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20th Mar 2024

Canada’s language training sector continues to strengthen amid new immigration settings

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Canada’s language training centres recovered to 85% of pre-pandemic enrolment levels in 2023
  • The sector continues to press for improvements in visa processing for language students, including an enrolment cap exemption for longer-term students

By 2022, Canada’s language training sector had recovered to roughly 65% of pre-pandemic enrolments. While complete data for 2023 is not yet available, peak body Languages Canada is signalling another strong year of growth in 2023 and estimates that enrolment for the year will reach 75% of pre-COVID volumes.

Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta says that, while the significant visa processing delays that hampered growth in 2022 have eased, further improvements are needed. “Visa processing times are much better but still not up to our expectations,” he said to ICEF Monitor this week. “We want better for our agencies and students and we will continue to press government on this issue. Of the three categories of visas, eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) is the one that functions best – it is much faster and at a lower cost. Although it is not reasonable to believe that TRVs (a visitor visa, or Temporary Resident Visa) and study permits could attain the same level of speed and low cost, they can improve. IRCC is undergoing a modernisation drive and Languages Canada will do everything possible to ensure the needs of language students are considered and included in the new system."

Please consult the links above for detailed guidance from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on each visa class. But to recap quickly: visa-exempt travellers to Canada require an eTA. Short-term visitors – that is, those planning to visit or study for less than six months – from countries that require a visa need to obtain a visitor visa (also known as a TRV) – but not an eTA. And those intending to study for more than six months require a study permit.

Most language students enter Canada with an eTA or TRV. In 2022, for example, the average duration of study was 11.2 weeks.

However, that requirement to obtain a study permit for longer-term language studies also means that those students intending to pursue language programmes of six months or more in Canada are now also captured under the cap on international study permits introduced by IRCC on 22 January 2024. IRCC officials subsequently explained to ICEF Monitor that, "Many students pursuing language training in Canada don’t require a study permit, as their course is shorter than six months, and would not be counted under the cap or require a provincial attestation letter. Those pursuing programmes that last six months or longer would be subject to the cap and the attestation letter requirement."

Languages Canada has since been advocating for an exemption for longer-term language students similar to the exception granted to K-12 and masters/doctoral students, which are not captured under the cap. Appearing via video call at the recent Languages Canada conference in Vancouver, IRCC Minister Marc Miller said that he was not prepared to entertain further exemptions at this time.

Mr Peralta makes it clear, however, that as far as the sector is concerned the question is not yet settled: "Languages Canada will continue to press for an exemption for students of our Official Languages from the cap imposed on 22 January 2024. Minister Miller did not rule it out, although he is committed to launching the current process as it stands before making changes such as [additional] exemptions. This means that no changes can be expected before the end of the year."

He adds that, "Languages Canada's position on the new cap system is simple: we agree with the what, but not the how. Abuse was happening and a correction was needed, including some type of controlling mechanism. But the way government went about it has created a lot of unnecessary thrash. Looking down the line, after things settle, we expect a better situation. The most important step for our members to take at this time is to maximise [return on investment] - every application for a study permit should be given to students with the best chances of obtaining entry to Canada."

New visa requirements for some Mexican travellers

Most recently, IRCC announced on 29 February 2024 that some Mexican travellers to Caxnada would now require a visitor visa (TRV). The official IRCC release explains that, "Mexican citizens who hold a valid US non-immigrant visa or have held a Canadian visa in the past 10 years and are travelling by air on a Mexican passport will be able to apply for an electronic travel authorization (eTA). With the high number of Mexican citizens currently holding US visas, the majority will continue to enjoy visa-free travel to Canada. Those who do not meet these conditions will need to apply for a Canadian visitor visa."

The change arises because of "an increase in asylum claims made by Mexican citizens" visiting in Canada, but it carries with it important implications for Canada's language training sector. With year-over-year growth of 14% in 2023, Mexico was the #2 sending market for Canada's language schools last year.

"We are disappointed but understand the reimposition of visa requirements for Mexican travellers to Canada," says Mr Peralta. "Our country is generous but the number of asylum seekers, including from Mexico, has increased too quickly for our resources to handle. Mexican citizens with access to eTAs still have ease of entry, of course, and we will keep an eye on visa processing times for TRVs and study permits. The change in visa requirements requires that our members and partners in Mexico change tactics, improve coordination, and perhaps most important, be more selective in student selection."

For additional background, please see:

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