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A person walks past Sheridan College's Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga, Ont., on Jan. 26.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

More than six weeks after the federal government’s cap on international study permits was announced, provinces and institutions are still facing uncertainty as they try to navigate a new system that has left some feeling shortchanged and that will lead to hundreds of millions in lost revenue.

Many provinces are still in the process of building the new systems required to process applications and it’s still not clear how many permits each province will have or how those permits will be doled out to different schools.

Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced in January that he was placing a cap on international student admissions to ease strain on housing and health care and to address concerns about “bad actors” exploiting the program to offer questionable education at high fees.

At the time he said the new policy was expected to limit the number of new permits to 360,000 this year, a 35-per-cent drop compared to 2023.

But the minister only has the power under the regulations to cap the number of applications that will be processed, not the number that will be approved. The estimate of 360,000 approved study permits is based on a cap of 606,000 processed applications and past approval rates of about 60 per cent.

The federal government now says that figure included students who are not subject to the cap, such as graduate students as well as those who are in elementary and high school.

The number of new permits available for colleges and university undergraduate programs this year is about 292,000, according to the minister’s office.

International students pay an average of about $38,000 in university undergraduate tuition and just less than half that at most colleges, so any reduction is expected to result in a significant revenue hit for universities and colleges.

At the time of the announcement Mr. Miller said provinces would receive a share of the overall application cap that would be “weighted by population.”

Although some provinces assumed they would receive a share of permits equal to their share of the Canadian population, some are unhappy with how the calculations have been made.

Alberta has about 11.5 per cent of Canada’s population but has been granted only 6.8 per cent of applications, according to the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

“This is significantly lower than the allocation Alberta anticipated,” said Mackenzie Blyth, press secretary to Alberta Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney.

B.C. has been granted 83,000 applications, about twice as many as Alberta, although its population is only about 15 per cent greater.

Manitoba’s Minister of Advanced Education and Training Renée Cable said the province is still in discussions with the federal government about numbers and is “asking for Manitoba’s fair share.”

The government of Nova Scotia said it is facing a cut to its permit numbers as compared with 2023. Ontario and Quebec did not answer questions about the size of their allocations.

The federal government said it considered previous international student levels in the provinces as it made its allocation decisions, which it hasn’t released publicly.

Aissa Diop, a spokesperson for Mr. Miller, said the government is hoping to publish the provincial study permit allocations soon.

Alberta’s allocation is about 10 per cent greater than last year’s numbers, according to a senior federal government official, but it previously had fewer international students than some other provinces. The Globe is not naming the official because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

Ontario and B.C. had by far the largest shares of international students, so they will face the largest cuts. Newfoundland, Quebec and Saskatchewan had fewer permits than their share of the population so are in a position to see their international student numbers grow slightly this year, the official said. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba are expected to see declines, but smaller in scale than in B.C. and Ontario.

To control the allocation of permits, the federal government added an additional layer to the application process called a letter of attestation. A study permit application will only be processed by Ottawa if the applicant has one of the limited number of letters of attestation issued by the provincial government.

Only Quebec had an attestation letter system in place before Mr. Miller’s Jan. 22 announcement. The lack of a system for creating these letters in other provinces brought study permit processing to a halt, throwing spring and fall admissions plans into doubt for many schools.

B.C. and Alberta have begun issuing attestation letters, while other provinces are still working to create their systems.

With schools vying for their share of international students, provincial governments must decide how the scarce letters of allocation will be assigned to each sector of the postsecondary system, from publicly funded colleges and universities to private colleges and degree-granting institutions.

B.C. Premier David Eby said last week that his government intends to protect international student numbers at public institutions and curb those private colleges and universities that dramatically increased their international student numbers in recent years.

The B.C. government said it will reserve 53 per cent of its attestation letters for public universities and colleges, with 47 per cent going to private institutions.

Alberta said this week that the “vast majority” of its permits will go to publicly funded institutions.

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