Thousands join effort to stop international student from being deported for 'working too hard,' he says
Jobandeep Singh Sandhu says he had no choice but to work extra hours to pay for his program
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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
With files from Nick Boisvert