As an international student, studying abroad is a great way to expand your horizons and gain foreign academic credentials and work experience. It can also be a stepping stone to carving a permanent future for yourself in a country that promises a better quality of life.
Canada is one of the most popular study destinations in the world and it may already be on your shortlist or you may already have started exploring university and college options in Canada. If you’re thinking or actively planning to study in Canada, you should be aware that the government has recently announced some changes to the study permit and Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) requirements.
In this article:
New 2024 rules for international students coming to Canada
Here’s an overview of changes that may impact international students planning to study in Canada:
- Temporary federal cap on international student intake: The number of study permits being approved in 2024 is expected to decrease by 35 per cent over 2023 to 360,000. The cap for 2025 will be decided at the end of 2024.
- Changes to Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) eligibility criteria: International students beginning study programs in private colleges delivering licensed curriculum on or after September 1, 2024, will not be eligible for PGWPs.
- Longer PGWPs for master’s graduates: Students who’ve completed master’s programs in Canada will soon be able to get three-year PGWPs.
- Changes to Spousal Open Work Permit eligibility: Only spouses of international students enrolled in master’s, doctoral, and professional programs will be eligible for open work permits.
- Updated cost-of-living requirements for students: Starting January 1, 2024, international students will need to show they have at least $20,635 (previously $10,000) to cover their living expenses (the requirement is different for students moving to Quebec).
Temporary cap on Canadian study permits being issued
On January 22, 2024, the federal government announced a two-year intake cap on study permit applications being approved. It is expected that approximately 360,000 new study permits will be issued to international students in 2024—a 35 per cent decrease compared to 2023. The cap for 2025 will be determined at the end of the year.
Each province and territory will also have a cap on the number of new international students being enrolled in undergraduate programs. Provinces that have seen the most unsustainable growth in international students will see sharper cuts in their study permit allocations. For instance, in Ontario, a 50 per cent reduction in study permit approval is expected.
Further, provinces and territories will be able to allocate study permit caps to universities and colleges in their jurisdictions. The caps will not apply to international students pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees in Canada. Existing international students who are renewing their Canadian study permits will also not be affected.
Why is Canada enforcing an international student cap?
Over the last decade, the number of study permits being issued by the Canadian government has increased significantly. Unfortunately, the infrastructure required to support this influx of international students has not kept pace, creating pressure on the housing and healthcare systems.
Moreover, some private institutions have been accepting more international students to increase their revenues without improving admission and curriculum standards. This new study permit cap is intended to give the Canadian government time to build a Trusted Institutions Framework which will encourage Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) to maintain a high standard of education and help eliminate bad actors in the education sector. This will also ensure that the international students arriving in Canada have the support they need to succeed academically and in other aspects of life.
How does the international student cap impact study permit applicants?
As an international student, you may be concerned about how this new cap might affect your chances of qualifying for a Canadian study permit. With fewer study permits being approved, it is expected that admission into Canadian DLIs will become more competitive.
If you’re applying to a master’s or doctoral program in Canada, your chances of getting a study permit will likely remain unaffected. However, students enrolling in undergraduate programs, such as bachelor’s degree, diploma or certificate programs, may find it harder to qualify for a study permit. The reduction in the number of study permits issued is also expected to be more drastic in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia, so students interested in these provinces may face greater competition.
Students submitting their study permit applications after January 22, 2024, will also need to get an attestation letter from the province or territory they plan to study in, as added proof of their application’s legitimacy. This document will be in addition to other paperwork, including the Letter of Acceptance (LOA) and proof of financial support, that students are already required to submit. However, the federal government has given provinces and territories time until March 31, 2024, to set up a process for the issuance of attestation letters to international students. This may lead to longer processing times and cause delays in the study permit application process for some summer intake students in 2024.
|Note: International students coming to Quebec to study were already required to submit a Quebec Acceptance Certificate as part of their study permit application. These students will not require any additional attestation letters.
Will the study permit cap affect existing study permit holders?
No, Canada’s student visa cap will only impact international students submitting their study permit applications on or after January 22, 2024. Existing study permit holders looking to extend their study permits in Canada will not be subject to the new cap.
Will Canada’s study permit cap affect master’s or PhD students?
