Report: Approval, processing rates drop after IRCC’s student cap

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: June 22, 2024

Considerable changes occurred to Canada’s study permit program in January of this year

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) instituted a temporary international student cap effective between 2024 and 2026. It supported this policy through a new Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL) system, distributing this cap among Canada’s provinces and territories.

IRCC will aim to approve 292,000 study permits this year.

These changes were predicted to have considerable impact on the international student program as a whole—and with the release of recent data from IRCC, the consequences of these policies can now be seen.

Canadian educational technology company ApplyBoard recently covered these effects in a new report.

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March sees first downturn in study permits

March of this year saw 33,000 study permits processed, a marked downturn from the previous year, which saw more than 70,000 permits processed within the same period.

Processing times for study permits also rose this month. According to Statistics Canada data, the average processing time for a new study permit in March 2024 was 10.6 weeks—an increase when compared to the 9.8-week processing time seen in March of 2023. Notably, the average processing time in 2024 has since risen, reaching a peak in May with a waiting period of 14.8 weeks (about 3 and a half months) for a study permit. This is 1.8 weeks longer than the longest processing time observed in the last two years (13 weeks, in October 2022).

March also saw a historically low number of study permits processed for Indian students, with study permit applicants from the sub-continent receiving just over 4,000 permits that month.

Lower approval rates in 2024

2024 has also seen lower approval rates for international students as a whole compared to previous years. Between January to April (Q1) of this year, IRCC processed 152,000 study permit applications, with roughly half of them (76,307 applications) receiving a study permit—yielding an approval rate of 50%.

This is a marked decrease in both applications processed and approved, when compared to previous years. The table below illustrates these differences:

YearStudy Permit Applications ProcessedStudy Permit Applications ApprovedApproval Rate
2024152,38176,30750%
2023751,705436,67858%
2022651,277355,31754%

While figures from 2024 are significantly lower than previous years, much of this is likely due to the suspension of study permit processing in the early parts of Q1, while provinces began to implement their PAL systems to issue study permits by IRCC’s deadline of March 31st, 2024.

In addition, the current approval rate for study permits stands at 50%; however, IRCC’s student cap was implemented with the assumption of a 60% approval rate based on the department’s processing in prior years. With this consideration in mind, ApplyBoard has predicted that both interest in study permits, and study permit approvals should recover throughout the year as IRCC works towards its stated international student target.

Changes in international student source countries

This year has also seen a dramatic shift in international student source countries—with many smaller countries taking larger roles in contributing to Canada’s student population.

For example, Indian students (while still the top source for new international students in Canada) have been approved for less study permits in 2024 than in years previous. In March of 2022, Indian students were approved for 24,674 study permits; in 2023 this number climbed to 28,073 approved permits in the same month—however March of 2024 has seen only 4,210 permits for Indian students.

In contrast, both Ghanian and Nigerian international students contribute to a higher proportion of approved study permits in 2024, with these nations moving to second and third place respectively, among all source countries. While this is the case, approval rates for students from both these countries are less than compared to Q1 last year.

Furthermore, nearly two thirds of all international student source countries saw lower study permit approval rates in 2024 when compared to 2023. Simultaneously, 12 of 17 African source countries saw increases in study permit approval volumes in Q1 of 2024, when compared to the same period last year.

This has resulted in a shuffling of top international student source countries. The top source countries for international students in Q1 of 2024 are:

  1. India;
  2. Ghana;
  3. Nigeria;
  4. China;
  5. The Philippines;
  6. Nepal;
  7. Iran;
  8. Guinea;
  9. France;
  10. Senegal; and
  11. Bangladesh.

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