Canadian Immigration News

How Were International Chinese Students to Canada Affected by COVID-19?

6.75 minute read
"There has been a massive increase in enrollment of international students from Mainland China over the last decade. So much so that China is among the top source countries of international students to Canada."
Written by My Visa Source Team
Published on:  Nov 9, 2021
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There has been a massive increase in enrollment of international students from Mainland China over the last decade. So much so that China is among the top source countries of international students to Canada. This has immensely benefited Canadian universities and the Canadian economy. However, the latest trends in the international students coming from China indicate that measures need to be taken to make this more sustainable. 

Every September, hundreds of students from all over the world make their way to Canada to start their study programs at different universities and colleges. Among the top source countries of international students are India, China, France, Vietnam, Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and more. 

However, more than any other country, international students coming from Mainland China were the most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of students applying for Canadian Study Permits from China decreased by 65.1% in 2020. Moreover, most of the students who were approved for a Study Permit have not yet arrived in Canada due to international travel restrictions. 

How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect International Student Enrollment from China?

In 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received 12,077 Study Permit applications from Chinese students. This was a significant drop from the 34,583 applications received in the previous year. The approval rates for Study Permit applications also decreased by 3.6% which led to an overall decrease of 66.6% in the Study Permits approved for Chinese Students. 

Overall, the approval rate for international students from all over the world dropped by 8.9% since many international students faced difficulties in submitting a completed application due to Covid-19 restrictions. The total applications received by the IRCC fell by 48.1% while the approval rate decline caused a 55.8% decrease in the number of Study Permit applications.  

Now, just because a Study Permit application is approved does not mean that the said Study Permit will be issued. This happens sometimes when students change their minds about studying in Canada or they are inadmissible due to medical or security issues. 

Almost 95% of all approved Study Permits between 2016 and 2019 were issued to Chinese students. This means that a significant majority of Chinese students usually follow through on their plans to study in Canada and are rarely denied entry at the border due to inadmissibility issues. 

However, this was also affected due to the pandemic. In 2020, only 25% of the approved Study Permits were issued to Chinese students. This is a very significant drop compared to all other countries. This signifies that a majority of Chinese students who were approved for a Study Permit have decided to either pursue their studies online or wait till the pandemic has passed to travel to Canada. Around 7,000 Chinese students approved in 2020 have yet to arrive in Canada. 

How Many Chinese Students Arrived in Canada in 2020?

Now, we already learned that a significant number of Chinese students with approved Study Permits decided not to travel to Canada due to a change of plans or until the pandemic is over. However, what about the students who did travel to Canada to begin their studies in 2020?

Due to the pandemic, there was a decrease in the number of international students arriving in every Canadian province and territory. The decline is different across provinces, for example, Chinese student arrival in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia dropped by 82.1% and 94.1% respectively. 

The maximum number of international students usually study in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia. Since they receive the largest number of international students, they also experienced the largest drop. Chinese student arrival in Ontario decreased by 92.3%, a loss of almost 15,000 new students. 


Study Permits Issued to Chinese Students


British Columbia


















New Brunswick



Nova Scotia



Prince Edward Island



Newfoundland and Labrador 



What Are the Top 10 Canadian Universities and Colleges for Chinese Students?

University of Toronto: Ontario

In 2019, the University of Toronto was the number 1 choice for Chinese students coming to Canada for post-secondary education. Located in the heart of the vibrant downtown Toronto, it is a highly attractive university for Chinese students. Compared to 2018, 624 additional Chinese students enrolled in the University of Toronto 2019, reflecting a 9.9% growth. 

York University: Toronto, Ontario

Around 3,737 additional Chinese students enrolled in York University in 2019. The number of Chinese students in York University increased by 10.2% in 2019. As the University of Toronto, York University is also highly regarded due to its location in Toronto. 

University of British Columbia (UBC): Vancouver and Kelowna, British Columbia

The IRCC issued 3,429 Study Permits to Chinese students enrolled in the University of British Columbia in 2019. The number of Chinese students only increased by 1.8% compared to 2018. UBC is considered among the best universities in Canada by its reputation. 

University of Waterloo: Waterloo, Ontario

The University of Waterloo was the fourth-most largest recipient of Chinese students in 2019. Around 2,452 Chinese students enrolled in this university in 2019. However, this signified an 11.4% drop in Chinese student enrollment compared to 2018. The University of Waterloo is located just an hour west of Toronto and is highly regarded for its engineering and computer science programs.

Western University: London, Ontario

In 2019, around 2,451 Chinese students enrolled in the Western University in London, Ontario. This was a 3.7% increase from 2018. Western University is just a two-hour drive from Toronto. 

Fraser International College (FIC): Greater Vancouver, British Columbia

The FIC is a private college on the campus of Simon Fraser University (SFU). Around 1,362 Chinese students enrolled in the FIC with another 1,637 enrolled at the SFU. Located in the Greater Vancouver area, the FIC is a very attractive destination for Chinese students. 

Seneca College: Greater Toronto Area (GTA) 

Located in the Greater Toronto Area, Seneca College is among the top 30 institutions for Chinese students in Canada. In 2019, around 1,109 Chinese students enrolled in Seneca College. This signified a 6.6% decline compared to 2018. 

Centennial College: Toronto, Ontario

Centennial college is one of Ontario’s oldest public institutions. In 2019, around 923 Chinese students enrolled in Centennial College. It is also quite famous among Indian, Filipino, and Vietnamese students. 

George Brown College: Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

George Brown College is also located in Toronto. In 2019, around 725 Chinese students enrolled in the college, a 17.8% decline compared to 2018. It was among the top institutions preferred by Chinese students until 2017. However, between 2017-18, the Chinese student population in George Brown College declined by 22.2% and hasn’t recovered since. 

Fanshawe College: Southwestern Ontario

Fanshawe College was among the top 5 institutions preferred by Chinese students in Canada. Around 667 Chinese students enrolled in the college in 2019, an 8.4% decline compared to 2018. 

What Types of Jobs Can Chinese Students Get in Canada After Graduation?

International students in Canada are eligible to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after the completion of their study programs. The PGWP is an open work permit that will allow international graduates to obtain Canadian work experience. They can work for any Canadian employer under any occupation. Eventually, the Canadian work experience will allow them to apply for various permanent residence immigration pathways available for skilled foreign workers and international graduates in Canada.

International graduates can look for jobs at the following places:

  • Canada Job Bank: Government portal for employers across Canada to post job vacancies
  • Job Bank for Youth: Job opportunities for various summer jobs during academic breaks
  • Talent Egg: Job opportunities for international students and recent graduates
  • Good Work: Job opportunities for international students and graduates interested in sustainability and environmental change related occupations

Some of the in-demand occupations in Canada for international graduates are:

  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Business Analyst
  • Business Development Manager
  • Construction Managers
  • Dentist
  • Engineering Managers
  • General Laborer
  • Heavy-Duty Equipment Mechanic
  • HR Manager
  • IT Managers
  • Marketing Managers
  • Pharmacist
  • Project Manager
  • Psychiatrist
  • Registered Nurse
  • Sales Associate
  • Surgeon
  • Truck Driver
  • Web Developer
  • Welder

What Can Canadian Universities and Colleges Do to Attract Chinese Students?

Since the quality of the domestic Chinese universities started improving, Canada has observed a decline in Chinese student arrivals in Canada. Chinese students have shifted their interests to much closer and less expensive foreign alternatives including Japan, Singapore and South Korea. 

Canadian universities need to set clear goals and be strategic if they plan on increasing Chinese student arrivals in Canada. There are also political and economic currents influencing change in China’s isolationist society.

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