Study Permit Refusal Rates (2019) 

Click on map above to see country-specific study permit refusal rate for January to May, 2019. Source: IRCC data

Three of every four African students who applied for a permit to study in Canada were rejected this winter and spring by Canadian immigration officials.

An analysis of study permit refusal trends found that students from African nations were far more likely to be refused a permit than students from any other region.

Canadian immigration officials rejected 39 per cent of all study permit applications worldwide in the first five months of 2019. The refusal and approval rates vary dramatically by where the students are from and what kind of education they seek in Canada. For example, only four per cent of study permit applications from Japan and Korea were rejected this year, compared to 81 per cent of applications from Nigeria and 86 per cent of applications from Algeria. However, students from Japan and Korea were also more likely to apply for a study permit to attend an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) program. The refusal rates for ESL programs is lower than for college or university programs.

Overall, immigration officials refused 75 per cent of the applications from Africa. The figures only include applications for new study permits, not extensions. The figures do not include applications that were withdrawn.

Officials can refuse a study permit for many reasons: if they suspect the student may not return to their home country after graduation; if the student doesn’t have sufficient funds to pay for tuition and living costs while in Canada; if the student poses a health or security threat to Canada, if the officer doesn’t think the student’s academic plan makes sense; if the application is incomplete or inaccurate or if there is evidence of fraud in the application. Harpreet Kochhar, assistant deputy minister of immigration, warned last fall that fraud has become a significant problem in study permit applications.

Untapped potential

Six African nations regularly generate more than 2,000 study permit applications to Canada a year, and Nigeria is in the top-five source countries, generating more than 12,000 study permit applications to Canada each year.

Two African countries are about to be added to a special system that fast tracks study permit applications. The student direct stream offers a streamlined process to students from China, Vietnam, India, the Philippines and Pakistan. The program will be available to students from Morocco and Senegal starting Sept. 9, 2019. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen suggested in June, 2018, that the system would also be expanded to Kenya, but that has not happened.

Alain Roy, vice president of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said his organization has lobbied  Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to expand the student direct stream and to find ways to improve the study permit approval rate for applicants from African nations.

“There are regions where we see a lot of potential where study permit approvals are very low,” he said.

“Africa has a lot of potential for growth but approval rates are low despite the fact that when we do get students to Canada, African students do quite well.”

Robert Summerby-Murray is president of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and chair of the Canadian Bureau of International Education. He said his university has not had any significant problems with study permit refusals for students from Africa. Foreign students make up about one third of total enrolment at Saint Mary’s, with students coming to the Halifax university from 115 different countries this year.

He suggested Saint Mary’s might have fewer problems because it has long-standing relationships with Canadian consular officials in Africa and elsewhere and because the university works with local recruiters who are known and respected in the field.

Universities Canada declined to comment on the study permit refusal trends.

11 new favourite nations

Canada recently announced a new five-year strategy to support and grow international education. A key part of the new strategy is to attract students from a more diverse range of countries to study in Canada. Global Affairs identified 11 countries where it will focus marketing efforts for Canadian education. Morocco is the only African nation on the list.

Some of the countries identified as high potential in the strategy also had higher than average refusal rates in 2019, including Vietnam (55%), Morocco (51%),  Ukraine (41%) and the Philippines (40%).

Top 25 source countries for international students to Canada, and study permit rejection rates

Top 25 source countries for study permit applications, and the permit refusal rate for each country in 2019. Source: IRCC data

All figures and charts in this story are based on data provided to Polestar Research by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. To receive copies of the IRCC raw data files, email [email protected] and ask for the study permit data package published in September, 2019.

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