Study Permit Trends in Canada – Philippines 

2020 was a year that stunted the growth of several international student source markets in Canada. Yet, despite pandemic-rooted challenges faced by most nations, there was one that stood strong in the face of adversity—The Philippines. A country where interest in pursuing Canadian education opportunities has flourished over the past decade proved to be one of the few that look poised to emerge from this pandemic in a relatively good position.

In this edition, I’ll be taking a look at how the global pandemic impacted Filipino students’ appetites to study in Canada and compared to trends we saw from other top Southeast Asian countries, as well as the global market. I’ll dive into where and what Filipino students are studying across Canada, unpack the strong commitment we saw from these students to get themselves onshore last year and make some predictions for where I see things headed for the Filipino market post-pandemic.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • The Philippines surged up the rankings of Canadian study permits issued in 2020, jumping from the 10th-largest source market for Canadian students in 2019 to the sixth-largest source market in 2020.

  • We’re seeing more and more Filipinos express a strong desire to study in rural areas across British Columbia and Ontario—areas that are more affordable and provide easier immigration pathways post-study.

  • College remains the study level of choice for Filipinos, accounting for over 65% of all study permits issued to Filipino students in 2020.

  • Alberta continues to draw stronger interest from Filipinos than any other source market, comprising 13.9% of study permits issued to Filipino students in 2020.

Canadian Study Permit Applications and Approval Rate – Philippines

In 2020, Filipino nationals submitted 5,256 applications for Canadian study permits.1 While this marked a 37% dip in applications from 2019, the Philippines fared well in comparison to their Southeast Asian neighbors and the global market average.

Study permit applications from Southeast Asia2 decreased by 51.1% from 2019 to 2020, while applications across all markets were down 48.2%. The Philippines saw the smallest decrease in study permit applications across Southeast Asia in 2020.

While the Philippines’ decline in permit approval was substantial at -10.6%, they didn’t lag too far behind the all market average.

The following table summarizes the year-over-year changes in study permit statistics:


Canadian Study Permits Issued – Philippines

It’s important to note that just because an applicant is approved for a study permit doesn’t mean they will be issued a study permit. Historically, this situation occurs when an applicant changes their mind about studying in Canada after their study permit was approved. To a lesser extent, applicants have also been turned away at the border.

From 2016 to 2019, 95% of all study permits approved were issued. But in 2020, this rate fell to just 57% as the Canadian government permitted students to study online at Canadian institutions from abroad. Other students deferred their studies until they were able to travel safely.

The chart below compares study permits approved and issued for Filipino applicants:

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In 2020, the Philippines beat the all market average rate of study permits issued-to-approved by nearly 10% and were also far ahead of the other Southeast Asian countries.

2 in 3 (66.6%) Filipino students who were approved for a study permit were issued one in 2020. For Vietnam, only 41% of students approved for a study permit were issued one. Indonesia saw just 1 in 5 (23.5%) approved students issued their study permits.

When comparing the Philippines against other major Southeast Asian markets, it’s clear how much the Filipino market outperformed its neighbours this past year:

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Though the Philippines posted a 37% decrease in the volume of applications. Applications across Southeast Asia fell by 51%. Vietnam, the country that has historically been the number one source of international students to Canada from Southeast Asia, experienced a 63% drop in applications.

The Post-COVID-19 Future for Filipinos in Canada

Predicting the impact COVID-19 will have on the Filipino student market is difficult, as the country is in the midst of rolling out mass vaccination programs. But with more than 5 million Filipinos receiving their first vaccination and a plan to vaccinate a minimum of 500,000 citizens daily, I expect we’ll start to see Filipino student numbers climb back to their pre-pandemic totals relatively quickly.

As we look forward, a massive hurdle for source markets globally is the hesitancy of parents to allow their children to study abroad before they can be sure it’s entirely safe to do so. The older age of most Filipino applicants means they don’t really have this problem. I would expect the incentive of international education, bundled with the option to relocate their families, to be plenty to keep working-age Filipinos interested in Canadian education opportunities sooner rather than later.

Key Takeaways

2020 was a down year for nearly all markets, but the Philippines provided us with many reasons to be optimistic about Filipino students’ appetite to study in Canada moving forward.

The commitment showed by mature Filipino applicants in 2020 points to the Philippines as a market that will continue to perform, despite any vaccine rollout or post-pandemic challenges that may arise.

Schools looking to take advantage of this trend and attract more Filipino students should:

  • Be familiar with the rural immigration pathways pilot programs that are being increasingly preferred by Filipino applicants.

  • Target Filipino students with marketing materials that place an emphasis on affordable tuition fees and cost of living.

  • Promote any programs or educational pilots being offered in smaller urban or rural areas, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario.

  • Make an effort to highlight part-time work opportunities within their communities to prospective students