Nova Scotia·Global Studies

A Cape Breton store wanted workers. 500 international students applied

The huge influx of international students at Cape Breton University is helping fill a void in the local labour market. Many need to work part-time to support themselves, and competition among job hunters is strong.

Huge influx of international students plugs labour void, but some struggle to find much-needed work

International students from Cape Breton University attended a recent career workshop in Sydney, N.S., at Nova Scotia Works, an employment services network. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Global Studies is a CBC series exploring how the influx of international students at Cape Breton University is transforming the school and the community.

The huge influx of international students at Cape Breton University is helping fill a void in the local labour market, and competition among job hunters is so strong that some businesses are fielding hundreds of applications.

Many of the students have found work in the Sydney, N.S., area in retail, delivering papers, or in restaurant kitchens washing dishes and prepping food, taking on early morning and holiday shifts that employers say are sometimes hard to fill.

More than 2,600 students from 39 countries are enrolled at CBU this term, making up 56 per cent of the student population. About 1,800 of those are from India, and many say they need to work while in Canada to help make ends meet.

"The economic situation in India is very low," according to Poul Varghese, an Indian student in the CBU public health program who said he works at Walmart part time.

"Our parents can only give us the college fees. And the rest of what we need here, if we have a part-time job, we can easily cover that."

Varghese recently attended a career workshop in Sydney at Nova Scotia Works, an employment services network, in hopes of increasing his hours. International students are permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours per week under their student visas.

'Expensive to live here'

Yogesh Bhabia, a mechanical engineer from India, is taking a post-graduate diploma in supply chain management at CBU's Shannon School of Business.

"It's very expensive to live here for us," said Bhabia, who was attending the same workshop in hopes of finding a part-time job. "Apartments and prices are very high, so that is a difficulty for us."

The arrival of hundreds of additional students in the past six months means there's lots of competition for each job vacancy.

A job fair last fall for a new Dollarama store at the Mayflower Mall in Sydney attracted 500 international students for 20 jobs. One Walmart store in the Sydney area said international students now number 60 of its roughly 200 employees.

Emily Pelley, the operator of nine Subway franchises in Cape Breton, said she employs 15 international students and takes in as many as 20 resumés a day.

She said the students have been hired for shifts that are otherwise difficult to fill, such as early mornings and holidays, or "the few missing pieces of the puzzle."

Alexis Pertus, the regional Subway comptroller, said the students are eager to work and will often fill in at various stores, as needed.

"They want to work, and they're willing to take on extra shifts, stay late. They're willing to do anything."

Emily Pelley, right, is the franchisee of nine Cape Breton Subway restaurants. Alexis Pertus, left, is the comptroller. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Ardon Mofford, a restaurant owner in Sydney, said he's hired eight students for kitchen jobs, such as dishwashing and prepping food, that don't typically generate much interest.

"They gladly step in and will do those jobs."

That part-time work can lead to bigger things. Eighteen months ago, Mofford hired Amrit Bhangal to work in the kitchen as the student pursued his degree in petroleum engineering.

Now a CBU graduate, Bhangal has decided he wants to stay in Cape Breton and work full time as a chef. Mofford is working with him to secure permanent residency.

"People are so nice here," said Bhangal.

Amrit Bhangal, a CBU petroleum engineering graduate, is now applying for permanent residency and wants to remain in Cape Breton as a chef. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

But while many students have been able to find jobs, many more are still looking. Some students from India said they are disappointed to find the job market tighter than they expected.

Ravinder Kaour moved to Sydney from India with her husband, who is studying at CBU, and is working to support both of them. She is employed in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant, but said she isn't getting enough hours.

"I'm dropping off resumes at other places, but they did not call me. That's troubling."

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Wendy Martin


Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at