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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
6th Mar 2024

British Columbia releases details of new Provincial Attestation Letter system under Canada’s international student cap

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The BC Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills has confirmed that the province has been allocated 83,000 undergraduate study permit applications for 2024
  • This compares to the 97,000 study permit applications filed by students intending to study in BC in 2023
  • The Province has also announced that as of 4 March 2024, it has begun to issue the new Provincial Attestation Letters (PALs) that all provinces and territories are now required to provide under Canada’s international student cap
  • This makes BC the third Canadian province or territory, after only Quebec and Alberta, to begin issuing PALs and it means in effect that study permit processing for students intending to pursue undergraduate, college, and language studies in BC has now resumed

British Columbia is Canada's westernmost province, and a leading destination for international students within Canada. On 1 March, the BC Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills released details of how the international student cap will be applied within the province's education system.

Importantly, the Province has also confirmed the launch of its new system for issuing the Provincial Attestation Letters (PALs) that all provinces and territories are now required to provide under the international student cap. The BC Ministry began issuing PALs for new study permit applications as of 4 March 2024. This means in effect that study permit processing is once again open for all students applying to study with an institution or school in British Columbia.

Commenting on the international student cap, and the PAL requirement that arises from it, Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Lisa Beare said, “Our ministry is moving quickly to ensure that we mitigate negative impacts to our post-secondary institutions and that international students have every opportunity to succeed in their education in BC. While we’ve all agreed that the status quo wasn’t working for anyone – not for students, and not for our communities – the federal cap doesn’t take British Columbia’s unique environment into account. We will continue to work with the federal government to ensure any subsequent changes take British Columbia’s needs into consideration so that we can have a made-in-BC solution that properly responds to our shared goals.”

Indeed, this week's announcement means that BC is one of the first provinces – after the Province of Quebec which already had a PAL-like mechanism in place; and Alberta which began issuing its PALs on 1 March 2024 – to establish a process for issuing PALs in response to the new requirements announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on 22 January 2024.

The Ministry explains, "The Provincial Attestation Letter is a verification letter that will be sent from the Province to the institution, then from the institution to the international applicant. The letter will serve as proof that the applicant has been accounted for within the [cap limit] set by the federal government. Applicants will submit the attestation letter along with their study permit application. Institutions that use their full allocation will not be able to submit more applications until a new allocation is issued by the federal government for the following year." To be clear about that new mechanism, the PAL will be sent to the institution or school automatically by the Ministry – as soon as the institution enters required information for the student-applicant into the province's new PAL system; and presuming the institution still has room under its assigned cap quota – and is not expected to add any time or any significant effort to the study permit application process.

British Columbia has now also confirmed that its allocation from IRCC under the new cap system allows for 83,000 undergraduate study permit applications. This compares to the 97,000 study permit applications filed for students intending to pursue undergraduate (or equivalent) studies in the province in 2023. The Ministry adds that, "Based on previous acceptance rates, the federal government expects this to result in approximately 50,000 approved study permit applications for 2024. This compares to approximately 60,000 approved study permits for BC in 2023."

On its face, that would suggest a reduction in study permits of roughly -17% issued for students outside of graduate or K-12 studies (both of which are exempt from the cap). However, given the formula used to allocate study permit application quotas to individual institutions, it appears that many providers can anticipate stable, or perhaps only modestly lower, enrolments in 2024.

The Ministry notes that the allocation of study permit quotas will skew slightly in favour of public institutions in the province: "The distribution for the Provincial Attestation Letters will be 53% for public post-secondary institutions and 47% for private institutions. The distribution is based on supporting public post-secondary institutions to maintain their international student programmes while managing growth for this year and for future years."

All designated learning institutions (DLIs) in BC have now received their allocation of that overall provincial cap quota for 2024. A separate advisory from the Ministry adds that all DLIs will be required to reconfirm the number of PALs they will need for 2024 by 1 June, noting that "any extra Provincial Attestation Letters will be [re]distributed" within the provincial education system at that point.

For additional background, please see:

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