Comparing International Education Policy Shifts Across Markets

International students at airports and on campuses float on a yellow background with a shadow graphic of the world map. Flag illustrations of Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK, and the US frame the largest image.

As a new year begins, many destination markets are introducing changes to their international education sectors. Several updates, including a higher proof of finances requirement, a temporary cap on study permits, and changes to the Post-Graduation Work Permit programs, took effect or were announced in Canada this January. Changes to graduate visa durations and conditions, as well as the student visa application process, are also forecast for Australia.

Below, we’ll look at how the status quo and announced changes might impact key areas of student mobility and competition between markets this year. Read on to learn how student visa processing times, employability during and after studies, evolving cost-of-living, and students’ ability to build a life in their destination country stack up. We’ll look at Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with a few guest appearances.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Australian immigration policy is positioned to shift significantly. Several Temporary Graduate visa classes will become shorter, moving the country from having a more generous post-graduation work visa to one in line with or shorter than other markets.
  • Most COVID-related international education policies have ended or are about to conclude. New government announcements address cost of living, post-graduation work guidelines, or immigration pathways.
  • Recent proof of finance adjustments may better prepare international students for higher living costs.
  • Mature students may find destination options more limited, whether due to dependant visa limitations or lowered age caps on post-graduation visas.

Due to the evolving nature of these changes, we’re sharing the information we have access to now. As policies take steps forward, most notably in Australia, we’ll return to this piece with updates.1

Proof of Finances Amounts Updated to Align with Living Costs

Becoming an international student is an investment. To ensure students are ready to cover their living expenses, applicants must provide proof of funds, which includes a set minimum meant to cover daily expenses. This is on top of proving they can pay for tuition, and sometimes, travel. Below, we’ll look at financial capacity amounts for student visa applicants in major Anglophone study destinations, current as of January 2024.

Note: Amounts below are for an individual student. For eligible students bringing dependants, the proof of funds increases by a set amount.

In some markets, like the UK and US, proof of finances varies depending on location. In Canada and Australia, the minimum amount is the same across the country. While both Australia and Canada recently updated their minimum amounts, and plan to index these numbers to yearly fluctuations in the national cost of living2, students headed to these countries may still wish to run a cost-of-living calculator, like Study Australia’s, for a more specific estimate.3

Student Visa Processing Times Streamline Despite Record Intake

In 2022, improving student visa processing times was a priority in more than one major destination market. This attention paid off in 2023: in Canada, average study permit4 processing times over that summer were the shortest they’d been in two years. Meanwhile, in the United States, average wait times for student visas dropped to under a month early in the year.

A horizontal bar chart with bars representing average student visa processing times in Q4 2023; Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia are represented on the chart.

While processing times were competitive across the four countries, Canada had the longest average time. In the winter of 2023, it had a student visa processing average of 8 weeks, compared to an average of 4.75 weeks in the United States, and 3 weeks in the UK and Australia. It’s likely the comparatively slower Canadian study permit processing time is due to sheer volume; in 2023, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada processed a record-breaking 1 million study permit applications.5 Outside of these featured markets, Ireland also had a banner year for international students, welcoming a record high of over 35,000 in the 2022/2023 academic year.6

Student Work Hours and Rules Return to Status Quo

Many destination markets increased the number of hours international students could work while classes were in session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the last of these measures are scheduled to end in 2024.

This return to form is designed to encourage international students to give more focus to their studies. These updates are also positioned to motivate students to have a higher level of financial independence, especially when considered in combination with new proof of funds amounts in Canada and Australia.7

Of the countries above, Australia offers the most generous work-while-studying privileges. Most international students may work for up to 24 hours per week, compared to 20 hours in many other markets, and eligible postgraduate students may work full-time. That said, international students in Ireland from the European Economic Area (EEA) come out slightly ahead, as eligible undergraduate and graduate students may work full-time while class is in session. International students in Australia may also work more freely on- and off-campus, instead of being limited to jobs on-campus or ones specifically related to their field of study, as their peers in the US are.

Employment Top-of-Mind for International Students

In our Fall 2023 ApplyBoard Recruitment Partner Pulse Survey, opportunities to work while studying was ranked the second-highest factor students consider when choosing where to study. It was only outranked by overall cost of studying, which for many students, ties directly to their ability to work.

This desire for employability is something governments are taking steps to address: Canada’s IRCC shared in late 2023 that the workload students can take on while class is in session is being reviewed, possibly enabling future international students to work up to 30 hours per week.

The US government also issued updated Optional Practical Training (OPT) guidance in December 2023, including clarification that post-study STEM OPT may include work at eligible start-up companies.8 This measure will build on international students’ ingenuity; as Stuart Anderson notes in Forbes, “one-quarter of billion-dollar startup companies in the United States have a founder who first came to America as an international student, creating an average of 860 jobs per company.”

