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  • Writer's pictureHossein Alavi, RCIC

Canada's International Student Program: Your Top Questions Answered

Updated: Apr 10

The Great Canadian Student Shift: International Program Overhaul in 2024

As Canada implements sweeping changes to its international student policies, our comprehensive guide covers all the necessary updates.

Caps, Attestations & The New World Order 

After years of relatively stable policies, the Canadian government's new regulations around study permits and post-graduation work eligibility have shaken up the international education landscape.

Study Permit Caps: Limiting The Influx

How will the study permit cap work?

In January 2024, the Canadian government announced a temporary two-year cap on new Canadian study permits. The number of applications will be limited to around 606,250 in 2024, resulting in an expected 360,000 approved study permits. Applications will be allocated based on each province/territory's population.

For example, a province with 10% of Canada's population will receive around 10% of the 606,250 study permit application caps for 2024. This is to prevent large inflows into major provinces like Ontario and British Columbia.

Which students are exempt from the study permit cap?

The study permit cap exemptions include students in the following programs:

  • K-12

  • Master's degrees  

  • Doctoral degrees

This cap will primarily impact new international students at the undergraduate university and college level seeking study permits. Current study permit holders and those applying for renewals/extensions are also exempt.

 How will private colleges and universities be impacted?

Private colleges and universities in Canada must follow the same new study permit rules and caps as public institutions. They do not have any separate exemptions or caps. The 606,250 study permit quota applies across public and private colleges/universities.

 What are public-private partnerships (PPPs) and how are they affected?  

A public-private partnership (PPP) is a collaboration where a public college authorizes a private college to deliver the public institution's curriculum, often in a different city. Students physically attend the private college but receive their diploma/credential from the public partner.

Effective September 1, 2024, new international students enrolling at PPP institutions will be ineligible to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after completing their program. However, students already enrolled at a PPP before this date can still access the PGWP.

Provincial Attestation Letters: The New Gatekeeper  

What is a provincial attestation letter (PAL)?

A provincial attestation letter (PAL) is a required document issued by a province/territory confirming a student's eligibility to submit their study permit application under that province's allocation of the national cap.

How can students get a PAL?

Each province/territory manages its own PAL process and issuance criteria, often involving educational institutions. For example, in British Columbia, designated colleges/universities will issue PALs to accepted students at their discretion.

Which students need a PAL for their study permit application?

As of January 22, 2024, most new study permit applicants require a PAL, with some key exceptions:

  • Students in K-12 programs

  • Master's degree students  

  • Doctoral degree students

These exempted groups can apply for study permits without a PAL.

How can students get a PAL?

The process for obtaining a PAL varies across provinces and territories, with educational institutions often playing a central role. Here’s what you need to know for some key regions:

  • British Columbia:

    • Process Initiated: As of March 4, 2024.

    • Procedure: Designated colleges and universities issue PALs to accepted students at their discretion.

    • Next Steps: Contact your educational institution in British Columbia to understand their specific PAL application process. Once you obtain a PAL, you can then apply for a study permit.

  • Alberta:

    • Process Initiated: As of March 1, 2024.

    • Procedure: The province provides PALs, and details are likely available through educational institutions.

    • Next Steps: Reach out to your school in Alberta for guidance on applying for a PAL. With a PAL in hand, you're eligible to apply for a study permit.

  • Manitoba:

  • Process Initiated: As of March 4, 2024.

  • Procedure: Similar to other provinces, schools play a role in issuing PALs to students.

  • Next Steps: Contact your intended school in Manitoba for information on the PAL process. Once you have your PAL, you can proceed with your study permit application.

  • Quebec:

  • Requirement: Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) issued by the Government of Quebec.

  • Special Note: For the CAQ to serve as your PAL, it must include the statement: “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.”

  • Next Steps: Inquire with your Quebec-based school about the CAQ application process. The CAQ is a crucial step towards applying for your study permit in Quebec.

General Guidance: Each province or territory has its unique process for issuing PALs. It's important to directly contact the educational institution you're planning to attend for the most accurate and current information regarding the PAL application process. They will provide specific instructions tailored to their province's or territory's requirements, ensuring you have all the necessary documentation to apply for your study permit.

What happens if a student gets acceptance but not a PAL?

In most cases, students who quickly pay any required tuition deposits upon receiving a letter of acceptance will receive a PAL from their institution, allowing them to apply for the study permit. 

If a student does not receive a PAL, they usually can request a full refund of their paid tuition deposit. Students who need a PAL cannot begin studying in that province without receiving one.

Should students wait for a PAL before applying for a study permit?

It depends on the student's situation:

  • Students who submitted study permit applications before January 22, 2024 do not require a PAL.

  • Exempt students (K-12, master's, doctoral) can apply without waiting for a PAL.

  • All other non-exempt students must wait until they have obtained a PAL before submitting their study permit application to avoid rejection and having to re-apply.

Should students pay tuition deposits before getting a PAL?

Yes, students should pay any required tuition deposits as soon as they receive a letter of acceptance. This puts them in line to receive a PAL from the institution, a prerequisite to applying for a study permit.

The sooner the deposit is paid, the sooner the PAL can likely be issued, minimizing delays in the student's study permit process. Quick payment increases the chances of securing a spot

before provincial caps are hit.

Who is Exempt from Needing a Provincial Attestation Letter (PAL) for Study Permits in Canada?

Here are the key scenarios where a PAL is not necessary:

  1. Educational Level-Based Exemptions:

  • Preschool to Secondary School: Applicants up to grade 12 level do not require a PAL.

  • Graduate-Level Students: Those applying for master’s and doctoral degree programs are exempt.

  1. Current Status and Situation-Based Exemptions:

  • Study Permit Extensions: If you’re already in Canada and applying for an extension of your study permit.

