Canada's study abroad program suffers as international student numbers, PGWP, and spousal open work permit restrictions rise

On January 23, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced temporary measures to improve the international student system. The main changes were to reduce the number of existing international student permits, limit the number of PGWPs, and limit the number of spousal work permits. However, some people were confused by the sudden changes, and many questions were raised. This column analyzes the temporary measures and provides an accurate understanding.

First, it's important to understand the background of the current international student program. Canada is a study abroad powerhouse that attracts international students from all over the world. It has a well-developed study abroad program and a wide range of support services to assist international students. However, while this has led to a significant increase in the number of international students, there have been a number of cases where applicants have been significantly harmed by the proliferation of unqualified institutions and inadequate support services. In addition, the increase in the number of residents has led to a shortage of housing, healthcare, and infrastructure, affecting existing citizens, which has led to calls to address the gaps in the existing system in order to ensure stable and sustainable development. This has led to the implementation of interim measures to improve the quality of services and create more concrete alternatives over the next two years.

Among the measures announced, the most prominent is the cap on the number of international students. As a result of the damaging effects of overcrowding, the number of international students has been capped to ensure the stability of international students as well as Canadian citizens. In a previous announcement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada signaled that it would actively intervene in the approval of study permits. As a related measure, over the next two years, immigration will set an acceptance cap for international student permit applications, excluding existing permit holders, master's programs, and K-12 programs. As a result, the projected number of study permits in 2024 is expected to reach approximately 360,000, a 35% decrease from the previous year.

Specifically, to address regional imbalances, the government plans to regulate the number of international students by establishing a cap for each individual state and territory and awarding a quota to each institution. Immigration will set a cap on the number of international students for each state or territory, and then distribute the quota to designated learning institutions in each region. The measures will be effective from January 22, 2024, and all study permit applications submitted to the Department of Immigration will require a certificate issued by the state or territory. Therefore, each region will have until March 31, 2024, to complete issuing certificates to applicants.

There are also changes to the Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). Upon graduation from a designated Canadian university or college program, you could obtain a post-graduation work visa to work for up to three years, but this move will limit the number of PGWPs issued to some international students. As of September 1, 2024, international students in programs of study that are part of a curriculum licensing arrangement will not be eligible for a PGWP. While this program has been a great help in attracting international students, it was deemed to have less oversight than public universities, and there were loopholes in the provision of PGWPs, so we are restricting it. Master's degree students, on the other hand, will be able to obtain PGWPs regardless of the length of their studies, giving them a better chance of finding employment and applying for permanent residency after graduation.

Open work permits for spouses while studying will also change. Previously, spouses of international students studying at designated institutions were eligible for Open Work Permits, but in the future, only spouses of international students in master's and doctoral programs will be able to apply for Open Work Permits. This change is pre-implementation, meaning that in the coming weeks, spouses of international students in other levels of study, including undergraduate and university programs, will no longer be eligible to apply for Open Work Permits. We've heard from many people who are confused about this, but the changes to spousal open work permit issuance only apply to students while they are in school, and have nothing to do with PGWPs or work permits their spouses receive after they graduate. Spouses of work permit holders are eligible for open work permits, so they do not fall under the announced temporary measure.

While this is a significant change to the international student system, the temporary measure is not valid for those who have already received an Open Work Permit or a study permit visa, and the Open Work Permit for spouses of PhD students has not yet been implemented, so those who wish to apply for an Open Work Permit are encouraged to do so before the system is implemented. Although this is a sudden change, it will be temporarily implemented for two years as a measure to compensate for the problems caused by the overuse of study permits, so there may be other system changes as the Canadian study abroad market changes. We look forward to the ideal implementation of the policy, which will ensure the stable settlement of international students and the harmonization of Canadian citizens.