Canada: visa cap could be reduced from 360,000

Published 13/03/2024

The number of new international study permits allocated by the Canadian government this year has been revised to approximately 292,000, down from the initial cap of 360,000 announced in January.

At the time, immigration minister Marc Miller said that the new policy would limit the number of new international study visas by 35% as compared with 2023, to control the “unsustainable growth” of international student numbers.

The minister has clarified that the initial limit included K-12 students and graduate students who are exempt from the cap, meaning that the actual number of new permits available for undergraduate programs is approximately 292,000, as reported in The Globe and Mail.

However, the minister only has the power to limit the number of applications processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, not the number of new study permits that will be approved.

“The way it works through the maths is that we assume a level of acceptance and rejection at our level, and it churns out a bunch of visas. What we did was cap the intake at a certain level then we distributed it generally by population across Canada,” Miller said to a meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The initial figure of 360,000 approved study permits was based on a cap of 605,000 processed applications and past approval rates of about 60% (360,000).

The federal government has said that a study permit application will only be processed if it has a provincial attestation letter included, which serves as proof that the student has been accounted for under each province’s limit.

According to Cath D’Amico, former president of Languages Canada, institutions have drawn up whole rubrics to determine which students are most likely to have their visa approved and to accept the university’s offer because once a PAL is issued by an institution, it cannot be returned and reused.

Such mitigation efforts could result in the final number of study permits being higher than the government’s revised 292,000 target, but it is unclear whether the IRCC will simply stop processing applications at this point.

The recent revision is likely to cause confusion among institutions and provincial governments, who have been given a deadline of March 31 to create and implement their systems of delivering provincial attestation letters.

“I think the discussions really now need to occur and take place with the provinces as they deal with some of the incredible volumes that they themselves have created or encouraged,” Miller told the Languages Canada conference in February.

But universities have criticised the government for not providing enough specific information following the cap announcement on January 22 which many considered a “reactionary” measure that is proving difficult to implement.

Prior to the announcement, Quebec was the only province that had an attestation letter system in place and study visa processing has been brought to a halt across the other provinces.

Sector leaders have warned that delays will have an adverse impact on prospective students who want to come to Canada but have put their studies on hold until provinces start issuing attestation letters.

Last week, British Columbia and Nova Scotia announced their allocations of 83,000 and 12,900 study applications, respectively.

The B.C. government has said that 53% will go to public post-secondary institutions and 47% will go to private institutions and has started issuing provincial attestation letters. Nova Scotia is yet to do so.

It has been reported that Alberta has also begun issuing provincial attestation letters, though it is yet to announce its study permit allocation.

Aissa Diop, a spokesperson for minister Miller, said the government is hoping to publish the provincial study permit allocations soon.

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