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Top International Student Markets for Canada

Over the past 20 years, Canada’s international student population has grown six-fold and before the pandemic hit last year, the number of international students in Canada had risen by more than 80 percent since 2014. This growth in international enrolment made the country the fastest-growing among the world’s leading study destinations. 


Even with the year-over-year decline from 2019 to 2020, foreign enrollment grew by 135 percent overall between 2010 and 2020.


In the latest data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as of 31 December 2020, some 530,540 international students were holding Canadian study permits for the past school year. How did Canada’s foreign student population grow? Where are these students coming from? Why are they drawn to the Canadian education system?


In this article, we will answer these questions as we list down the top countries of origin for Canada’s international students.

Key Takeaways:

  • France is the 4th top source of international students for Canada
  • Indian students account for over one-third of Canada’s international students.
  • China is the second-largest sender, accounting for 22 percent of Canada’s international students. 
  • More students pursuing education in Canada are also looking for immigration opportunities
  • Some 60 percent of international students are interested in becoming permanent residents of Canada after graduation.


Indian students account for 34 percent (198,750) of Canada’s international students in 2020. Given that India has a huge middle-class population with high levels of English-language proficiency, the country has many international students who are eligible for programs offered by Canadian educational institutions. 


Indian students contributed to Canada’s population of Indian nationals, nearly increasing fourfold over the past five years. Indian students have also benefited from the federal government’s Student Direct Stream, which fast-tracks study permit applications for nationals of India, as well as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Pakistan, Senegal, and Morocco.


China is the second-largest sender, accounting for 22 percent (98,565) of Canada’s international students in 2020. The number of Chinese students in Canada has stagnated over the past five years, with India overtaking China as the lead source country in 2018. There are numerous probable reasons for the slow growth, one of which is that China’s strong economic growth is encouraging more of its students to remain at home.


Canada is the top destination for French students with 21,515 students enrolled in Canadian institutions in 2020. France, in turn, is the third-ranked sending country to Canada for the same year, behind India and China.


French nationals studying in Canada appreciate the fact that over 95 percent of the population in the country speaks French either as their first or second language. Because of this, Canada is the top destination for high-quality francophone or bilingual (English and French) education.


Completing Canada’s top 10 international student source countries are South Korea, United States, Vietnam, Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico.

study permit holders table
Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)
canada study permit holder chart
2015 2020 study permit holder bar graph

Economic Impact

With the influx of foreign learners, international education makes a large and growing contribution to Canada’s prosperity. International students in Canada spent $22 billion on tuition, accommodation, and other expenses in 2019 and supported close to 170,000 jobs for Canadians.


Beyond their immediate $22-billion annual impact, international students who remain in Canada permanently will help to drive economic growth as both workers and consumers for many decades to come.

Canada’s International Education Strategy

The new International Education Strategy builds on the attributes that make Canada a powerhouse in international education: strong schools and programs of study in both English and French; peaceful, welcoming, and diverse communities; an enviable quality of life; opportunities to work and start careers; and pathways to permanent residency.


The strategy aims to attract students from around the world to communities across Canada where they can enroll in a wide variety of schools and programs at all educational levels. At the same time, it will help a growing number of Canadian students return from studies and work abroad with the global competencies, skills, and networks needed to drive Canada’s success as an innovative, trading nation. Lastly, it will assist more Canadian schools and businesses design and export cutting-edge educational services and products to a growing number and diversity of international markets.

Why Canada is Attractive to International Students

According to Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study, international students choose Canada due to the country’s strong quality of education, as well as its reputation as a diverse and open-minded society. Some 60 percent of international students have also reported to CBIE that they are interested in becoming permanent residents of Canada after graduation.


Canada offers international students one of the world’s most competitive packages, allowing them to work while they study. Upon graduation, foreign students can obtain a post-graduation work permit to gain Canadian work experience. Moreover, the federal government as well as individual states offer more than 80 economic class immigration streams for international students to choose from should they consider moving into the country permanently.


Another consideration is that while international students pay higher tuition fees than Canadian students, their overall expenses in Canada are lower than in the likes of the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom. A major reason for this is the Canadian dollar is generally weaker than the US dollar, British pound, and the Euro. 


Given all the opportunities Canada offers to international students — from quality education, work experience to a chance to immigrate, it is no wonder that many of the world’s learners find the country to be the most ideal place to acquire global tertiary education. With its solid international education strategy paired with welcoming communities, Canada has truly become a powerhouse in international education and has established steady sources of international students. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



Canada’s foreign enrolment fell nearly 17% in 2020. ICEF Monitor. (2021, March 11).



Economic impact of international education in Canada 2017-2018. Global Affairs Canada. (2020, December 21). https://www.international.gc.ca/education/report-rapport/impact-2018/index.aspx?lang=eng


Project Atlas. The Power of International Education. (n.d.).



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