Canada: A Two-Year Cap
on Foreign Students

Canada has become a favoured choice among international students due to the comparatively straightforward process of obtaining work permits upon completing their studies. However, the influx of international students has resulted in a severe shortage of apartments, causing a rise in rental prices, and placing added strain on healthcare and other essential services.

On 22 January 2024, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that the government will set an intake cap on international student permit applications to stabilize new growth for a period of two years.

For 2024, the cap is expected to result in approximately 360,000 approved study permits, a decrease of 35% from 2023. Individual provincial and territorial caps have been established, weighted by population, which will result in much more significant decreases in provinces where the international student population has seen the most growth. The cap will only apply to students on a diploma or undergraduate programme.

Who is not affected by the cap?

  • Study permit renewals will not be impacted.
  • Students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, and elementary and secondary education are not included in the cap.
  • Current study permit holders will not be affected.

Each province and territory will be allotted a portion of the total, determined by population and current student intake. Provinces will then decide how to distribute these permits across their universities and colleges. To implement the cap, as of 22 January 2024, every study permit application submitted to IRCC will also require an attestation letter from a province or territory. Provinces and territories are expected to establish a process for issuing attestation letters to students by no later than 31 March 2024.

These temporary measures will be in place for two years, and the number of new study permit applications that will be accepted in 2025 will be re-assessed at the end of this year. During this 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 recognized institution framework, determining long-term sustainable levels of international students and ensuring post-secondary institutions are able to provide adequate levels of student housing.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said that the new measures are “not against individual international students” but are meant to ensure future students receive a “quality of education that they signed up for”.

What is the effect on securing work permits as a result of the cap?

In order to better align the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, the government is changing the eligibility criteria:

  • Starting 1 September 2024, international students who enroll in a study program included in a curriculum licensing arrangement will lose their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit upon completing their studies. In curriculum licensing agreements, students attend a private college licensed to provide the curriculum of an associated public college. These programs have experienced substantial growth in attracting international students in recent years, but they have fewer regulations compared to public colleges, serving as a loophole in terms of post-graduation work permit eligibility.
  • Those who complete master’s degree programs will soon have the opportunity to request a three-year work permit. The current criteria tie the duration of a post-graduation work permit solely to the length of the individual’s study program, posing a limitation for master’s graduates in terms of gaining work experience and potentially progressing towards permanent residence.

Furthermore, the Spouse Open Work Permit will now be restricted to spouses of international students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs. Spouses of international students in other educational levels, such as undergraduate and college programs, will no longer qualify for this open work permit.

Support with Canadian immigration

If you want to work or study in Canada and require advice with the immigration process, Smith Stone Walters can help.

Our global immigration team can assess your eligibility for the various streams available, and provide support with your application. To find out more, please contact us today.

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