Advocates call for continued employment reform for international students
Temporary lift to 20-hour working cap for international students a step in the right direction, advocates say
The government's move to lift the 20-hour working cap for international students, while a step in the right direction, needs to go beyond using them as a temporary way to address Canada's labour shortage, advocates say.
Instead, the move needs to be made permanent and the first step toward making education equitable for everyone, says Alistair Kirk, an international representative for Canadian Federation of Students Ontario.
"International students are more often than not seen as cash cows," said Kirk, who's also an international student studying at the University of Toronto.
"I want the government to think about the livelihoods of international students — to know that the more unfair they treat us, the less likely we will stay to build Canada in the future."
On Friday Immigration Minister Sean Fraser temporarily lifted the 20-hour limit international students are allowed to work off-campus each week class was in session, in a pilot project that runs from Nov. 15 to the end of 2023, to help address the nationwide labour shortage.
'It's about labour mobility'
Kirk and other advocates say while it helps international students deal with the rising costs of rent, food and tuition, it needs to be more than a temporary solution to create meaningful change for international students, workers and migrants.
"The end to the 20-hour work rule isn't about a labour shortage, it's about labour mobility," said Sarom Rho, an organizer for advocacy organization Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
She notes the move was a partial win, helping students gain more freedom in where they work and to speak out against exploitative work environments.
"But the change announced is temporary. It excludes too many."
The change only applies to international students in Canada who are authorized to work off-campus on their study permit, and those who have applied for a permit by Oct. 7, and later get approved.
"These temporary measures that exclude too many will continue a system where some people have more rights and some people don't."
The group has been campaigning for this change in the years leading up 2019, when international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu made headlines for facing deportation for working more than 20 hours driving trucks — something he said was necessary to afford his education and living in Canada.
Business tacks on support
Frishta Ghafoori, the manager of the Toronto restaurant Zaad, says out of her 10 employees, most of them are international students.
"For us to make the schedule accordingly, keeping in mind that they have only 20 hours to work, it's very hard," said Ghafoori, who says she's a permanent resident herself.
"I think it's a really good thing that they're changing it."
Ghafoori says while it's difficult to work around their restrictions, international students prove to be hard working and eager to work.
"I know their hustle and I know, like, how hard is it for them. So, hopefully it stays here forever," said Ghafoori.
Aishwarya Nair, a recent neuroscience graduate from the University of Toronto, agrees.
"It's a bit of a lose lose where students are losing out and employers as well, or like even larger bodies and institutions are losing out, because they're not tapping into that potential that a lot of international students do have and bring."
While the new change is welcomed, Nair, who's currently on a work permit and hopes to later get into medical school in Toronto, also hopes the government increases awareness on the employment rights for international students.
She says during her undergraduate degree, she didn't realize the 20-hour rule didn't apply to her work on campus until her third year, and was afraid of getting in trouble for any mistakes she might make while working.
"I think the last thing we need is to have more problems where students then take on more hours and their studies kind of slip away, and they're unaware that that might actually affect their students status as a whole."
With files from Ryan Patrick Jones and Mirna Djukic