Canada’s overhaul of its foreign student program is on track to halve the number of approved international study permits this year, according to an analysis by an education recruitment company.

If application numbers and approval rates seen in the first four months of this year remain constant throughout 2024, the number of approved study permits could drop to 229,000, ApplyBoard said in a report Wednesday, citing data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

That’s a 48 per cent drop from 436,678 permits approved last year. 

It’s an early sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cap on international student visas will drastically curb the explosive growth of temporary immigration, which had been a key driving force behind post-pandemic rapid population increases as well as worsening housing shortages.

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Trudeau’s administration announced in late January that it aims to cut this year’s number of study permits by 35 per cent from 2023, with new restrictions targeted at a subsector within the higher education industry that’s essentially been selling courses as an immigration pathway to students — many of whom were from India.

Study permit applications from Indian students plunged to 4,210 in March, when provinces were finalizing their allocations of new visas for institutions. That’s compared with an average of 22,500 in the first two months of the year, the data showed. The sharp decrease “could be the first indication of seismic shifts in incoming student demographics,” ApplyBoard said. 

In the first quarter, students from Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea and Senegal saw higher approval volumes compared to the same period a year earlier.

ApplyBoard expects some rebound in application numbers as governments, recruiters and students adapt to the new policies. But it still forecasts the final 2024 approved permit at 292,000, in line with the government’s 35 per cent reduction goal.