Saudi Arabian International Students Returning to Canada Following a Five-Year Halt

Saudi Arabian students

For years, Canada was a sought-after destination for Saudi Arabian international students. However, in recent years, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Canada experienced a significant setback, leading to a decline in the number of Saudi Arabian students studying in Canada. The diplomatic strain resulted in the suspension of new Saudi scholarships for Canadian students, the recall of Saudi Arabian students from Canadian institutions, and significant disruption to the educational exchange between the two countries.

Now, bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada are improving, and Canadian educational institutions are preparing to welcome back Saudi Arabian students with open arms. The anticipated return of these students signals a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, fostering deeper connections for Saudi Arabian international students and Canadian institutions. 

In today’s ApplyInsights, we’ll take stock of the current state of Saudi Arabian students abroad, map the changes in Saudi student movement over the past half-decade, and explain how institutions can be competitive in this suddenly exploding market. Let’s dive right in.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Canada experienced the steepest decline in Saudi students across major destination markets over the past five years.
  • The number of Saudi Arabian study permit holders in Canada dropped by almost 94% over the past seven years, from nearly 12,000 students in 2015 to less than 750 in 2022.1
  • Over the past eight years, the number of Saudi students in the UK has remained steady between 8,000 and 9,000.
  • ApplyBoard has maintained strong relationships with Saudi schools and partners and is well-positioned to support the return of Saudi students to Canada.

Steep Decline in Saudi Arabian Student Population in Canada

In 2015, tensions between the Canadian and Saudi governments emerged. The diplomatic strain between the two countries prompted the Saudi government to implement various restrictions on Saudi Arabian students studying in Canada, such as suspending new scholarships for Canadian students, recalling Saudi Arabian students from Canadian institutions, and severing economic ties. These measures led to a substantial decline in the number of Saudi Arabian students in Canada over the following years. 

The chart below shows how the Saudi Arabian student population in Canada shifted over the past eight years:

In 2015, the number of Saudi Arabian study permit holders in Canada reached nearly 12,000. This made Saudi Arabian students the sixth-largest international student population in Canada. However, between 2015 and 2022, the number of Saudi students in Canada declined significantly, decreasing by 94% to less than 750 students in 2022. Saudi Arabian students were the 66th-largest study permit holders in Canada in 2022.

Saudi Student Populations in Other Destination Markets Experienced Slower Decline Rates

Let’s take a look at how the Saudi student populations in the United States and the United Kingdom shifted amidst the decline of Saudi students in Canada.

Over the past eight years, the number of Saudi students in the US decreased substantially, declining from more than 61,000 students in 2015/16 to just over 18,000 in 2021/22. This represents a 70% decline, which, while significant, is comparatively lower than Canada’s 94% drop during the same period. Both of these North American destination markets have been affected by political tensions, resulting in adverse effects on their international education sectors, which heavily rely on established relationships.

Due to the heightened tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia, Saudi scholarships in Canada were suspended, and Saudi Arabian students studying in Canada were relocated to the UK instead of the US. The strained relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia during that period made the UK a more favorable destination for Saudi students looking to complete their education abroad.

Overall, the UK government has maintained a better relationship with Saudi Arabia and the data shows a more positive story for Saudi Arabian international students. The number of Saudi students in the UK has consistently exceeded 8,000 over the past eight years, reaching 8,750 in 2021/22. In 2021/22, the Saudi Arabian student population in the UK declined by 1%.

The Saudi Ministry of Education offers the King’s Scholarship Program (KSP) to support academically distinguished students pursuing studies at well-regarded universities worldwide. This program presents an opportunity for Saudi students to study in Canada, and we expect that more Canadian institutions will be included in the program, enabling them to attract Saudi students.

Since 2015, Australia has experienced a significant decline in visas granted to Saudi nationals. The number of visas granted dropped by 65%, from over 3,600 in the 2015/16 academic year to under 1,300 in 2021/22. Despite this drop, early 2023 data shows that Saudi student visa grants are on the rise in Australia and are on track to match 2019 levels.

While Saudi Arabian student applications have declined in multiple destination markets, Canada has seen the most significant impact. This notable decline underscores the magnitude of the shift that Saudi scholarship criteria has on student choice and highlights the unique challenges faced by Canadian institutions in attracting and retaining Saudi Arabian students.

As the Canadian education sector prepares for the anticipated rebound of Saudi students, it must proactively address these changes and leverage its strengths to regain its position as a preferred destination for Saudi Arabian international students.

ApplyBoard’s Strong Relationships to Facilitate Anticipated Rebound in Canadian Education Market

As the diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada continue to improve, the Canadian education sector is preparing for the anticipated return of Saudi Arabian students. ApplyBoard, with its unwavering commitment to fostering international education, has continued to send Saudi students to other destination markets, maintaining strong relationships with Saudi schools and partners. These connections serve as a solid foundation for supporting the successful reintegration of Saudi students into Canadian educational institutions.

By leveraging its robust network of Saudi schools and partners, ApplyBoard is well positioned to facilitate the anticipated rebound of Saudi Arabian students in the Canadian education market. As Saudi Arabian students return to Canada, their presence will not only enhance the academic landscape but also contribute to the cultural diversity and global perspectives within Canadian campuses. Canadian institutions looking to get ahead of increased competition as Saudi students return to Canada should:

  • Leverage ApplyBoard’s strong relationships with partners and institutions in Saudi Arabia and Canada to support the return of Saudi international students to Canada.
  • Develop marketing materials for Saudi students that focus on campus life, local Saudi communities on and off campus, metropolitan multiculturalism, and Canada’s acceptance of international students.
  • Re-establish partnerships and exchange programs with Saudi universities and educational institutions to promote academic collaborations and facilitate student exchanges between Saudi Arabia and Canada.
  • Highlight success stories and testimonials of Saudi students who have previously studied in Canada to showcase their positive experiences and accomplishments.
  • Stay up to date on changes in Saudi scholarships, financial aid, or tuition discounts specifically for Saudi students to make studying in Canada more affordable and competitive.


Subscribe to ApplyInsights

Sign up for the latest insights on international education.

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


The most important stories in international education, backed by data