International students, advocates say Canada should permanently lift 20-hour work cap

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.

Students say working more hours gives stability amidst rising costs

A row of students.
Left to right: Doris Yim, Upkar Singh, Meghal, Domenici Medina and Krunal Chavda are international students at the University of Saskatchewan. They are among those worried across Canada about Ottawa's temporary policy to lift the cap on hours they can work off campus coming to an end. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

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.

A man in a purple sweatshirt.
Krunal Chavda, an international student at the University of Saskatchewan, says inflation and rising tuition have him worried. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

He said inflation has upped his grocery budget from as low as $100 to as much as $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."

A girl in a pink dress.
Domenici Medina, an international student from Ecuador, says students should not be put in a situation where they constantly have to worry about money. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

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.

A girl in a grey sweatshirt.
Doris Yim says if the government can make the policy permanent, international students like her will be able to keep up with inflation and tuition. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

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.

In an email statement sent Monday, the federal immigration department said it is in the process of assessing the impact the policy has had, including how many eligible international students have taken advantage of it. 

"The temporary lifting of the 20-hour limit for off-campus work is helping to address Canada's labour shortage," the statement said.

It said the ministry would let the public know if there were any changes to the current plan.

WATCH | International students say Canada should permanently lift 20-hour work cap: 

International students say Canada should permanently lift 20-hour work cap

15 days ago
Duration 2:18
Featured VideoInternational 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.

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."

A girl.
Ana Sofía Díaz is an international student from Colombia studying psychology at the University of Manitoba. (Submitted by Ana Sofía Díaz)

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.

A South Asian man in a turban smiles for the camera in an outdoor environment.
Karandeep Singh Sanghera is the president of the Capilano University Students' Union. (Submitted by Karandeep Singh Sanghera)

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 [for two years], whereas international students pay over $90,000."

According to an October report from Food Banks Canada, food bank usage reached its highest level since the survey started in 1989.

Casey said many food banks are seeing a lot of international students coming in.

"It's a very dire situation that speaks to the huge gap between what life is for an international student in this country versus the average Canadian student," Casey said.

A man in a brown vest.
James Casey, a policy and research analyst at the Canadian Federation of Students, says international students could be caught up in human trafficking and exploitative labour practices. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Casey said many international students have to share beds and single rooms, and some even end up homeless or sleep under bridges.

"It's going to put international students in very difficult positions to choose between whether to break this policy or afford housing," he said.

"If this decision is not made permanent, we're going to have mass amounts of international students being caught up in human trafficking and exploitative labour practices."

Featured VideoInternational students and advocacy groups in Canada say Ottawa's temporary removal of the cap on hours the students can work off campus should be made permanent. CBC's Pratyush Dayal joins Afternoon Edition host Garth Materie to explain.

Advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has been calling for this change since 2017 and has been fielding increasing calls from concerned students.

The alliance's organizer, Sarom Rho, said it has been organizing against the 20-hour work limit since international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu was arrested for working too many hours outside school in 2019.

"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."

A person stands with a mic at a rally.
Sarom Rho, an organizer with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says many international students are going to classes and work hungry. (Daniel Dadoun/CBC)

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."


  • A previous version of this story quoted Casey saying international students in the U of T nursing program pay more than $90,000 per year in tuition. In fact, they pay that much over the two-year program.
    Nov 20, 2023 1:19 PM CT


Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at