ApplyInsights: Canadian Study Permit Approval Rate Lower for Older Applicants

A number of factors affect whether the Canadian government approves an international student’s study permit application.

Hari Ghai, ApplyBoard’s Senior Immigration Consultant and a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC), encourages the students he works with to articulate a clear purpose for studying abroad and select a study path that shows obvious career progression. These strategies can help students improve their odds. In an earlier article, I noted that Canadian study permit approval rates vary based on study level.

At ApplyBoard, we’ve noticed an interesting correlation between study permit approval rate and applicant age, as well. For today’s ApplyInsights, I’m digging into the data to explore this relationship. 

Here’s what this article will cover:

  • Canadian study permit approval rates across four age brackets in 2019
  • The approval rate differential between students aged 20 to 25 and students over 30 for the top 25 source markets for international students
  • The change in approval rate by applicant age over time

We’ll begin by looking at the 2019 data.

Study Permit Approval Rate and Applicant Age

The chart below compares the study permit approval rate across four age brackets:2Bar chart showing Canadian study permit approval rates by applicant age in 2019. Examined in detail below.We see a strong negative correlation between study permit approval rate and applicant age. The older the applicant, the less likely they were to be approved. Students under 20 were nearly twice as likely to be approved for a study permit (73.4%) as students over 30 (40.8%) last year.

It’s worth noting, however, that the rate of decline decreased with age as well. The approval rate for applicants between 20 and 25 was 15.6% lower than the approval rate for applicants under 20, but applicants over 30 had a rate just 2.8% lower than applicants between 25 and 30.

What’s Causing the Approval Rate Decline

Some of the age-related decrease can be attributed to variation among study levels. 

Primary and secondary applicants have higher-than-average approval rates, which inflates the under-20 numbers. Together, applicants for primary and secondary school were approved at a rate of 78.2% in 2019, around 5% better than the overall rate for students under 20. 

College applicants have historically had lower approval rates than university applicants, though that difference has fallen in recent years. In 2019, college applicants were approved at a rate of 56.1%, around 5% lower than the rate for university applicants (60.8%). Older international students are much more likely to pursue college studies in Canada, as we discussed in our previous ApplyInsights focusing on Canada’s international mature student market

Hari, ApplyBoard’s RCIC, notes also that the government often scrutinizes older students particularly carefully, looking for evidence that they are pursuing permanent residency (PR) via study because they are not able to enter Canada through other routes. He advises these students to select their programs carefully to reassure visa officers that their interest in studying in Canada is genuine. 

Visa officers are looking for bona fide attempts by students to improve their credentials, Hari continues. For example, a visa officer would generally look favourably upon an applicant with a degree in business administration looking to pursue a Master of Accounting. But if the same applicant were looking to enroll in a general business certificate program, they would likely attract additional scrutiny.

Study Permit Approval Rate by Source Market

Though the extent of the decline with applicant age varied, the overall trend held across each of the top 25 source markets for international students. The chart below shows the difference in approval rates for students aged 20 to 25 and students over 30,3 from smallest to largest:

Canadian Study Permit Approval Rate and Applicant Age, Top 25 Source Markets, 2019
Rank Source Market Approval Rate, 20–25 Approval Rate, Over 30 Difference
1 Hong Kong 79.5% 79.3% -0.2%
2 Jamaica 70.5% 69.9% -0.6%
3 United States 92.2% 90.4% -1.8%
4 Japan 97.0% 93.9% -3.1%
5 Spain 89.7% 85.5% -4.2%
6 Iran 47.8% 42.2% -5.6%
7 Brazil 82.8% 77.2% -5.6%
8 South Korea 97.9% 92.1% -5.8%
9 Vietnam 40.6% 34.6% -6.0%
10 Bangladesh 34.3% 28.2% -6.1%
11 Pakistan 24.4% 17.8% -6.5%
12 Columbia 78.4% 71.5% -6.9%
13 Nigeria 14.6% 6.1% -8.5%
14 France 94.6% 84.2% -10.4%
15 Cameroon 17.4% 7.0% -10.4%
16 Turkey 69.2% 57.8% -11.5%
17 Germany 94.7% 81.3% -13.5%
18 Mexico 84.1% 70.2% -13.9%
19 United Kingdom 93.9% 79.2% -14.7%
20 Taiwan 94.3% 76.8% -17.5%
21 India 61.7% 38.8% -22.9%
22 Algeria 31.7% 5.4% -26.3%
23 China 80.7% 53.8% -26.9%
24 Morocco 50.0% 20.8% -29.2%
25 Philippines 75.3% 45.8% -29.5%

