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Study permit changes - What are your options?

By Kate Bowley, Practice Development Supervisor

In the last few months, there have been many conversations about international students and their vulnerability to exploitation, be it through predatory private colleges or precarious housing situations. In an attempt to address these concerns, Minister Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has spoken about the importance of ensuring that international students are not being granted study permits for schools that are not Designated Learning Institutions (DLI). 

Michael Battista also expressed concern that students were being sold a “false story,” believing that they would have a straight pathway to Permanent Residence upon completing their studies in Canada, as discussed with the Globe and Mail in September 2023. In recent years, many international students have been approved for study permits and have come to study in Canada, only to discover that they were not attending a DLI and therefore were not eligible to apply for a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) upon the completion of their studies.

In response to Minister Miller’s October 2023 announcement, additional information about the government’s plan to strengthen the protections for international students was announced on January 22, 2024. Here are the key points of this announcement:

-  In 2024, there will be a cap of 360,000 study permit approvals, a decrease of 35% from 2023;

-  Master’s programs, doctoral programs, elementary, and secondary schools will not be included in this cap;

-  This cap will be distributed among the provinces based on the sustainability of population growth;

-  This cap will not apply to study permit extensions;

-  Beginning January 22, 2024, students applying for undergraduate or college-level programs will be required to obtain a provincial attestation letter, in addition to their letter of acceptance. Provinces have until March 31, 2024 to have systems implemented for these letters;

-  Students attending short Master’s or graduate level-courses will be eligible for a 3-year PGWP;

-  Spouses of undergraduate or college-level students will no longer be eligible for a spousal open work permit.

What do these changes mean? How is this new plan different than how things have been operating? Most importantly, how will this impact international students moving forward?

While the answers to some of these questions remain to be seen, many of the consequences of these temporary measures (to be re-assessed at the end of 2024), are clear. The first is the impending impact on DLIs that rely heavily on the exorbitant tuition of international students to maintain their budgets may mean that domestic students start to see further increases to their own tuition. This issue aside, international students applying for their study permits will now have to rely on the provinces and territories to develop systems for the production of their provincial attestation letters.

Applicants are required to include these attestations in their applications as of January 22, while the provinces and territories have until March 31, 2024 to ensure that these plans are laid out, effectively halting study permit applications for undergraduate and college-level programs. In order to be exempt from the cap on applications and the provincial attestation letter  students need admission  to Canadian Master’s or doctorate programs,  This leaves students planning to  begin their post-secondary journey in Canada in limbo, and at the mercy of the organization of the provinces and territories.

One  positive change the arises from the temporary measures is the eligibility for a 3-year PGWP for international students who have completed a short Master’s program or for those in other short graduate-level courses. Prior to this change, students in these programs were eligible to a PGWP for a length of time that was proportionate to their study period, leaving many graduates without enough time to meet the work requirements to be enter the Canadian Experience Class for the Express Entry pathway.

Unfortunately, this broader access to work permits for some students  comes with decreased eligibility for work permits for others. Moving forward, only the spouses of international students at the Master’s or doctorate level will be able to obtain Spousal Open Work Permits while their spouses are studying. From January 22’s announcement: “The spouses of international students in other levels of study, including undergraduate and college programs, will no longer be eligible.”

This limitation again constrains  many potential international students from choosing Canadian schools for their undergraduate or college studies. If their spouses are not able to work in Canada during their studies, it may mean leaving their loved ones in their country of origin while they attend school. This limits the possibility of international students arriving with two streams of Canadian income, making this change antithetical to the goal of these temporary measures, which is to ensure that international students are not arriving to Canada just to struggle to find secure housing or to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, as of January 1, 2024, the cost-of-living requirement for study permit applicants to “better reflect the true cost of living in Canada and help prevent student vulnerability and exploitation.” While this adjustment does ensure that international students can manage their expectations for what it costs to be a student in Canada, it, again, means that individuals who are not able to provide proof of financial support will not have access to this immigration pathway.

Thankfully, there may be other options for spouses to apply for work permits outside of the study permit application process. Such options might include applying for a Labour Market Impact Assessment exempt work permit, depending on the job category. They may also be eligible other open work permit programs.

Despite the imperfections in Minister Miller and IRCC’s announcement, there may be some hope for those who get left at the margins of these measures. Throughout 2024, there is an intention to “implement targeted pilots aimed at helping underrepresented cohorts of international students pursue their studies in Canada.”

Who might they be referring to when they say “underrepresented cohorts?”  This is yet to be determined. Yet, we are hopeful.

The stabilization of the international student system is imperative to ensure that individuals coming to study in Canada are better protected—at least against the bad actors that IRCC can control. The next step is to establish measures that   strongly regulate Designated Learning Institutions and minimize the impact on people looking to study in Canada.

If you would like more information on these changes, or how to apply to study in Canada, or to assess your options to work in Canada while your spouse is studying, please feel free to book a consultation with us! You can do so by writing to or by calling (416) 203-2899.


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