International students and advocacy groups in Canada say Ottawa’s temporary removal of the cap on hours the students can work off campus each week should be made permanent.
Last year, the federal government removed the ceiling of 20 hours of off-campus work per week while classes are in session. The pilot, which affected more than 500,000 students, is set to end this year.
“The past year has been quite good in terms of finances because I could work 40 hours a week and have been able to pay off my tuition fees,” said Krunal Chavda, an international student at the University of Saskatchewan.
The 20-year-old said he has around $40,000 in student loans and was able to pay off $10,000 with full-time work — an opportunity that will be gone come the new year.
He said inflation has upped his grocery budget from $100 to $300 a month.
“I’ve found myself in situations where I was like, ‘OK, should I buy this or not?’ It basically comes down to necessities and not the wants,” he said.
Chavda’s classmate, Meghal, who goes by one name, says students are struggling.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiousness in the air. We’re on the edge,” she said.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to sustain.”
Domenici Medina, an international student at the university from Ecuador, said being allowed to work full time “allows us to get more money and not have that financial burden, or worry so much about money.”
Even though her mother assists with her education, working off-campus up to 40 hours helped her contribute to tuition “which went up three times.”
“That extra money also helps with medical appointments like a dentist, which is not covered by the university’s insurance.”
The 22-year-old has already started looking for on-campus jobs.
“Making this policy permanent will have an impact on our well-being and mental health,” she said.
Pharmacy student Doris Yim said making the switch permanent would also help employers. She is trying get a pharmacy cashier job, but said they are looking for people who can work full-time during the holidays — a role she won’t be eligible for after Dec. 31.
“Sometimes healthier options are a bit too expensive for my financial situation, which means I have to pick the ones that I can afford versus the ones that I really need,” she said.
The federal immigration department did not respond to a request for comment before the provided deadline.
Discouraging and unfair, say international students
Ana Sofía Díaz, a fourth-year psychology student at the University of Manitoba, said working a full-time job helped her.
She was able to contribute $10,000 to her student loans in the past year, but worries about the future.
“It is definitely frustrating and discouraging,” she said. “Not only do we have to pay more expensive fees, but the resources we’re trying to use to pay those fees or not to be in high debt are being taken away from us.”
She said it’s upsetting that international students were recently blamed for the housing crisis, when in reality they are being priced out.
“The extra money I was making was allowing me some self-care activities that before I had to cut back on,” she said. “It’s just very unfair.”
Karandeep Singh Sanghera, the student union president at Capilano University in North Vancouver, agreed.
“Most of the students have to work on minimum wage, which is some $16 right now. It’s not possible to live working 20 hours in this condition,” he said.
He said international students like him are feeling the pressures of the housing market. Sanghera shares a three occupancy space with five people.
He said their union has asked MPs in Ottawa to make the policy permanent.
Vital to safeguard international students: advocates
James Casey, a policy and research analyst at the Canadian Federation of Students that represents more than 530,000 post-secondary students across Canada, said 40 per cent of its members are international students.
“Because international students are not given any federal or provincial loans or grants or housing vouchers, they’re experiencing disproportionate effects for rising cost of living and housing affordability,” he said.
Casey said tuition for international students is much higher than for domestic students.
“At the University of Toronto’s nursing program, one of the best in the country and the most well sought out internationally, domestic students pay just over $22,000, whereas international students pay over $90,000 a year.”
“This is a question about whether we want to live in a society where everybody has equal rights and protections, or if we’re going to allow a system that sections off a group of people on the basis of their immigration status and denies them the same rights,” she said.
“There are six weeks left until the end of this temporary policy. Every day matters and the clock is ticking. We’re calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Immigration Minister Mark Miller to do the right thing and permanently remove the 20-hour work limit.”
Rho said current and former international students are the largest group of non-permanent residents in the country.
“Many are going to classes and work hungry, stressed, taking food out of their carts at grocery stores because they can’t afford it,” she said.
“Many are facing exploitation and mistreatment from bosses who want them to work harder for longer and for less.”
She said employers often threaten these students with deportation or jeopardizing their permanent residency.
“Even the United Nations rapporteur recently said that Canada’s system of temporary migration is a breeding ground,” she said. “But we can change it.”