Canadian Institutions, Here’s How to Maximize Study Permit Approval Rates in the Cap Era

Shortly after Canada announced its study permit application cap earlier this year, we flagged that a potential risk of these new policies is that institutions could be disincentivized from accepting applications from countries with historically low approval rates. And that was when our projections, and the sector at large, assumed the 606,000 application cap applied to only non-exempt programs.

Since then, it’s been reported that the cap includes applicants for the study levels not subject to the provincial attestation letter. Also, Canadian Immigration Minister Marc Miller said during a parliamentary session in February that Alberta, Quebec, and other provinces with room to grow based on their proportion of Canada’s population would be limited to 10% growth in study permit approvals. As a result, provinces and institutions are confirming a lower allotment for the non-exempt study levels than they had anticipated, and approval rates will be more critical for institutions than ever before.

Read on to learn about the approval rates for Canada’s largest student populations for the study levels affected by the new application cap.1 Approval rates differ significantly between countries, and this article can help you develop strategies for certain student populations.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • The Canadian student visa approval rate was 57% in 2023 for the capped study levels.2
  • Indian students saw a historically high approval rate in 2023 and will remain a critical student population for institutions to tap into during the temporary application cap.
  • African countries accounted for 8 of the top 20 student populations approved for a Canadian student visa in 2023. Developing these student corridors is key to mitigating risk of downturns.
  • For the Winter 2024 intake, over 90% of Indian, over 80% of Filipino, and nearly 75% of Nepali applicants on the ApplyBoard platform were approved for their study permit.3

Under Application Cap Parameters, Atlantic Canada and the Prairies Are Disadvantaged by Skewed Student Visa Approval Rate

In 2023, IRCC approved 57% of Canadian student visa applications it received.4 But as the chart below shows, this average is skewed by Ontario and British Columbia:

From 2021 through 2023, Ontario and British Columbia accounted for a full 70% of student visa applications processed. In 2023, these provinces totalled 67%. This means the country’s average approval rate closely follows the approval rate for these two provinces, which are well above the average of the remaining provinces.

In fact, the combined approval rate for the remaining provinces has been under 50% and trending downward since 2019. The approval rate for these other jurisdictions was just 45% in 2023, 12 percentage points lower than the national average.

Despite this skew, the government appears to have used a flat approval rate projection of 60% to calculate attestation letter allocations. But, as we just showed, the average for provinces outside Ontario and British Columbia is 15 percentage points below this flat rate. If historical approval rates hold in 2024, the cap will be particularly punishing to most provinces in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies. The majority of provinces will see a decline in student inflows under these parameters if their study permit approval rates don’t rise.

How Can Institutions Raise Approval Rates?

We’re expecting that institutions will be extremely prudent with the attestation letters they dole out under the current cap parameters. But issuing offer letters or offers in principle quickly can help maximize conversion.

That’s because students and their advisors will be submitting their applications as soon as possible. They know that a) provinces and institutions have limited attestation letters to offer and b) there will be backlogs due to the study permit processing freeze. Students will want their applications at the front of the line, as they know that waiting to submit could cost them the opportunity to study at their institution of choice.

As such, application processing time will be critical for institutions. Students are facing a great deal of ambiguity right now, and many are reconsidering their selection of school, program, and country. The institutions that can issue offers most quickly will build students’ confidence in their next steps, in turn helping to maximize conversion.

Also, with the pause in study permit processing still in place for many provinces and the backlog that this will create once the remaining attestation letter systems are in place, many students who originally obtained their acceptance letters for the Spring or Summer term will be forced to defer. It’s critical to anticipate this increase in deferral requests and ensure a streamlined process for these students to make it to campus. Institutions may want to consider issuing Spring/Summer intake offers with an alternative start date in the Fall to give students flexibility and confidence to navigate the uncertainty.

Remember: Because their study permit applications will be processed in 2024, Winter 2025 students count against the 2024 cap, not the 2025 cap.

Historically High Approval Rate for Indian Students

India is a critical market for most institutions, as Indian students accounted for 51% of student visa approvals for the capped study levels in 2023. Because of the new application cap’s pressure on conversion, we’re hearing concerns about approval rates for Indian students from many of our partners. But there’s strong reason for optimism here.

The following chart shows the approval rate for Indian students in the non-exempt study levels since 2017:

From 2018 to 2022, the approval rate for Indian students trended downward every year except for the immediate recovery after the pandemic. But here’s the good news for institutions: 2023 reversed this trend. 72% of Indian students were approved last year, a 20 percentage point jump compared to 2022.

What’s more, every province saw an approval rate of at least 63% except for Quebec (22%). Six of the provinces had an approval rate equal to or above the 72% national average. The strong approval rate recovery for Indian students, in other words, was near uniform across the country. As such, institutions should feel confident that continuing to build their student corridors in India won’t hurt their conversion rates in the cap landscape.

Over 91% of Indian applicants on the ApplyBoard platform were approved for their study permit for the Winter 2024 intake.

Africa Key to Building Student Diversity in Canada

There’s also concern across the sector that the increased pressure on conversion rates could turn institutions away from African recruitment. That’s because, while approval rates for African students are rising, they remain lower than for students from other regions of the world. Even so, Africa accounted for 8 of the top 20 student populations approved for a student visa in 2023:

Although they’re generally lower than the approval rates for other large student populations, many of the rates for African countries have doubled or more compared to 2019. And as we highlighted in our 2024 Trends Report, diversity of the student body is critical for institutions to protect themselves against downturns. Diversity also ensures a higher-quality experience and education for students.

