Top 5 International Student Markets for Canada in 2021

Key Takeaways


  • 60 percent of international students in 2021 choose Canada as a Top Study Destination. 
  • From around 80,000 study permits in 2016, Canada issued 621,565 study permits in 2021.
  • The number of study permits issued to international students by the IRCC in 2021 (621,565) is slightly down compared to the 638,380 visas in 2019 (pre-pandemic)_
  • India remains the top market for Canadian International Students in 2021.
  • China, which ranks second, has seen a slight decline in students going to Canada.

Canada has been a top study destination over the past few years. A recent survey reveals that over 60 percent of international students choose Canada over other study destinations.


This is reinforced by the increasing international student numbers over the past six years. In 2016, for instance, the number of international students in Canada was pegged at around 80,000. This number has significantly risen over the years. Data shows that student numbers have gone back to almost pre-pandemic levels for the academic year 2021. 


Data from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reveals that 621,565 study permits were issued to international students in 2021. This is a slight drop from the 638,380 study permit visas approved in 2019 but higher than the enrollment figures during the pandemic. 


Breaking down the numbers


While these figures are interesting in themselves, let’s take a closer look at the origins of these international students. Where do they come from? 



As the numbers show, India remains the top market with almost half of the total number of international students coming from the progressive country. China is in second with 105,265 international students, France is third with 26,630, Iran is fourth with 16,900, and Vietnam is close behind in fifth place with 16,235.


Declining numbers


While it may be the second largest market for international students in Canada, China’s student visa approvals have been dropping since 2019. A 9.6-percent decline has been observed due to several key factors, one of which is the pandemic. The lockdown has caused more Chinese international students to simply pursue their higher education at home.


Apart from this, however, Chinese universities and higher education institutions have stepped up their game and have gone up in the rankings. This is coupled with employers from the country looking to hire more students from these same universities. 


Increasing number of international students, emerging markets


It’s a different story for the other countries that round out the Top 5 list. France’s total of 26,630 international students that flocked to Canada in 2021, for instance, was up by 46 percent from the previous year.


As for Iran and Vietnam, these countries are part of emerging markets that are slowly increasing the number of international students heading to Canada to pursue higher education. This group includes countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the Philippines. 


The international student market is in a constant state of flux in terms of numbers, but this is to be expected since so many factors come into play–social and political concerns, the ongoing health crisis, and governmental policies, to name a few. 


The important question in the education sector is this: knowing the volatility of the market, how can colleges and universities more efficiently tap these student source markets? This is where partnering with an education marketplace helps as its various services can provide institutions with data and recruitment services, among other things. This is one way that universities can stay ahead in the game. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global - Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President

Suneetha has worked for over 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall in various industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, 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.









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