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International Student FAQs: Canada’s 2024 Policy Updates

International Student FAQs: Canada’s 2024 Policy Updates

From study permit caps to post-graduation work permit eligibility, there have been many recent changes to Canada’s International Student Program. While some changes are still happening, we’re here to help share the info you need to move forward in your study journey. Read on for the answers to some of your most pressing questions about these policy updates below.

Note: This blog is provided as information only, and is subject to change as policies are updated. For official guidance relating to Canadian student visas and immigration, visit the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website, or connect with a Registered Canadian Immigration Consultant

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Study Permit Cap and Policy Questions

How is the international student process changing in Canada?

In January 2024, the Canadian government announced a temporary two-year cap on Canadian study permits. This study permit cap means the number of approved study permits (also often called Canadian student visas) in 2024 will be limited to around 360,000. 

However, some students (K–12, master’s degree, doctoral degree) are exempt from this cap. So, the cap will impact students at the undergraduate university and college level most significantly.

Further changes were announced in January, including:

  • Study permits will be allocated based on each province or territory’s population. 
  • As of September 1, 2024, students who enrol at public-private partnership institutions (PPPs) may no longer apply for post-graduation work permits (PGWPs) after graduating. 
  • As of January 22, 2024, students who are not exempt from the cap must provide a provincial attestation letter (PAL) as part of their study permit application.
  • Starting soon, open work permits will be restricted to spouses or common-law partners of international students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs, as well as students in professional programs such as medicine and law.

Curious about these changes? We explore each of them in more detail on our blog.

What is a PPP?

A PPP, or public-private partnership, is an agreement between a public college and an affiliated private college. In some provinces, public colleges are allowed to license their curriculum, which is then delivered by instructors at a private college (which may be located in an entirely different city or location). So, while students physically attend classes at a private college, they graduate with a diploma from a public institution. 

Due to the incoming post-graduation work permit changes, which will affect new students enrolling at PPPs after September 1, these types of institutions will be less appealing for some students, moving forward. 

Is the study permit cap permanent?

No, the study permit cap isn’t permanent. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the department of the Canadian government which handles study permits, will re-assess the study permit cap at the end of 2024 and define the number of new study permit applications to be accepted in 2025.

Which provinces will be most affected by the cap?

Each Canadian province or territory will be affected differently by the cap. Ontario and British Columbia are likely to be among the provinces most impacted, which means spots at study programs in those provinces will be more competitive in 2024. 

Other provinces, like Quebec, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador, could potentially have even more space for students than before, and may become more appealing options.

If you love data and want to learn more, read our application cap projections on ApplyInsights

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Timeline Questions

I’m a current Canadian study permit holder, or I’m planning to renew my study permit. Do these new guidelines apply to me?

IRCC has stated that the current caps will not impact current study permit holders or study permit renewals (extensions).

Visiting or exchange students in Canada who are staying for at least six months are not exempt from the cap. 

How do these changes affect Canadian study permit applications submitted before the announcement was made?

Any study permit applications submitted before 8:30 AM ET on January 22, 2024, don’t have to include a provincial letter of attestation (PAL). These applicants are also not included in the study permit caps. IRCC will return any applications received after that time that do not include a PAL, unless the student is exempt.

If I completed my biometrics requirements before the announcement, will I be affected?

As long as your study permit application was submitted before January 22, 2024, your application will proceed. Because biometrics appointments happen after submitting your study permit application, you should not be affected by these updates.

I have an offer letter for May or September 2024, but no study permit yet. How should I proceed? 

Consider paying your tuition deposit as soon as possible. The sooner that you pay any relevant tuition deposits, the sooner you’ll be in line for an attestation letter, which you’ll need in order to apply for a study permit. Students who apply for their study permit faster are less likely to be affected by the student cap. 

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Provincial Attestation Letter Questions

Can I get a provincial attestation letter (PAL) now?

Not yet (as of February 22)—unless you’re going to study in Quebec. The Certificat d’Acceptation du Québec/Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) may function as a PAL, as long as it includes the following sentence:

“This attestation letter confirms that the applicant has a place in Quebec’s share of the distribution of study permit applications or is exempt from it.” 

Every other Canadian province and territory must develop a process for issuing PALs by March 31, 2024. For the most current updates, check the official IRCC website

Can I apply for a study permit without a PAL?

Study permit applications submitted before 8:30 AM ET on January 22, 2024, do not require a PAL. Certain students are also exempt from needing one, including K-12, master’s, and doctoral students. 

However, unless you’re enrolled in a program that isn’t affected by this requirement, any study permit applications submitted after January 22, 2024, which don’t have a provincial attestation letter will be refunded and returned to you. You will then have to resubmit your application with the attestation letter once it’s available from the relevant provincial/territorial government.

I’ve applied for the May 2024 intake, and I’m currently applying for a student visa. Do I need a PAL?

It depends on your level of study. If you’re enrolling in an undergraduate program, or a postgraduate certificate or diploma program, you’ll need a provincial attestation letter (PAL). K–12, master’s degree, and doctoral degree students do not need a PAL. 

Study permit applications submitted before 8:30 AM ET on January 22, 2024, don’t require a PAL. Study permit applications submitted after that time without a provincial attestation letter will be refunded and returned (unless you’re in one of the exempted groups listed above). Then, you’d have to resubmit your application with the attestation letter once it is available.

PAL processes may vary by province or territory, so check the official IRCC page for updates.

