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Ontario Announces International Study Permit Allocation Across Postsecondary Institutions

On March 27th the Government of Ontario released their plan for allocating international study permits across Ontario's postsecondary institutions. Given the approximate 50% reduction in study permits facing Ontario’s institutions and the importance of international student tuition for college operations, the province’s plan for allocating new permits has been highly anticipated. 

Highlights of the plan released yesterday:

  • 96% of study permits will go to public colleges and universities.

  • A greater proportion of study permits will go to institutions that have a focus on skilled trades, health human resources, STEM, hospitality and child care.

  • At each institution, study permit applications cannot exceed the institution's 2023 levels. 

  • The ratio of international permits cannot exceed 55 per cent (exclusive of high-demand areas) of the institution’s 2023 first-year domestic enrolment.

Applying the New Rules

According to Colleges Ontario President, Marketa Evans, colleges will be allocated 80% of all study permits granted to public postsecondary institutions, leaving Ontario's universities with just 20% of the study permit pie. Within this 80%, colleges with a focus on the programs mentioned above, such as trades and healthcare, will receive a greater proportion of study permits, compared to colleges who do not have a focus on those programs. 

The last two provisions are designed to further safeguard international enrolment and ensure one institution does not receive a disproportionately large share of the “pie”. Instead, each institution will be limited by their 2023 international student enrolment levels, as well as their domestic enrolment for 2023. For instance, if a College had a first year domestic enrolment of 5000 students, then their international enrolment cannot exceed 55% of 5000, or 2750 students. However, this calculation excludes the permits allocated for high-demand areas such as skilled trades, STEM, health human resources, hospitality, and child care. The aim is likely to ensure that international student enrolment remains balanced with domestic enrolment and that the institution maintains a diverse student body while addressing labour market needs. In cases where the 55% rule does not apply due to high-demand programs, international student enrolment cannot exceed the institution's 2023 levels.

The Future of International College Student Enrolment

CSA believes this could be a double edged sword with both potential benefits and disadvantages for international students. We know that many international students choose to study in Canada not only to receive a high-quality education but because Canada is an attractive destination for permanent residency. By completing a post-secondary education in Canada, international students are more likely to become permanent residents. As such, it can be argued that international students will elect to take an in-demand program of their interest, such as health care or skilled trades, since it will better guarantee employment after graduation and thus permanent residency. Therefore this could be a route for the province to enhance employment in in-demand sectors. 

Given that permanent residency and post-graduation work permits fall under federal jurisdiction, it's crucial for the provincial government to make explicit commitments to support international students pursuing in-demand college programs. This can be achieved through initiatives like the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. These commitments should ensure that an international student taking an in-demand program receives assistance, guidance, and ultimately a recommendation/nomination for permanent residency. Additionally, these students should have increased access to affordable work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities, post-graduation employment assistance, and access to information on obtaining permanent residency.

The emphasis and government support for in-demand programs may dissuade international students from pursuing programs that are not immediately deemed to be “in-demand”. Additionally, colleges may lack incentives to admit international students into these programs, resulting in fewer available seats. For example, those interested in business may find it more advantageous or even necessary to attend colleges in other provinces. 

In addition, CSA understands the Province is undergoing a period of urgent need for critical infrastructure such as housing, transit, highways and hospitals. While ensuring the workforce is robust and skilled enough to carry out these objectives is crucial, it is equally as important to value the diversity of perspective and talent that international students bring to fields such as business administration, liberal arts, humanities, public administration, graphic design, accounting, etc. Another concern is that many careers in these highly demanded programs, particularly skilled trades and healthcare, involve physical and mental risks. It's essential to remain aware that international students are susceptible to exploitation and ensure complete transparency throughout the college recruitment process.

Connecting the Gaps

Several Ontario colleges are facing significant revenue losses due to the new federal study permit cap. These losses are slated to have detrimental impacts on the student experience on campus, in the classroom, and in the community. The Provincial investment of $1.3 billion in sustainability funding falls significantly short of the approximately $2.5 billion recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ensuring the Financial Sustainability of Ontario’s Postsecondary Education Sector. In the 2024 Ontario Budget, and through the way study permits have been allocated, it is clear that the province is working towards fulfilling a workforce deficit in the skilled trades, health care, STEM, hospitality, and child care. In a news release found here, Colleges Ontario President, Marketa Evans, described the situation well: 

Public college graduates fuel Ontario’s prosperity. They build highways and homes. They care for people in hospitals, long-term homes and day cares. And they lead the transition to a cleaner economy, filling key roles in the electric-vehicle and nuclear industries. While we appreciate the government’s decision on the study-permit applications, we regret more has not been done to plan for and aid in the financial recovery of the public college sector during this abrupt change.”

Even though Ontario’s colleges are receiving a large proportion of study permit allocations, this, and the $1.3 billion investment by the province, is not enough to financially sustain colleges that are facing a collective loss of roughly $800 million in just the first year of the cap. 

CSA will continue to monitor this issue and advocate for the rights of international college students across the province.


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