Canada has seen a record-breaking year for international student visa applications, with over 800,000 study permit holders in the country in December 2022. This marks a significant increase of over 190,000 from 2021 and exceeds Canada’s 2014 target of 450,000 foreign students by 2022.
Despite struggling to cope with the surge in applications, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued 551,405 new study permits, representing a 24% increase from the previous year.
India makes up largest student population
Indian students continue to make up the largest group of international students, accounting for 41% (226,450) of study permits issued in 2022, followed by Chinese students with 52,165 permits issued. There were a total of 319,130 Indian study permit holders in Canada, followed by 100,075 from China. Other leading source countries included the Philippines, France, Nigeria, and Korea.
Alain Roy, Vice President International Partnerships at Colleges and Institutes Canada, stated that the surge in international students was “not surprising”, given the pent-up demand easing after the pandemic.
Remains attractive for international students
Canada remains an attractive destination for international students due to its openness to diversity, affordable quality education, and opportunities for work experience during and after studies. Roy added that this year’s increase has been manageable and that colleges and institutes have largely prepared for it, planning the availability of seats and scaling up student services.
Ontario was the most popular study destination, accounting for 52% (289,835) of all new permits issued in 2022, followed by British Columbia, which accounted for 19% of total permits issued. Over half (411,985) of all international students in Canada held permits linked to Ontario institutions. Other regions have attempted to lure foreign students away from Canada’s most populous province with new investments, including New Brunswick, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.
Struggles and concerns
However, the influx of international students has raised concerns in some parts of the international education sector, with critics warning that the country may not be able to accommodate the number of permanent residency applications that will likely enter the pipeline from international students in the coming years. Similarly, affordable housing is in short supply in parts of Canada, with some students falling victim to scams.
Alex Usher, President of Higher Education Strategy Associates, cautioned that institutions could probably keep accepting students as long as they want, but the question is whether communities have the space to accept that many short-term residents. At least not in Ontario, which is where the bulk of the increase is occurring.
Larissa Bezo, President and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, said the growth “underscores Canada’s strong and continued positioning as a highly valued destination for learning”.
She also noted that the international education community is committed to ensuring a high quality and supportive learning experience for international students.
While the current global context and growing interest have created complex challenges and administrative backlogs in processing times, the growing number of study permits being issued is part of a concerted effort to ensure the sector’s full recovery and growth over the long-term.
The majority of permits were issued at higher education level, but the k-12 sector also saw growth, with 82,000 study permits issued for secondary level or below, compared to 63,745 in 2021.
CICan has been working with local and provincial authorities to address the availability of affordable housing for incoming students. Roy said that this has been a big issue in 2022, with colleges and institutes organizing various local and regional summits and roundtables to develop strategies to continue to provide a quality experience to international students.