International students pursuing master’s or doctoral programs (graduate degrees) are currently exempt from the federal and provincial study permit caps. The caps will only apply to undergraduate programs (including bachelor’s degree, certificate, and diploma programs) being offered by colleges and universities in Canada.
Changes to Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) eligibility
A Post-Graduation Work Permit is an open work permit that may be issued to international students who’ve completed an eligible study program in Canada. Previously, most international students who completed a Canadian study program longer than eight months were eligible for Post-Graduation Work Permits.
However, starting September 1, 2024, international students who start a study program offered by a public-private partnership (PPP) institution as part of a curriculum licensing agreement will not be eligible for PGWPs after graduation.
Why will Public-Private Partnership institution graduates no longer be eligible for work permits?
Under curriculum licensing arrangements, private colleges deliver a curriculum created by an associated public college but are subject to relatively less regulatory oversight. International students attend in-person classes at these PPP institutions and the school pays a portion of the tuition fees they collect to the associated public college.
The Government of Canada has accused some PPP institutions of not delivering sufficient educational value to international students, and as such, has announced these measures to protect the education system and international students from bad actors who have taken advantage of them to make huge profits.
Another significant change to the PGWP program is that graduates of master’s degree programs will now qualify for a three-year work permit. Previously, the length of a PGWP was determined by the length of the applicant’s study program, and as a result, graduates of master’s programs were only eligible for one or two-year PGWPs. Increasing the length of PGWPs issued to master’s graduates will give them more time to gather Canadian work experience and qualify for permanent residence programs.
Why are changes being made to Canada’s PGWP program?
The Post-Graduation Work Permit program allows Canada to retain talented professionals who’ve graduated from Canadian universities and colleges. These international students can stay in Canada temporarily to gain work experience and contribute to the job market and economy.
Moreover, the Canadian work experience they gain makes it easier to qualify for permanent residence programs such as the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Federal Skilled Worker (FSW), and Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).
Changes to the PGWP program will help ensure that the international students qualifying for PGWPs are equipped with the qualifications and educational background necessary to succeed in the Canadian job market. It will also encourage academic institutions in Canada to raise the bar in terms of the quality of education they offer students.
Other spousal open work permit eligibility
Until 2023, spouses of international students enrolled in eligible full-time Canadian study programs were eligible for spousal open work permits (SOWPs). However, going forward, open work permits under section C42 will only be available to spouses of master’s and doctoral students and students enrolled in professional programs, such as law and medicine. Spouses of international students enrolled in undergraduate and other college programs will no longer be eligible for open work permits.
Updated cost of living requirement for international students
Starting January 1, 2024, the cost of living requirement for international students has been increased from $10,000 to $20,635, not including tuition fees. The minimum proof of financial support needed to study in Quebec will be $15,078 (except for international students under the age of 18, who will need to show access to at least $7,541).
Students applying for a Canadian study permit on or after January 1, 2024, will need to show sufficient proof of financial support to meet the revised cost of living requirements. Bear in mind that, as an international student, you do not need to pay these funds to the IRCC or your academic institution. You just need to have this money available to pay for your living expenses during your studies.
Why was the cost of living requirement for international students increased?
The upward revision of the cost of living requirement was done to depict a more realistic picture of students’ living expenses in Canada and to ensure that international students have access to enough funds to pay for necessities in Canada. The cost of living requirements are expected to be revised each year.
Previously, there had been reports of international students struggling to make ends meet in Canada. With the cost of housing and other living expenses in Canada increasing, having access to more funds will make it easier for international students to focus on their studies without having to worry about their finances.
As an international student hoping to study in Canada, the recently announced restrictions to the number of study permits issued each year may make the admission and study permit process more competitive. However, this will also allow the government to maintain greater oversight of academic institutions and ensure that international students receive a better quality of education. Changes to the PGWP and open work permit programs will help make it easier for foreign talent to find suitable employment in Canada and ensure that Canadian employers have access to high-quality candidates. Finally, although a higher cost of living requirement may force incoming students to re-evaluate their budget, clarity on how much money they will realistically need to support themselves in Canada will be beneficial for them in the long run. These changes will help make the international student program in Canada more robust and sustainable.