Post-Study Work Opportunities Diversify

Of the four major Anglophone study destinations, Canada ranks as the most generous around after-graduation work opportunity timelines, as its Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program is available to students who graduate from programs as little as eight months long. However, recently-announced changes limit who may apply for PGWPs; students starting their studies on or after September 1 at a public-private partnership institution will no longer be eligible.

Conversely, the United States’ Optional Practical Training program aligns strictly to jobs related to a new grad’s field of study. This can make it more challenging to find work, and contributes to some studies finding that only 10% to 20% of international students pursue employment in the US after graduation. That said, those who successfully complete OPT build stronger networks related to their field, and an impressive resume.

Australia and the UK fall somewhere in the middle with post-study employment eligibility. Let’s take a closer look at these four markets below.

Interestingly, our Fall 2023 Student Pulse survey found that, of the four major Anglophone destination markets, fewer than half of the students surveyed were either “very familiar” or “extremely familiar” with job opportunities in Australia, Ireland, or the United Kingdom. Institutions and governments from these markets may consider creating or sharing resources to build awareness, both before students arrive and during their studies, to build students’ confidence and knowledge of the job market.

Pathways to a Future in a New Country

In these destination markets, many new graduates work towards building a life for themselves by earning permanent residency (PR).9 Let’s look at how current pathways to permanent residency for international students compare, and how it can be a more straightforward journey in some countries:

In 2023, the United Kingdom updated limits on which postgraduate students could bring dependants with them to the UK. While undergraduate students could not bring dependants before, now only postgraduate students in research master’s degrees or doctoral students may bring dependants. Taking classwork-based master’s degrees off the list of courses eligible for dependants is likely to impact student numbers from several markets in 2024, as students at this level of study are more likely to have partners or children. Also, the partners of graduate visa applicants must have been dependants on the main applicant’s student visa, which will prevent most families from reuniting in the UK after a student finishes their studies.

Across the world, Australia’s recent announcement that the maximum age for the popular Graduate visa will drop from 50 to 35 years old may be another limiting factor for mature students. This announcement is already causing concern among onshore international graduate students, many of whom are in their 30s and facing an uncertain future after graduation.10 Whether these and other mid-career students steer away from Australia to destination markets with more permissive post-graduation work opportunities remains to be seen, but is a distinct possibility.

In 2024, Australia’s visa classes are also scheduled for an update. Among them is a new Skills in Demand visa, a 4-year skilled worker visa which will make it easier for visa holders to change employers. It will replace the current, employer-sponsored Temporary Skill Shortage visa. The Australian government also noted that the Skills in Demand visa will become the primary next step for Temporary Graduate visa holders, instead of the current two-year TG visa extension.

Key Takeaways

Policy guiding international education is experiencing regular shifts across multiple markets, and we expect this trend to continue through 2024. To help their teams and students prepare proactively for change, academic institutions may wish to consider these measures:

  • Ensure student-facing materials (web and print) are regularly checked against government websites for current policy, and stay up to date to prevent confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Build connections between public relations or policy departments and student-facing team members. This helps your teams get an inside scoop on government updates and how they’re seen at ground level. Plus, it builds both teams’ awareness about what students will need to apply, and how to prepare them for success after arrival.
  • For markets outside of Canada and the US, illustrate how your institution’s courses build skills needed for jobs in high-demand fields. Whether as testimonials in student lookbooks, employment stats, or videos on how to get from an entry-level job to a dream job, this can boost interest among a cohort focused on employability.
  • Policy changes in the news may cause mature students or students with dependants stress relating to their academic options. Clear outreach to existing and potential students explaining how related legislation impacts them can build trust.


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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. For more information on individual markets, refer to key sources for this article, including:

2. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. “Revised requirements to better protect international students.” Dec. 7, 2023.

3. As the destination with the world’s thirteenth-highest cost-of-living, a clear picture is especially important for students headed to Australia. (Australia, the US, and Ireland are in the global top-20 for high cost of living. Canada comes in at 25th, and the UK at 33rd.)

4. The terms student visa and study permit are generally used interchangeably for Canadian international students. Rather than a student visa, Canada provides an approved international student with a study permit, which allows that student to enroll in classes at Canadian institutions. When a student is accepted for a study permit, they are usually also provided with a visitor visa. The visitor visa allows that student to enter Canada for their studies.

5. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. “Building a stronger immigration system – Temporary residence.” Dec. 19, 2023.

6. Carl O’Brien, “International student numbers in higher education climb to new high.” The Irish Times, Oct. 4, 2023.

7. Study Australia, “Change to evidence of financial capacity for Student visas.” Sept. 6, 2023.

8. Kim Martin, “USCIS updates policy guidance for international students.” The PIE News, Jan. 3, 2024.

9. Note that this article is not meant as official immigration or residency advice. For the most up-to-date information and legal guidance, refer to official government websites. Or, consult with a licensed immigration professional in the destination market of interest.

10. Iris Zhao, “International students left in limbo as new migration strategy reduces eligible age for graduate visa.” ABC News, Dec. 14, 2023.


The most important stories in international education, backed by data