There’s significant variance between Hong Kong at the top and the Philippines at the bottom of the list. Nevertheless, no factor is strongly correlated with the magnitude of the approval rate decline. Both ends of the list include markets from a variety of regions. The ends of the list are diverse in terms of economic growth and human development. They also include a mix of college-focused and university-focused markets, as well as varying distributions of student populations by age. 

Approval Rate and Applicant Age Over Time

After remaining largely stable from 2017 to 2018, study permit approval rates for all applicants fell 6.3% between 2018 and 2019. Rates declined further in the first seven months of 20204 as students had difficulty obtaining necessary documentation due to COVID-19 lockdown protocols. 

The chart below shows how approval rates changed from 2017 to 2020 by age bracket:Line chart showing the change Canadian study permit approval rate by applicant age between 2017 and 2020. Examined in detail below.Between 2017 and 2019, the change in approval rate was largely uniform. No age bracket saw a shift of more than 3% relative to the other brackets. However, the decline in 2020 was much less even, and was in fact concentrated among younger students. The approval rate for students aged 20 to 25 fell 12.7%, versus 9.6% for students aged 26 to 30 and 5.4% for students over 30.5 As the chart shows, approval rates for the over-30 age bracket actually surpassed those for the 25 to 30 bracket for the first seven months of 2020. 

It’s difficult to assess why approval rates among older students have been more resistant to approval rate decline this year. I’ll be monitoring the remaining 2020 numbers closely as they come in to see if the full-year data presents a clearer picture.

Final Thoughts

A number of factors can affect approval rates on a market-wide basis. Political instability in the source market may lead visa officers to scrutinize applications more critically. The government in the source market may terminate a popular scholarship program, leaving students scrambling to assemble a case for adequate financial support. A change in how study permits are processed in the destination country can increase rates if it attracts stronger candidates—or cause a dip in approval rates as recruitment agents adjust to the new system. 

In short, getting to the bottom of approval rate trends is never an easy task. But the data is clear that study permit approval rates decrease as applicant age increases. Older students and the recruitment agents working with them should keep this in mind when applying for a Canadian study permit, taking extra care to maximize the success of their application.

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Meti BasiriMeti Basiri
Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Meti is driven by the belief that education is a right, not a privilege. In his role as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at ApplyBoard, he leads the International Recruitment, Partner Relations, Sales Enablement, Sales Operations, and Marketing teams along a shared mission to educate the world. Meti has been instrumental in building partnerships with 1,200+ educational institutions across North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Working with over 4,000 international recruitment partners, ApplyBoard has assisted more than 120,000 students in their study abroad journey.

Meti was honoured in 2019 by Forbes, being named to three Top 30 Under 30 lists, including Education, Immigrants, and Big Money. Follow Meti on LinkedIn for more access to ApplyInsights and key industry trends.


1. Study permit and student visa are terms which are often used interchangeably when discussing Canadian international education and immigration.
2. Figures for new study permits only. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
3. I’ve omitted the under-20 age bracket to avoid including primary and secondary students.
4. More recent data not yet available.
5. I’ve again omitted the under-20 age bracket to avoid including primary and secondary data. The approval rate for students under 20 fell 12.1% in the first seven months of 2020.