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Thousands join effort to stop international student from being deported for 'working too hard,' he says

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition as part of an eleventh-hour plea to stop the deportation of an international student arrested for working too many hours - just days before his graduation.

Jobandeep Singh Sandhu says he had no choice but to work extra hours to pay for his program

It was December 2017 when Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, 22, was pulled over while behind the wheel of a long-haul truck driving from Montreal back to Toronto. He now faces deportation on June 15. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition as part of an eleventh-hour plea to stop the deportation of an international student arrested for working too many hours — just days before his graduation.

It was December 2017 when Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, 22, was pulled over while behind the wheel of a long-haul truck driving from Montreal back to Toronto.

Sandhu, originally from India and studying mechanical engineering at Canadore College in Mississauga, Ont., was 10 days away from receiving his diploma when he was stopped by Ontario Provincial Police.

Handcuffed, he was handed over to immigration officials who determined he had been working more than the allowable 20 hours off campus, his supporters told CBC News at a rally Friday outside federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's Toronto constituency office. The group presented the petition, which has about 50,000 signatures, to Hussen's staff.

Sandhu now faces deportation on June 15. But he says he had no choice but to break the rules.

"The problem is we are paying three times the tuition fees [compared to domestic students] and we have a just  20-hour limitation for working ... We're actually forced to work more to pay for the expenses and the fees," he said.

"I had to."

'It makes no sense'

At issue are the rules around just how many hours study-permit holders are allowed to work off-campus.

The main purpose of the permit must be to study, the federal government says. A 20-hour per week limit "reflects that, while continuing to offer the opportunity to gain valuable workplace experience in Canada and earn some money," reads a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada sent to CBC News.

International students are permitted to work full-time only outside of the academic year or during winter, spring and summer breaks.

But with a price-tag of between $27,000 and $30,000 each year, compared with about $9,000 for domestic students, Sandhu says working was the only way to afford the fees .

"I came to Canada with a dream, to study, to settle here, to build a life for me and my family, Sandhu said. "I am being punished for working too hard, and I'm calling on Canada to grant me a temporary resident permit, and ensure fairness and justice for other students like me."

Among those supporting Sandhu's last-ditch effort to fend off deportation is the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which calls the 20-hour limit 'irrational.' (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Among those supporting Sandhu's last-ditch effort to fend off deportation is the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which calls the 20-hour limit "irrational."

"It makes no sense to arbitrarily pick a random number and limit people like Jobandeep's ability to work to just those hours," said the group's coordinator Syed Hussan, who wants to see all migrants including international students receive permanent residence status at the time of their arrival in Canada.

'Different laws for different people'

"Everyone including migrant students should have the same rights, and that means full labour rights, the same fees, and permanent resident status from day one; that's just fair," said Varunpreet Singh, an organizer with the group.

According to the group's research, Canada issued 357,230 new study permits in 2018, but beyond that they say it's difficult to know how many international students are in the country at any one time. That's because the government doesn't necessarily track whether students have left after their permits expire.

Adding to that, students are sometimes issued permits for multiple years at a time, making it difficult to pinpoint just how much international students are contributing to the economy this year.

Federal estimates for 2016 put that number at $15.5 billion, up from $12.8 billion in 2015. Ontario received the lion's share of that spending, with international students contributing $7.8 billion to its economy in 2016, followed by $3.7 billion in British Columbia. 

But while student workers do pay taxes, advocates say they face a litany of abuses: they're excluded from healthcare, decent housing, suffer wage exploitation and often don't receive permanent resident status. 

"We can't have a multi-tiered economy, or different laws for different people, we need a single system and that means permanent resident status on arrival for all migrants, including students," Hussan said.

In its statement to CBC News, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said anyone hoping to work full-time and study part-time in Canada should seek a work permit before applying for a study permit.

Holding out hope 

Hussan says a work permit would first require that an employer apply for what's called a labour-market impact assessment, which can take up to six months to approve. Only then can the individual apply for the work permit from abroad, which may or may not be approved. 

Sandhu says he was working as a truck driver 35 hours per week in addition to being in school full-time when he was arrested.

Dozens gathered at Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s constituency office to deliver a petition in support of Jobandeep Singh Sandhu and to call for students and migrants to receive permanent residency on arrival. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

In the end, Sandhu was fortunate to have received his diploma before any deportation orders took effect and has applied for a temporary resident permit, which is only issued in exceptional circumstances and only at the discretion of a processing officer, according to the federal government's website. 

But in the time since his petition was launched, the campaign to stop his deportation has not only received over 50,000 signatures, Hussan says the group has been contacted by some 900 current international students who have come forward with stories of labour violations.

Neither the immigration minister nor a representative from the IRCC were present at Friday's rally, but the group is hopeful the immigration minister will step in and stop the deportation.

"I didn't hurt anybody, I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rob," said Sandhu.

Working, he said, shouldn't be a crime. 

 

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

With files from Nick Boisvert