is] using language about 'fall 2024,' but there are already students applying for visas for fall 2024. For any of these initiatives to mean anything in fall 2024, they would have to be implemented almost immediately—and that would mean suspending visa processing almost immediately until provinces got their act together with respect to allocating visa spots and issuing certificates. This could create a lot of uncertainty in the short term."

For additional background, please see:

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