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How will Canada’s new international student cap affect the country?

On 22 Jan 2024, The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the implementation of a cap on international student study permits, sparking discussions on its impact from various perspectives. In a bid to manage the surging demands on essential services, the Canadian government has recently implemented a new cap on international student study permits aimed at stabilizing the intake of applications. In 2024, Canada anticipates approving only 360,000 International Student Study Permits, a 35% decrease from 2023 levels.

To learn more about the new amendments, read:
Canada to Implement a 2-year Cap on New International Student Permit


Addressing Housing and Healthcare Challenges: Beyond International Students in Canada

The imposition of a cap on international student permits has been presented as a solution to the growing pressures on essential services by IRCC in their press release, particularly housing and healthcare. While it may address immediate concerns, it is essential to recognize that the root causes of these challenges extend beyond the presence of international students and immigrants. 

The housing crisis, often attributed to population growth, is also influenced by factors such as high interest rates and supply chain disruptions. Merely restricting international student permits might be a temporary fix, prompting the need for a more holistic approach to ensure sustainable solutions.

A report by RBC economist Cynthia Leach emphasizes that Canada’s current immigration rate is insufficient for long-term growth, suggesting a need for a more comprehensive strategy.


Revised Open Work Permit Eligibility: Potential Financial Challenges for International Students

A significant aspect of the policy is the revised elegibility for international students’ spouses to apply a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP). Under the new policy, only spouses of international students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs will be eligible for the application. 

This exclusion places a financial burden on unqualified students and their families, limiting opportunities for work that could support education and living expenses. The impact on students at other study levels is concerning, raising questions about the long-term financial viability of pursuing education in Canada.

International students already face higher tuition fees than local students. The new policy exacerbates this financial strain by limiting opportunities for spouses to work and contribute to household income. This increased burden may force some international students to reconsider their educational aspirations in Canada, seeking more affordable alternatives elsewhere.

The impact on students at other study levels is a cause for concern, and policymakers may need to reevaluate the consequences of such restrictions.


A Double-Edged Sword for Universities and Colleges

Targeting “Bad Actors” and “Puppy Mills”

Other than easing housing problems, a major goal of these new measures is to target institutional “bad actors” and those so-called “puppy mills”. 

These measures may help address the misconduct of certain “bad actors,” including some small private colleges. Exploiting loopholes, these individuals establish under-resourced campuses that not only lack support for students but also impose exorbitant fees on international students, offering them what amounts to “fake business degrees.” Currently, there are likely hundreds of such institutions in Canada, and they have experienced explosive growth over the past few years.

Implementing policies, such as adjusting the criteria for the Post-Graduation Work Permit program, can play a role in curbing undesirable behavior and upholding the high standards of post-secondary education in Canada.


Universities and Colleges’ reliance on International Students Fee

On the other hand, the revised policy has brought to light the vulnerability of the post-secondary education system, particularly its reliance on international student fees for funding. However, the new policy is expected to reduce the international student enrollment by at least 35% in 2024, foreseeably leading to a significant decline in the revenue for universities and colleges.

The statement of Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation suggests that Ontario has underfunded post-secondary education, causing colleges and universities heavily rely on international students’ tuition. This also applies to other provinces.

The underfunding of post-secondary education is a pressing issue that needs urgent attention. It is said that the potential deterrent effect of the new policy might lead to a decline in the intake of students, the quality of education and research output, and the long-term competitiveness of Canadian institutions globally.


Attractiveness of Canadian Institutions

Canadian universities and colleges have become attractive destinations for international students due to their reputed quality of education and inclusive environment. However, the new policy risks diminishing this appeal. Financial constraints, coupled with the restrictive nature of open work permits, might steer potential international students away from Canadian institutions, impacting the cultural diversity and global perspectives within these educational settings.



While Canada’s policy changes aim to address immediate challenges, they carry significant implications for international students and the broader education system. The government must carefully consider the impact of these changes on all parties, including the potential financial burden on students and the attractiveness of Canadian institutions to international students. A balance between addressing domestic concerns and maintaining Canada’s status as a global education hub is vital for ensuring the inclusivity of the international student community.