Students say lifting cap on working hours doesn't fix bigger issues for international students

CBC News

CBC News · Posted: Oct 08, 2022

Post-secondary students in Calgary say a one-year pilot project that will lift the cap on off-campus hours international students are allowed to work is good news. 

But it's a short-term fix that does not address bigger problems, they said. 

On Nov. 15, 2022, Canada will remove the limit of 20 hours a week of off-campus while classes are in session. The pilot, in effect until Dec. 31 of next year, is an effort to address the country's labour shortages. 

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Friday that around 500,000 students would be eligible for the program.

"My initial reaction was this could be great," said Saaka Sulemana Saaka, president of the University of Calgary's Graduate Students Association and former international student, now permanent resident. He said working more hours could ease some of the financial stress of international students.

University of Calgary Students' Union president Nicole Schmidt says the primary users of the campus food banks, for example, are international students.

"The ability to work more hours means they will be better able to provide for themselves and their families," wrote Schmidt in a statement.

But Sulemana Saaka added that the new changed policy won't affect visa backlogs and applications for permanent residency that international students are trying to complete.

"When you do off-campus work it's very clear that it cannot contribute to you applying for PR [permanent residency]," said Sulemana.

Combating labour shortages?

Calgary immigration lawyer Jatin Shory says that the pilot might be helpful for individual international students.

"For any student, it's tough navigating through school and managing your finances and international students see a higher burden of that," he said.

 But he's also skeptical this change will help combat labour shortages.

Industries like construction or manufacturing don't necessarily already have students working part-time for them. In addition, students still have to primarily focus on their studies if they want to stay in the country, which might limit them from picking up demanding work.

"If you're focusing 30 hours a week, 40 hours a week … it's really difficult to say that you're going to be able to maintain the prerequisites of a study permit, which really boils down to maintaining full-time students status," said Shory.

Instead, he wants to see the federal government focus on start-up visa programs and investment visa programs that he says are being left behind.

"I really just don't see this as even a short term solution to an extent when it comes to a lot of the labour shortages, the gaps that are happening in our economy today."