  • Work Permit Holders: Individuals who already hold a valid work permit.

  • Visiting or Exchange Students: Temporary residents who are visiting or exchange students at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI).

  • Prerequisite Course Completion: Temporary residents who have completed a course or program prerequisite to enrolling at a DLI.

  • Under Removal Order: Those under a removal order but currently cannot be removed from Canada.

  • Temporary Resident Permit Holders: Individuals with a temporary resident permit valid for at least six months.

  1. Family Member Exemptions:

  • Family of Study or Work Permit Holders: Family members of foreign nationals in Canada who hold a study or work permit or a temporary resident permit valid for at least six months.

  • Family of Accredited Foreign Representatives and Military Personnel: Includes families of accredited foreign government representatives, members of foreign armed forces under the Visiting Forces Act, and participants in specific sports activities or events.

  • Family of Media and Religious Workers: Families of workers in Canada who are part of a foreign news company or religious workers.

Processing Timelines: Delays Expected

Are current study permit applications on hold?

Yes, for non-exempt students who require a PAL, their study permit applications have effectively been on hold since January 22, 2024 until their target province or territory finalizes its process for issuing PALs.

Should April/May intake students defer to September 2024?

For K-12 master's and doctoral degree students who don't require a PAL, deferring is likely not necessary as their application processes are unchanged.

Other students should strongly consider deferring April or early May 2024 intake start dates if concerned they won't receive their study permit approval in time due to delays from the new policies.

Families & Dependants: Changing Dynamics

Can partners/spouses still get open work permits?

Open work permit eligibility rules are changing for partners/spouses accompanying international students:

  • Only partners of students in master's, doctoral, or professional degree programs like law/medicine will qualify for new open work permits.

  • Those who already hold an open work permit under this stream can still extend it.

  • New spousal applicants at other study levels besides the above exemptions will no longer be eligible for open work permits.

Can diploma/certificate students bring dependants?

Yes, international students in diploma and certificate programs (undergraduate or graduate level) are still permitted to have accompanying dependants in Canada. 

However, the new rules prohibit dependants from receiving open work permits. To remain in Canada legally, dependents can only apply for visitor visas or, if desired, their own separate study permits.

Can students bring children to Canada?

Yes, international students remain eligible to bring their dependent children with them to Canada during their studies. 

The children must apply separately and be approved for a child visitor record, study permit, or work permit if age-eligible. See the Government of Canada website for details on dependent child criteria.

Who can accompany K-12 students to Canada?

be accompanied by their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) when coming to Canada.

Alternatively, the student can be placed with a Canadian custodian appointed through an authorized program or their school.

Can parents of K-12 students get work permits?

No, merely having a child enrolled in a K-12 Canadian study program does not automatically grant the parents eligibility for a work permit.

The parents must apply separately and qualify for either a work permit or study permit through standard eligibility criteria, regardless of their child's student status.

Post-Graduation Pathways: Work Permit Evolution

Which students qualify for a PGWP after graduation?  

To be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), an international student must have completed an approved full-time program at a designated learning institution in Canada that meets the following criteria:

  • The program was academically eligible for a PGWP (most degree/diploma/certificate programs qualify)

  • Minimum program duration of 8 months 

The student must have continually studied full-time on their study permit during this program.

What PGWP changes are happening?

Two key PGWP policy changes are taking effect:

  • Effective February 15, 2024, graduates of eligible master's degree programs under 2 years in duration (but at least 8 months long) may qualify for a 3-year PGWP, whereas previously, they would have received less time.

  • As of September 1, 2024, new students enrolling in programs at public-private partnership (PPP) institutions will no longer be eligible to apply for a PGWP after graduation. This change does not impact PPP students enrolled before this date.

Can students combine programs for a longer PGWP?

Yes, eligible students can combine the duration of multiple completed programs when applying for their PGWP in order to receive a longer work permit validity.

However, both programs must:

  • Have been PGWP eligible  

  • At least 8 months long (900+ hours for Quebec credentials)

Students cannot obtain a new PGWP if they already received one after completing their first program of study.

How Immigrative Visa Services Can Assist

Faced with these policy changes, Immigrative Visa Services, which is licensed both federally and provincially, is prepared to guide candidates effectively. Our initial consultations assess the impact of these changes on you and your spouse and explore all available options, including, but not limited to, study permits.

  • Personalized Strategies: We devise tailored strategies, considering various immigration pathways in light of the new policies.

  • Comprehensive Support: Our team is adept at handling provincial requirements, like the Letter of Attestation, and preparing strong applications to position each candidate favorably.

How We Approach Study Permit Applications

  • In-Depth Analysis: We analyze each candidate's educational background and work experience to recommend the most suitable programs.

  • Meticulous Preparation: Our expert RCICs prepare each application in detail, ensuring compliance with all regulations.

  • Strong Documentation: We provide additional documentation to bolster each application, presenting candidates as genuine and well-rounded.

In an era where strategic planning is key to navigating Canada's international student admissions, Immigrative Visa Services offers more than application processing. We provide partnership and expert guidance, ensuring your journey to study in Canada is managed with professional insight and care. Schedule a consultation with our regulated consultants to explore your options and strategies in this competitive environment.


This blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For personalized advice regarding your specific immigration situation, it is recommended to consult with an authorized immigration professional.

About the Author:

This blog post is authored by Hossein Alavi, RCIC, a seasoned Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and the founder and CEO of Immigrative Visa Services Inc. and EduPal Canada. With over ten years of experience in the education and immigration sectors, he is dedicated to assisting individuals and companies with their Canadian immigration needs. Contact Immigrative Visa Services Inc. today to schedule your consultation and take the first step toward realizing your Canadian dream.


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