International students welcome unlimited work rules — and hope they stick around

The federal government is temporarily lifting the work limit for international students next month, a move that those who have been affected by the policy say is long overdue.

Feds will lift 20-hour-per-week work limit until at least December 2023

International students at the University of Ottawa and other Canadian universities will be able to work an unlimited amount of hours until the end of 2023, in an effort to address the country's labour shortages. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is temporarily lifting the work limit for international students next month, something that Ottawa students affected by the policy say is long overdue.

On Nov. 15, the federal government will remove the 20-hour-per-week limit on off-campus work while classes are in session. 

The pilot project, in effect until the end of 2023, is an effort to address Canada's labour shortages. 

"This is good news for a lot of students," said Landry Wamba, president of the University of Ottawa's International Students Association and an international student from Cameroon in his fourth year at the university. 

"But it's not for everyone."

A welcome change

Gobin Singh, a University of Ottawa graduate who now works as a software developer, wishes the cap had been lifted when he was in school. 

Enrolling and attending school in Canada already comes with a steep premium on tuition for international students, Singh said, and the change would have helped lessen the financial burden for him and his family.

Often, he said, the work students find simply covers the cost of their living arrangements.

Omar Flores said some international students would work under the table to compensate for the cap on how many hours they could legally work. (Submitted by Omar Flores)

Omar Flores, a recent Carleton University graduate who now works for Google, said some international students would work under the table to compensate for any financial shortfalls. 

"I think this led to a lot of situations where students were being, sort of, abused or running through positions where they didn't have insurance," he told CBC Radio's All In A Day last week.

If caught working over the limit, international students previously faced the risk of deportation

Two former international students say the federal government’s plan to lift the 20 hour work limit should be permanent to help students with financial barriers.

According to Wamba, the lifting of the limit means that international students can now earn and save money toward their own tuition and rent without breaking any rules. 

"We pay over three times more than local students or permanent resident Canadians," he said. 

The extra money is especially critical right now, Wamba said, as many students' families have been financially hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While he's pleased with the news, Wamba added he hopes it's not just a short-term measure — and that the government considers the well-being of international students once businesses are no longer struggling to find workers.

According to Landry Wamba, the lifting of the limit has been a welcome change, but it has also raised some concerns amongst international students. (Submitted)

Concerns about overwork

Wamba also said that to keep up with the rising cost of living in Canada, some international students might overwork themselves.

He's particularly worried about those students in tough programs with a heavy workload.

"Some students can put a lot of effort into their job, that they don't pay attention to their studies … and they can fail one of their classes," he said. 

That can be an expensive mistake as they not only have to pay for it, Wamba said, but their student visas also only grant them a limited time to graduate.

If they can't finish their courses on time or afford to extend those visas, they risk returning to their home countries empty-handed.

A PhD student at the University of Ottawa, Ailing Li said she won’t be taking advantage of the new rules. (Submitted)

Some students like Ailing Li, however, say they won't be taking advantage of the new rules.

A PhD student at the University of Ottawa, Li said she's trying to balance her studies with her employment by limiting the hours she works at a bubble tea shop to 15 hours a week. 

"I have courses to take, I have research to do, and I already don't have too much time to do my part-time job," she said. 

Even so, she's excited by the news.

"Companies want people with more working hours, so they will prefer the Canadian citizens" when hiring, said Li. "That makes [it harder for] international students."

Like Wamba, Li also hopes the goal of helping international students continues once the labour crunch is dealt with.

"It feels good to feel free to work as an international student," she said. 


Avanthika Anand is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She was previously a news and feature writer at Future of Good. You can reach her by email