Canada’s decision to implement a two-year cap on the number of new international students issued with a study visa has raised concern that the proposed new measures may unfairly impact universities.

The new measures were announced this week by Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), Marc Miller, who said that “to ensure there is no further growth in the number of international students in Canada for 2024, we are setting a national intake cap for a period of two years.”

As of December 31st, 2023, the number of individuals holding a study permit in Canada was 1,028,850. This represents a significant increase from the target of 450,000 international students that Canada set in its 2014 International Education Strategy with the aim of achieving it by 2022. In 2022 Canada almost doubled this target, welcoming more than 800,000 international students.

Effective immediately, the new rules mean that in 2024, the number of new study permits issued will be limited to approximately 364,000, which is a 35% decrease from 2023. Caps have been established for each province and territory, based on population. This will result in significant decreases in provinces where the international student population is considered to have grown unsustainably. Study permit renewals will not be affected by the new caps, which only apply to new students. Students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees and elementary and secondary education will not be included in the caps.

The new measures are seen as being both a response to the country’s housing shortage crisis as well as a means of stemming the flow of students studying at private colleges, which Minister Miller has previously described as the “diploma equivalent of puppy mills”. Randall Martin, executive director of the British Columbia Council for International Education explained to The Pie News in a 2023 report that while provinces invest in building student dorms and increasing bed numbers on campus for public institutions, private colleges often do not:

“It is the exponential and unchecked growth of international students in the private institutions, which may have a housing office but which rarely have dedicated beds or housing and are quite visibly impacting housing availability in cities like Brampton or Surrey.”

Canadian universities have welcomed the government’s “long overdue” attempt to crack down on bad actors in the international education sector. However, some have expressed concern that universities are being unfairly affected by this crackdown given that universities provide important support and auxiliary services that ensure international students have a positive experience. Some have also expressed concern that the new cap may negatively impact perceptions of Canada as a welcoming destination.