The Canadian government has announced a significant change to its international student visa program in an effort to ease rising housing costs and stabilize the growth in student numbers.
New Cap Sets Limit of 350,000 Student Visas for 2024
On January 22nd, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced that Canada will be capping the number of new international student visas issued in 2024 to approximately 350,000 – a 35% reduction from the over 540,000 visas granted in 2023. This would reduce the total international student population to below 1 million, after it surpassed that threshold for the first time last year.
The two-year visa cap aims to slow the rapid influx of international students, primarily from India and China, who have flocked to Canada for its education system and post-graduation work opportunities. But the swelling student numbers has exacerbated housing shortages and rising rental costs, especially in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
“We need to make sure that our cities have enough housing supply to accommodate newcomers,” said Minister Fraser at a press conference. Reducing student visa growth will “help relieve some of the pressure on the housing market while we work to increase the supply.”
Provinces to Receive Individual Share Based on Capacity
The 350,000 cap will be allocated to provinces and territories based on their ability to accommodate more students. Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec will receive the largest shares due to their greater capacity.
Smaller provinces stand to benefit the most from this new policy. Less populated regions like the Atlantic provinces will be permitted to increase international student intake to boost local university enrollment and retain more graduates to meet economic needs.
Work Rights for Graduates Are Unchanged
Critically, the cap only affects new student visa applicants – not those currently enrolled or graduating. International graduates will retain the same post-study work rights and pathways to permanent residency.
Over 90,000 former international students became permanent residents last year. The government aims to sustain this important economic immigration stream.
Cost of Living and Housing Affordability Are Major Factors
Skyrocketing inflation and rents across Canada have made finding affordable housing difficult. International students often rely on off-campus housing, squeezing supply further.
The surge in demand is actuating increasing calls for government intervention in the housing and rental markets to improve affordability. But boosting housing stock is a complex long-term challenge. Capping student visas provides more immediate relief on cost of living pressures.
International Students in Canada’s Major Cities
|Int’l Students 2021
|% Annual Growth
|Avg Rent 2 Bedroom
Source: Canadian Bureau for International Education; Rentals.ca
Mixed Response from Educational Institutions
The visa cap has prompted mixed reactions from universities and colleges which have increasingly relied on the higher tuition fees paid by international students. These students now represent over 25% of Canada’s post-secondary population.
While institutions understand the intention behind the government’s bold move, some have called for a more nuanced approach. Stakeholders have recommended province-specific caps tailored to local conditions, rather than an arbitrary national limit.
There are also concerns that bluntly reducing student intake could negatively impact schools’ budgets as well as losing out on young talent.
Temporary Fix While Housing Supply Is Addressed
With Parliament resuming at the end of the month, the Liberal government will aim to pass legislation enacting the 2-year cap. But Minister Fraser positioned this policy as a “temporary measure” to stabilize international student levels.
The government has stressed parallel efforts to stimulate housing construction through funding programs and easing municipal zoning barriers. But building new affordable supply will take years amid rising interest rates.
Post-graduation retention of top international talent remains a priority for Canada’s innovation economy. Once housing and inflation ease, higher education leaders hope caps would be reconsidered or relaxed.
In the meantime, universities will adjust enrollment strategies and support students struggling with living costs. While applicants face greater visa competition, Canada will continue welcoming those wishing to study and potentially immigrate.
With the visa cap set to take effect this year, all eyes turn to the policy’s implementation and impact. Stakeholders will watch application numbers and housing costs closely. Schools and communities with international student populations await guidance on their provincial allocations.
For now, Canada has sent the world a message that while doors remain open, the country cannot allow unrestrained intake pressures. The government hopes measured student growth will grant time to match the supply of housing, and opportunities, to the substantial demand.
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