International student numbers down sharply in GTA due to COVID-19 pandemic

There are fewer international students studying in the GTA this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tuition to area school boards.

Personal decisions, travel restrictions mean fewer students paying tuition to school boards

Feng Yuchun stayed behind while other international students went back to China after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools. (Submitted by Feng Yuchun)

There will be fewer international students studying in Toronto-area schools this fall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according numbers provided to CBC News by several school boards in the region. 

In fact, some boards are seeing decreases in enrolment of about 50 per cent. 

The business of bringing in international students is just another sector that has taken a hit because of the pandemic, costing school boards hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, while home-stay or housing providers and companies that settle the students are also losing out on revenue. 

"I'm seeing a lot of students defer their studies in Canada," said Ni Xueying, an immigration consultant and the president of Jiayin International Education Consulting Inc., based in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto.

"Parents worry about the pandemic situation, [federal] policies changed a lot, and there are travel restrictions." 

About 50% fewer students

According to numbers from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board, about 60 international students will start school in September. The previous year saw 116, which has been relatively consistent over the last several years. 

Canada's largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, was unable to give final numbers but also said it anticipated fewer students coming from abroad this fall. 

The Peel District School Board will have 459 international students this year, down from 597 last year. Its coordinating principal says that's because the board wasn't able to do the usual recruiting in the winter and spring and students had issues getting visas. 

Considering each student pays approximately $15,000 in tuition each year to attend a public school (the price increases for private schools), school boards are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue this year. 

Education and immigration consultant Ni Xueying says she is seeing many students defer their studies. (Submitted by Ni Xueying)

Some students who remained in Canada said many of their friends left at the beginning of the pandemic in March, while they were forced to stay. 

"I wanted to go back to China this summer, but ... my ticket has been cancelled three times," said Sheng Jin, a Grade 12 student at White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, Ont. 

He said it has been a particularly quiet summer as he and other international students usually meet new arrivals this time of year. 

"We always know of some new students coming, but this year I didn't hear anything." 

Sheng Jin tried to go home this year, but his plane ticket was cancelled three times. (Submittted by Sheng Jin)

Yuchun Feng, who just graduated from Mentor College, a private school in Mississauga, Ont., said she preferred to stay in Canada over the course of the pandemic as she already got accepted to the University of Toronto this fall. 

"A lot of my friends already went back to China and will do online learning for the whole year." 

It's not just students and parents making personal decisions to stay home. 

The York Catholic District School Board, which said it cannot give final international student numbers yet, told CBC News it is anticipating an an approximate 50 per cent reduction from last year's number "as a result of COVID-19, federal government travel advisories ... and the processing of international student visas." 

Ni has also seen federal regulations keep students from studying in Canada, citing policy changes over the last few months. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says international students must:

  • Prove travelling to Canada is essential.
  • Have a valid study permit approved on or before March 18, 2020, or be travelling directly to Canada from the U.S.

Ni said some international students may also get turned away upon their arrival in Canada over the next few weeks.


Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at