We think African approval rates can continue to climb. In May 2022, a Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration report made 35 recommendations to IRCC that could, either directly or indirectly, remove barriers to acceptance for African students.

The international education landscape has changed since the report, in part due to the cap. But many of the report’s recommendations remain evergreen—including its call for increased refusal transparency, clearer dual intent provisions, and a fairer applicability of the Student Direct Stream across countries. Some of the recommendations have already been put into place, such as a revision of dual intent instructions for IRCC officers. Continued removal of the barriers identified by the CIMM report will only help further the positive approval rate momentum that African students have seen in recent years.

For the Winter 2024 intake, nearly 70% of ApplyBoard applicants from Nigeria were approved for their study permit, more than double the sector average for 2023.5

Approval Rates for Canada’s Largest Student Populations

Let’s take a look at approval rates for some other student populations driving diversity across Canada. The chart below allows you to see the approval rates for some of Canada’s largest student populations based on the number of students approved since 2017.

Filipino students received the third-most Canadian study permit approvals in 2023. Historically, the approval rate for FIlipinos has been just over 60%, including a 62% rate in 2023. For the 2024 winter intake, over 80% of ApplyBoard applicants from the Philippines were approved. The Philippines has been a critical source of diversity due to sheer volume, but the market has been heavily driven by students who bring their families. The new restriction on spousal work permits could dampen those students’ interest in Canada moving forward, so we’re advising institutions against heavily relying on this market as a primary driver of their student diversity.

Nepali student mobility has arguably been growing faster than that of any other student population since the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Nepali approval rates were about 20%. They shot up to 70% after the pandemic but have dropped slightly since then, down to 61% in 2023. Nearly 75% of Nepali students on the ApplyBoard platform were approved for the 2024 winter semester. We think Nepal will be a strong diversity driver for institutions during the temporary application cap.

Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil are the three largest Latin American (LATAM) student populations in Canada, and all three have had historically strong approval rates. In 2023, over 90% of Mexican applicants were approved. The approval rate was 83% and 78% for Brazilian and Colombian applicants, respectively. English language proficiency is typically the largest barrier for these students. As such, institutions looking to grow their LATAM diversity should consider developing integrated English-learning programs and resources.

Learn more about what’s driving Colombian student mobility in English-speaking countries.

How Institutions Can Improve Conversion Rates and Maximize Diversity With ApplyBoard

With the application caps allotted to provinces assuming a flat 60% approval rate, institutions are under incredible conversion pressure. It will be tempting for schools to abandon countries with historically low approval rates. But we strongly recommend against this course of action. This short-term action would likely have long-term consequences.

By working exclusively with partners that drive higher conversion and visa approvals, institutions won’t need to sacrifice diversity to manage their caps. As the chart below shows, ApplyBoard outperformed the sector average approval rate across source markets in 9 of 10 provinces. In total, nearly 90% of ApplyBoard students were approved for their study permit for the Winter 2024 intake.5

Our platform steers applicants toward programs tailored to their academic journey. By selecting these programs, applicants are more likely to be viewed as bona fide and better equipped to write a strong statement of purpose for their study permit application.

Working with ApplyBoard also allows institutions to remain efficient in a time when students expect to hear from schools quickly. But institutions will now need to manage the attestation letter process, which is additional work for them and will lead to a reduction in turnaround time. To help speed up the process, they can work with ApplyBoard, as we’re able to send offers-in-principle and consolidate the tuition deposit process. This saves institutions administrative time while also ensuring that they spend their attestation spots only on students who are highly likely to enroll.

The temporary application cap has changed the international education landscape across Canada. By working with ApplyBoard, which has a proven track record as a sector leader in agent training and document verification, institutions can remain efficient and agile to give themselves the best chance of increasing conversion.

For data-backed guidance on how you can maximize conversion rates, please reach out to your Partner Relations Manager, or contact ApplyBoard’s Partner Relations team at


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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CEO 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 800,000 students around the world.



1. This article discusses only the non-exempt study levels affected by the new application cap. Approval rates for the K-12, master’s, and PhD levels are omitted throughout. Study permit extensions are also omitted.

2. All Canadian data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The terms student visa and study permit are generally used interchangeably for Canadian international students. Rather than student visas, Canada provides accepted international students with study permits, which allow those students to enrol in classes at Canadian institutions. When a student is accepted for a study permit, they are also usually provided with a visitor visa, which allows that student to enter Canada for their studies.

3. ApplyBoard’s study permit approval rates are estimates calculated by the ApplyBoard Data science team. The calculation is as follows:

Study Permit Approval Rate = Confirmed Study Permit Approvals ÷ (Confirmed Study Permit Approvals + Reported Study Permit Rejections)

Confirmed Study Permit Approval: Applicant has submitted documentary evidence of study permit approval to ApplyBoard and/or has had their enrolment confirmed by the destination institution.

Reported Study Permit Rejection: (a) Applicant has indicated to ApplyBoard that they have been refused a study permit and/or has requested a refund for their tuition deposit due to study permit refusal, and (b) applicant’s enrolment has not been confirmed by the destination institution.

Note: ApplyBoard applicants do not receive any special treatment from IRCC.

4. In addition to omitting cap-exempt study levels and study permit extensions, this data omits withdrawn applications.

5. These are the latest data points available for comparison. The vast majority of our Winter 2024 students submitted their application in 2023.


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