Canadian Provincial Study Permit Trends – International Student Approvals in Ontario Reach Unprecedented High in 2022

Diverse students studying in Ontario

Canada’s most popular destination province for over 22 years continues to be the hub of international education in the Great White North. Ontario’s market share of student visa approvals in Canada continued to increase, welcoming over 226,000 international students in 2022—representing 54% of all approvals in the country.1

Ontario continues to be the top destination for international students in Canada by a wide margin.2 But, what exactly draws students from around the world to this province? Which study levels are the most sought-after in Ontario, and where are international students coming from?

Let’s dive right in!

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Last year, over 226,000 international students were approved to study in Ontario.
  • College was Ontario’s fastest-growing study level in 2022, with over 143,000 approvals.
  • Iranian and Hong Kong students had faster growth in approvals in Ontario compared to the national average.

Approvals in Ontario Hit a Record High in 2022

Despite rising tuition and living costs in Canada’s most populated province, Ontario continues to attract international students like no other. Let’s take a look at how study permit approvals grew in Ontario over the past few years.

The number of international students approved to study in Ontario has increased significantly since 2019. In 2022, the province saw a surge in applications to study, reaching over 400,000 study permit applications. Out of these applications, over 226,000 were approved. This represents a growth of 33% compared to the previous year, and an impressive growth of 82% over 2019.

However, the surge in applications may have contributed to a decline in approval rates, which dropped to 57% in 2022. This represented a five percentage point decrease from the 62% approval rate in both 2019 and 2021. 

Despite the approval rate decline, the overall increase in student visa applications to Ontario is not surprising, given the province’s high-quality education system, a diverse range of academic institutions, and excellent job prospects. Ontario is also home to several vibrant cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, and Waterloo, which offer a welcoming and supportive environment for international students.

Ontario Increases Market Share in Canada

Ontario’s surge in approvals was well above the national average growth of 27% and has helped the province maintain its position as the most popular Canadian destination for international students. Let’s take a closer look at how Ontario approvals compared to the Canadian provinces:

Ontario continued to dominate Canada’s international education sector with a 54% share of all student visa approvals in 2022, up from 52% in 2021. And both years were significant increases from before the pandemic when Ontario’s market share fell below 50% in three of four years.

Ontario’s market share gains can largely be attributed to its massive overall growth. Ontario had a 33% increase in study permit approvals in 2022 over the previous year, surpassing the growth rates of both Quebec (+5%) and British Columbia (+19%). The latter two provinces both saw their market share decline by two percentage points over this period.

Meanwhile, the Prairies and Atlantic regions both experienced over 30% growth in study permit approvals in 2022, with their market shares keeping up with Ontario at 9% and 5% respectively.

Overall, Ontario’s growth in 2022 not only outpaced the national average but also helped cement the province’s position as the dominant destination for international students in Canada, with a market share that continues to rise.

College Programs in Ontario are Driving International Student Approvals in Canada

With the demand for international education growing in Ontario, it’s important to understand which study levels are the most highly pursued. The graph below shows how study level popularity has shifted in Ontario over the past seven years:

College-level education was the fastest-growing study level in Ontario last year, with over 143,000 approvals. This was an increase of nearly 44,000 approvals over 2021, representing a 44% growth rate. Last year, College approvals represented 63% of all approvals in the province, up from 58% in 2021. 

For comparison, nearly 40,000 international students were approved to study at the university level in 2022, a much slower growth rate of just 6% over the previous year. Notably, approvals for doctoral and undergraduate programs at universities in Ontario declined, while there was only marginal growth in approvals for master’s programs. As a result, university approvals accounted for only 18% of all approvals in Ontario in 2022, down from 22%. This trend means that international students may be shifting their focus away from traditional university programs and exploring more cost-effective offerings. 

Universities looking to grow their international student body could focus their recruitment efforts on Iran or Bangladesh, as a respective 66% and 60% of their Ontario students pursued this study level last year.

Primary and secondary study permit approvals accounted for 10% of all approvals in Ontario in 2022. Overall, K-12 approvals experienced a 36% increase compared to the previous year. This was eight percentage points lower than the national average. Primary schools, in particular, grew by an impressive 70% over this period, reaching 11,800 approvals, while secondary schools only saw a 12% growth. This is in line with the growing interest in primary and secondary education among international students and their families that we’re seeing across Canada.

Ontario’s International Student Population Expands with New Top Source Markets in 2022

So, which source markets are driving the growth in study permit approvals in Ontario? The table below shows how Ontario’s top 10 student populations grew in 2022 compared to the previous year:

In 2022, study permit approvals for Indian, Filipino, Nigerian, and Colombian students in Ontario continued to rise, which was in line with the national trend. Additionally, Iranian and Hong Kong students had faster growth in approvals in Ontario compared to the national average. Overall, Ontario has a 42% growth rate in study permit approvals for Iranian students, compared to the national average of 34%. Similarly, Hong Kong had a growth rate of 68% in Ontario, almost double the national average of 35%.

Although many of the top ten source markets for Ontario remained unchanged from 2021, two new countries joined the leaderboard: Nepal and Vietnam. Nepal saw a significant surge in approvals, from 1,700 in 2021 to over 5,000 in 2022. Vietnam climbed to the tenth position with a 47% growth rate in study permit approvals, totaling nearly 2,500 approvals. Despite this positive trend, Vietnam’s approval rates in 2022 remained below 2019 levels.

It is worth noting that South Korea and Turkey dropped out of the top 10 list, with Turkey experiencing a decline of 32% in study permit approvals in 2022. This made Turkey one of the few major source markets with a decrease in approvals. This drop in approvals could be attributed to factors such as political unrest, economic challenges, or pandemic-related travel restrictions. Overall, the changes in the top 10 source markets for Ontario highlight the evolving preferences and trends of international students and the need for educational institutions to adapt their strategies to meet those changing demands.

Looking Forward

The surge in international student enrollments in Ontario is expected to continue. And since career-oriented opportunities are a top student concern, don’t be surprised to see college-level education remain the fastest-growing study level.

As international student approvals continue to rise, Ontario should also witness the emergence of new student markets. The decline in approval rates in 2022 could be an area of concern for the province, and institutions may need to work on streamlining the application process to improve the student experience.

Some ways that Ontario can remain Canada’s market leader include the following:

  • Providing competitive tuition fees to allow international students to access more affordable programs by leveraging existing scholarship and bursary programs, particularly in popular colleges and universities in Ontario.
  • Offering more seats in programs to support the growing demand amongst international students in Ontario, particularly in more densely populated areas like Ottawa, Toronto, and Waterloo. 
  • Staying up-to-date on labour market and job vacancy trends across Canada to help students settle and find post-graduate work opportunities in their study cities.
  • Assigning additional resources and programs to support students from emerging student markets like Iran and Hong Kong.

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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 600,000 students around the world.



1. 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 enroll 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. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the terms interchangeably.

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


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