The number of new visas handed out will be capped at 364,000. Nearly 560,000 such visas were issued last year. Image Credit: Supplied

Toronto: Canada on Monday set an intake cap for international student permits at about 360,000 for 2024, or a decrease of 35 per cent from last year, according to Immigration Minister Marc Miller. The cap will remain in place for two years, with the 2025 limit to be reassessed at the end of this year.

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Miller said that there will be a 35 per cent reduction in new study visas in 2024. He said that the international students program has been exploited by institutions offering “sham” degrees, putting pressure on housing and health care. He also said that officials have been working on stabilising the number of people entering the country yearly as housing pressures mount.

Here is how the new plans will work and what's at stake.

What we know about the cap?

The number of new visas handed out will be capped at 364,000 for 2024, or a decrease of 35 per cent from last year. Nearly 560,000 such visas were issued last year. The new proposals will also set limits on post-graduate work permits issued to foreign students, which will likely encourage them to return to their home countries. The permits were previously seen as an easy path to securing permanent residency.

Study permit renewals will not be impacted. Those 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.

How the cap will be applied

The Canadian government has announced plans to reassess the cap on international student work permits in 2025. While this primarily affects undergraduate programs, some noteworthy modifications apply to graduate, professional, and doctoral students as well. Let's dive into the key changes you need to know.

Post-graduation work permit

-Starting September 1, 2024, international students who begin a study program that is part of a curriculum licensing arrangement will no longer be eligible for a post-graduation work permit upon graduation.

-Graduates of master’s and other short graduate-level programs will soon be eligible to apply for a 3-year work permit.

This international student cap is a two-year temporary policy, and will not affect current study permit holders or renewals. Furthermore, it exempts students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees.

Spousal open work permits

In the weeks ahead, open work permits will only be available to spouses of international students in master's and doctoral programs. The spouses of international students in other levels of study, including undergraduate and college programs, will no longer be eligible.

Quotas and distribution by province

Canada is implementing a new system for managing international student admissions, balancing national targets with provincial capacity and institutional needs. Here's a breakdown:

Provincial quotas: Each province receives a set number of international student admissions based on its housing and accommodation resources. This ensures students have access to suitable living conditions while studying.

Institutional Distribution: Provinces then distribute their allocated admissions among various institutions within their jurisdiction. This allows universities and colleges to tailor their intake to their specific programs and infrastructure.

Attestation requirement

Along with the cap, the federal government will also require international students applying for a permit to provide an attestation letter from a province or territory.

Starting January 22, 2024, most study permit apps need an attestation letter from your chosen province/territory. Provinces will have until March 31 to set up a process. Missing the letter means your app gets returned, unless exempt.

How to get an attestation letter
Each province or territory is developing a process to get an attestation letter. If you plan to study in Quebec for less than 6 months, you can apply for a study permit without a CAQ. You still need a regular attestation letter.

Who doesn't need a letter for their study permit?

• a minor child applying to study in a primary or secondary school (kindergarten to grade 12)
• a student applying for a Masters, PhD or other post-graduate program
• a student applying to extend their study permit

Why is government cracking down?

Canada has emerged as a popular destination for international students since it is relatively easy to obtain work permits after finishing courses. But the surge in international student led to acute shortage in rental apartments, which pushed up rents. Just in December, rents nationwide rose 7.7 per cent from a year earlier, according to Statscan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's popularity has taken a hit mainly due to the affordability crisis, and the opposition Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre has taken a commanding lead over Trudeau in opinion polls ahead of an election next year.

Apart from the rental crisis, the government has also been concerned about the quality of education provided by some of the institutions.

Who will this impact?

International students are also a cash cow for universities as they bring in about C$22 billion ($16.4 billion) annually and the move will hurt many institutions that had ramped up their campuses in the hope of a continued inflow of students. Ontario, the most populous province, received the biggest share of international students. Some businesses, including restaurants and retail sectors, have warned that a cap on foreign students will create shortage of temporary workers.

Restaurants across Canada are grappling with labour shortages with nearly 100,000 vacancies, and international students made up 4.6 per cent of 1.1 million workers in the food service industry in 2023, a lobby group told Reuters last week.

Canadian banks had benefited from the influx of new students, as each student was required to have a Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC) of more than C$20,000, a prerequisite for international students to cover living expenses.


Living costs soar for students

Canada has significantly increased the financial threshold for obtaining a student visa. Starting January 1, 2024, individual applicants must now demonstrate possession of CAN$20,635 in accessible funds, more than double the previous requirement of over $10,000. This figure excludes tuition and any additional fees for accompanying family members.

One-time requirement: It replaces the previous $10,000 minimum and covers your living expenses for the duration of your study permit, in addition to your first year's tuition and travel costs.

Work flexibility for international students

The temporary waiver allowing off-campus work above 20 hours/week for international students has been extended to April 30, 2024. This applies to current students and those who applied for a study permit before December 7th, 2023. The government may consider raising the work hour cap permanently, but concerns exist about prioritizing studies.

The recent increase in financial requirements for student visas aims for transparency and reduces fraud risk, but some worry about its impact on applications.

- With inputs from Reuters, Bloomberg and AP