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Study Program Questions

What counts as a professional program in Canada?

According to Statistics Canada, professional degree programs are undergraduate degree programs that lead to entry-to-practice professions.

Professional programs include:

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS, DMD)
  • Bachelor of Law or Juris Doctor (LLB, JD, BCL)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)
  • Pharmacy (PharmD, BS, BSc, BPharm)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

Spouses and common-law partners of students in these professional degree–granting programs will remain eligible for a new open work permit.

What are the differences between a master’s degree, a postgraduate certificate, and a postgraduate diploma?

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree can be course-based or research-based. A popular example of a course-based program is a Master’s of Business Administration, or MBA. It’s usually one to two years long, though some master’s programs can be longer. Typically, you need to have finished a bachelor’s degree to enrol in a master’s degree program. 

Master’s degrees can be a more expensive option compared to diplomas and certificates, but currently, master’s graduates benefit from more generous PGWP allowances after graduation. Also, master’s program students are exempt from the study permit cap discussed above, and their partners or spouses are eligible for an open work permit.

Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates

In Canada, postgraduate (or graduate) diplomas and certificates are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. Diplomas can also take one to two years to complete, but some diploma programs are shorter. Students don’t always need a bachelor’s degree to enrol in a postgraduate diploma program. Sometimes, a regular or advanced undergraduate diploma is enough. Diplomas often offer both classroom time and hands-on learning through an internship or placement.

A postgraduate certificate often takes less time than the other two options. These programs can range from under a year in length to two years. Certificates are usually more focused in scope, helping students refine one skill or a clearly defined set of skills. Like diplomas, the program focuses on building students’ practical abilities through field placements or industry partnerships. Certificates are popular with working professionals looking to boost their skill set, or transition to a different role within their field. Some students use graduate certificates as a stepping-stone to a graduate degree, like a master’s.

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are included in the temporary study permit cap, so international entry to these programs may become more competitive. Additionally, if you’re enrolled in a postgraduate diploma or certificate, your spouse or common-law partner is no longer eligible for a Canadian open work permit.

Are short postgraduate-level programs exempt from the study permit cap?

IRCC has not yet made this clear, but short postgraduate programs, like postgraduate diplomas or certificates, are likely included within the study permit cap.

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Bringing Family to Canada

I’m going to take a postgraduate-level program. Can my spouse or common-law partner come with me?

Yes. Your partner may come with you, and work in Canada while you’re studying. IRCC has indicated that open work permit eligibility will be updated in the coming weeks. Only spouses and common-law partners of students in master’s programs, doctorate programs, and professional degree–granting programs will be eligible for a new open work permit.

Partners of students at other levels of study will no longer be eligible, unless they already hold an open work permit under this stream. Those seeking to extend their current work permit will still be eligible to do so. 

I’m currently studying in Canada as an undergraduate student. Do these changes mean I can’t bring my spouse or common-law partner?

While your spouse or partner won’t be eligible for a Canadian open work permit anymore, they may be eligible for their own study permit or a visitor visa. However, in most cases, the changes mean they won’t be able to work full-time in Canada.

What happens if my common-law partner or spouse has already applied for a spousal open work permit?

In this case, we recommend asking a Registered Canadian Immigration Consultant for specific guidance. While the Canadian government has shared that “in the coming weeks, eligibility for open work permits for the spouses and common-law partners of international students will be updated,” we don’t have a timeline for when the proposed changes will be in effect.

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Post-Graduation Work Permit Questions

What is Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program? 

The PGWP program is offered to graduates from eligible postsecondary institutions in Canada. It’s a specific work permit that can help eligible international student graduates gain Canadian work experience. Plus, if you’re interested in staying in Canada, time working under the PGWP can count towards your qualification for permanent residence.

PGWP holders may remain in Canada and work full time, anywhere in Canada, in any occupation. Some jobs require a medical test, like if you’re working in a hospital or around children. You must apply for a PGWP within 180 days of graduation. So, if you’re considering this option, be sure to prepare in advance.

Who can apply for a PGWP?

If you graduated from an eligible full-time program lasting at least eight months from a designated learning institution in Canada, you may apply for a PGWP.

How long does a PGWP last?

PGWP lengths may be anywhere from eight months to three years long.

Something new this year (as of February 15, 2024) is that graduates from master’s programs of less than two years (but taking at least eight months to complete) may be eligible for a three-year PGWP. Now, all master’s students taking a program at least eight months long should effectively qualify for a three-year work permit.

For other program types, PGWP durations are equal to the length of the study program. So, programs lasting eight months to two years make students eligible for a PGWP of equal length. For example, if you took a 10-month certificate, your PGWP can be up to 10 months long.

Lastly, students whose programs are longer than two years are eligible for a full three-year PGWP. So, even if your program was only two and a half years long, you’ll still be eligible for a three-year work permit.

How do these policy changes impact PGWP eligibility? 

As of September 1, 2024, the PGWP program will no longer be open to new students of public/private institution partnership models that are part of a curriculum licensing arrangement (also known as public-private partnerships, or PPPs). However, students who are already enrolled in a study program at a PPP before September 1, 2024, may still be eligible for a PGWP after graduation. 

Also, as of February 15, 2024, eligible students graduating from master’s degree programs that are less than two years long may qualify for a longer, three-year post-graduation work permit (PGWP). The length of PGWPs for other programs will remain tied to the study program length, up to a maximum of three years.


We hope this information helps you make an informed decision as you prepare for your own study journey. 

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