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Why Indian Students are Choosing Canada

Canada has seen massive growth in its international student market, and India is at the center of that growth. The rise in Indian students abroad has been one of the most prominent stories of international education and continues to be today.

Today, we’ll be digging into data to explore why Indian students are choosing Canada, what post-graduation work opportunities are available, and where students are studying when they get there.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Between 2016 and 2021, The number of Indian students studying in Canada grew by nearly 220%.
  • In 2021, more than 125,000 Indian students were approved to study in Canada.
  • Two in five Indian students coming to Canada pursue studies in business and management.

Home to one of the largest populations of young adults (aged 18 to 23) globally, India has been driving global talent development over the last decade. The number of Indian students approved to study in Canada grew from 39,000 in 2016 to almost 126,000 in 2021.1

With more than a third of all international students in Canada coming from India, it is clear that Indian students are choosing Canada.

Where Indian Students are Studying

If we compare the growth of the Indian student population across Canada, the US and the UK over the past five years, we can see that the countries have distinct trajectories. The chart below traces these paths:

Although the number of Indian students in Canada fell by 18% for the academic year of 2020/21, Canada has since seen a massive increase in Indian students in 2021. In 2021, nearly 126,000 Indian students were approved to study in Canada. This surpassed the record of 110,000 in 2019.

In fact, Indian students accounted for 42% of all study permit approvals in 2021. This was 9 percentage points higher than in 2020, and 1 percentage point lower than in 2019.

The chart below shows the number of approved study permits for Indian students in Canada:

Students applying to study in Canada through the Student Direct Stream (SDS) have a higher approval rate than non-SDS applicants. SDS allows international students from select countries to expedite the processing of their Canadian student permit, providing they meet certain criteria.

In 2021, Indian students accounted for 95% of all SDS applications. The approval rate gap between SDS and non-SDS applicants in India was the largest among all countries, with 47 percentage points separating the two student cohorts.

Strong Post-Graduation Work Opportunities Draw Indian Students to Canada

Canada has long maintained a reputation of being a favorable destination for international students. According to recent ApplyBoard surveying, 4 in 5 recruitment partners strongly agreed with the statement that “Canada is open and welcoming to international students.”

The country is known for its generous Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP), which encourages international students to study and work in Canada. The program provides international students with valuable work experience, which helps graduates qualify for permanent residence (PR). In 2021, 97.5% of international graduates who applied for permanent residency in Canada were successful.

As the chart below shows, there has been growing interest in the PGWPP from Indian students over the past five years.

New government policies continue to cement Canada’s reputation for openness to immigration. In 2021, nearly 130,000 former study permit holders were approved for PR. 40,000 of those international graduates were part of a limited-time pathway. However, the popularity of that pathway—the English stream reached capacity in one day—bodes well for its return.

Last month, Canada unveiled measures to allow students with PGWPs expiring in 2022 to remain in Canada for an additional 18 months while they are waiting for their PR application to be processed. Although this does not apply to all PGWP holders and international graduates, the announcement is a crucial step toward helping more international students achieve the dream of Canadian citizenship.

What Indian Students are Studying

We can trace the preferences of Indian students beyond their choice of destination country and look at the field of study they select. The data below shows which field of study Indian students are choosing.

Business Programs Attract Indian Students to Canada

In Canada, Indian students tend to gravitate towards business programs, as the chart below shows:

Business and management programs accounted for 40% of study permits approved for post-secondary students in 2021. This was five percentage points higher in 2019.

The number of Indian students approved to study business and management in Canada grew from just over 10,000 in 2016 to nearly 50,000 in 2021. We’ve seen this trend in our own internal data, as well. On the ApplyBoard Platform, of the top 10 programs that Indian students submitted applications to in 2021, five were business and management programs.

Roughly 20% of Indian students coming to Canada for post-secondary studies choose computing and IT programs. In 2021, study permit approvals for Indian students in computing and IT programs nearly tripled compared to 2016 numbers.

From 2016-2021, the percentage of students choosing programs in applied science dropped by 10%, with interest in health sciences staying consistent. This change contributed to the growth in the percentage of students choosing programs in business and management.

Key Takeaways

The future for Indian international students is very bright in Canada. Although the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the continuously rising rates of Indian students in Canada, the Indian market has made a strong comeback. Indian students are at the center of Canada’s international education sector’s strong recovery.

However, competition for these students remains fierce. Here are my recommendations for schools looking to rebuild their Indian student populations or begin capturing some of this critical market:

  • Emphasize Canada’s generous Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) to prospective students.
  • Highlight existing Indian cultural communities within your institution and city.
  • Be prepared to accommodate the continued growth in the Indian market. For schools who have not tapped into the market, this is a great time to do so!

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CMO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government, third-party, and ApplyBoard internal data, to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 300,000 students around the world.



1. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).


The most important stories in international education, backed by data