The federal government is turning away many international students accepted by Quebec universities for fear that they won't return to their country of origin after graduation.

According to a report by the think tank Institut du Québec (IDQ), the decisions are inconsistent with the government's objectives.

"We see that almost half of the candidates who are admitted by Quebec universities and who respect all the conditions of Quebec are still refused the study permit that would allow them to stay in the country," said IDQ executive director Emna Braham.

The refusal rate is particularly high for African applicants, who are generally more likely to apply to Quebec schools. In 2022, the federal government turned down nearly 72 per cent of African applicants accepted into a Quebec university.

When the IDQ asked Canada's immigration about these refusals, the main reason given was the low probability of students returning to their countries of origin.

"These reasons are inconsistent with the federal and Quebec strategy," said Braham. "It is a criterion that is no longer relevant, simply because both the Quebec and Canadian governments are investing in promotional efforts to retain international students, particularly in the regions."

International students are prime candidates for immigration, she argues, because they already have experience in Canada.

"They have lived in Quebec, they have begun to build a network, they have training that meets the requirements of Quebec employers."

Nearly half (44 per cent) also work during their studies, an economic contribution that should not be overlooked in the context of labour scarcity, the report points out.

"There is a real need to clarify the objectives and to put in place procedures that will ensure that the right hand talks to the left hand," said Braham.

The IDQ also wants the university community to communicate its targets better when attracting international students.

"This would allow for better planning of the issuance of permits, both at the federal government level and acceptance certificates at the Quebec government level," said IDQ economist Daye Diallo.


Montreal continues to attract the vast majority of international students in Quebec; only one in four will choose to study outside the metropolis.

This is partially due to the appeal of the English-language college and university system in Montreal, which recruited 55 per cent of college and 43 per cent of university students in 2019.

But Braham is opposed to the idea of establishing quotes to encourage enrolment in the Francophone network.

"We want to attract foreign students because they are the best candidates in the world. We want them in our universities, in our colleges, and a large proportion of them will return to their country afterwards. They are not going to have an impact on immigration or on the demography of Quebec," she said.

"Quebec will be able to choose the candidates who best correspond to its immigrant objectives afterwards. So immigration will be Francophone, aligned with the needs of the labour market. You don't do that by capping the number of English-speaking international students."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 18, 2023.