October 24, 2022

Canadian International Student Program: Is it Time for a Program Teardown? Here’s Five Steps to Consider

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

Recently the International Student Program (ISP) has been in the news for many of the wrong reasons – delayed processing, allegations of educational recruiters’ corruption, kickbacks and shell companies and ultimately shattered dreams for many would be permanent residents through the ISP.  I echo many of the comments I have made to the Parliamentary Committee, on TV, radio and in print the past few weeks, it is time we take a hard look at the ISP and go further than refinements.   The ISP has grown explosively over the past few years. Pre-COVID-19, the ISP was valued as a 21.6-billion-dollar business and had produced up to 712,000 jobs[1] impacting various stakeholders (government, schools, potential migrants, residents, and citizens alike). Demand for study permits has dramatically increased, particularly for those seeking permanent residence. Immigration to Canada remains the lifeblood of our country. The ISP no doubt plays a vital role in achieving these migration objectives.  

However, the possibility for a more measured, nuanced, and effective ISP is within reach. This is in part because of exciting technological possibilities like artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, and because we can draw on program experience to move in a different direction. Tinkering at the edges is not enough because there are several serious issues surrounding the scope of the program and issues relating to educational recruitment, program integrity, and enrolment in learning institutions that are not designated by the government.  Here are few potential solutions. 

1. New Messaging 

The public messaging surrounding key details of any new streams, including those that do and do not offer pathways to permanent residence, must be carefully managed. It begins with the governmental websites right through to the learning institutions, including international messaging and stakeholder involvement. This step alone could curb runaway intake, better position applicants and learning institutions, and conserve precious resources  

Most study permit applicants believe in the current messaging that permanent residence is the desired and, perhaps more importantly, attainable result. For example, the Government of Canada in its Info Source: Personal Information Bank, International Students (PPU 051), describes study permit holders asideal candidates for permanent residency, given their language proficiency, Canadian education credentials, and Canadian work experience”[2]. This, however, is not the reality for many. Permanent and non-permanent resident student stream pathways are thus required.  The changes to the program must occur by way of extensive consultation and the regulatory process, rather than through Ministerial Instructions (MIs). MIs should be utilized for pilot projects only.  

2. ISP Expression of Interest Program with Caps and Terminate Provisions 

Inherent in a more flexible, responsive, and expedient ISP program is the additional need for caps (specific program allocations) and terminations to avoid unmanageable backlogs and delays.  The caps should be developed in conjunction with educational partners and then a three-month period when applicants can apply.  The possibilities from there can include random selection from the pool or better yet an expression of interest program where different categories (see below) that reflect point allocations based upon current need, different subject matters, different pathways – really the potential is unlimited.  The applicants would be processed to cap and then the rest would terminate and be able to apply the following year.  The criteria would be transparent resulting in more flexibility and a move away from a one-size fits all approach.     

3. New International Study Program Categories 

Consistent with an expression of interest program would be expanded categories for applicants reflective of the varied reasons (i.e., occupational demand) for short and long-term study and/or temporary and permanent migration should be introduced. This will benefit the Canadian economic/social vibrancy, as well as diversity. Additional study permit pathways will better manage applicants’ expectations as to the numbers and pathways to permanent residence, better align with Canada’s needs, and better position applicants to make informed decisions. Although there exists ‘in land’ and ‘outside of Canada’ study permits, as well as dependent family study permits (amongst others), further expansion is required.  This may include the following program categories. 

(i) Distinctions between College and University Student Streams  

Different institutional and program considerations may apply based on domestic need, program offerings, and provincial location. The introduction of these streams would allow the ISP to better maintain a cohesive management of intake, need, and applicant expectations through as discussed above, an expression of interest management tool.  

(ii) New Municipal and Provincial Nominee Student Streams  

ISP streams must align not only with the larger immigration objectives but also with accreditation, settlement, and local requirements for successful integration. Provinces and municipalities having a seat at the table speaking in part on behalf of their educational institutional constituents, will be critical to enhance and better align the ISP with short and long-term objectives again reflected in an expression of interest management tool. 

 (iii) New “Humanitarian” International Student Stream  

Allow a percentage of the annual targets to be allocated to cases that require more flexibility and responsiveness to unanticipated global and domestic emerging issues, especially considering the pandemic. 

4. Real Time Access to Study Permit Files – Relieve Burden of ATIP Requests  

An applicant should be able to access their file, find out the stage of processing, and/or reasons for refusal, thereby limiting the need to resort to the Access to Information and Privacy Records (ATIPS) process. This is particularly important given that ATIPS were not intended to be utilized in this way. Access will allow for concerns to be identified earlier, help preserve the individualization of the process, and function as a second set of eyes for IRCC by those equally interested in the process and the outcome – the applicants and the representatives IRCC serves.  

There exist technological hurdles that will take time to manage. Nevertheless, productivity gains can be transformative if the technology is implemented transparently. Significant modernization can be encapsulated in one step – enhanced access.  

5. Plain Language Approach on Forms  

Forms and requests for information should be transparent and in plain language. Each year, we see many people facing misrepresentation allegations in study permit applications because they legitimately misunderstood a question on a temporary resident or permanent resident application form, usually relating to previous refusals – the “in any other country” part of the question referring to past refusals. Too many resources are being spent on innocent errors that could be better deployed to processing to target.  


So, five potential steps towards a national immigration and integrated ISP plan that is multi-tiered and effectively leverages technology in an innovative, transparent, and responsible fashion, allows applicant access and employs plain language in its forms and processing, while engaging all stakeholders. This would be transformative, and transformation is what we need. 

Thank you for reading.