Windsor international students say they're struggling to find enough work, make ends meet
Students say they face challenges in finding jobs and enough hours to get by
International students move to Windsor attracted by the promise of opportunity and a better life. But for many, the rising cost of living — coupled with limited part-time job opportunities — is proving to be a challenge.
"I probably get to work seven to 14 hours a week. Sometimes I don't even get that," said Albin Varghese.
Varghese is an international student from India taking construction classes at St. Clair College. He said a lack of flexible part-time job opportunities is making it difficult to pay for essentials.
By law, international students can work a maximum of 20 hours a week off-campus. But some international students like Varghese are finding it difficult to find even 10 hours of paid work a week.
Varghese said often, he has to rely on the food bank to feed himself — but he's not the only one.
"So, if you just go to the food bank on Wyandotte [Street], you'll see 90 per cent of people are Indian students. You'll see long long queues and many don't even get food. I'm limiting my needs. Staying low and basic. That's what helps me."
To help save money on rent, he lives with eight other roommates in a three-bedroom house. He sleeps on a queen mattress in what traditionally was the dining room area of the house.
"I pay $250 per month, which includes utilities and everything... In my house, people live in the shared spaces. In smaller spaces, sometimes we've got two people. That's how we manage. That's how we keep rent low. Sometimes we limit our electricity use and our water use."
It's a situation other international students can relate to as well.
Rupinder Kaur sold her family farm and all her belongings in India to be able to afford college in Windsor.
She's now chasing her dream career as a chef and is enrolled in the culinary management program at St. Clair College.
She said shortly after she landed in Windsor, she found herself quickly running out of her savings.
"I want to take another job because it's very expensive... I have many expenses. I need the bus pass, groceries and I need fees for the college," she said.
"I expected I can get a job easily in Windsor because I did a job in India. And when I came here, I faced [problems] because I didn't get any jobs."
Kaur currently works at a local gas station. She is only able to get 16 hours of work per week at minimum wage. She says the extra four hours are crucial for her to be able to pay for her college tuition, which adds up to almost $8,000 per semester.
She said she'll finish school in about a year. After that, she plans to leave Windsor to look for more opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area.
But some others are hoping to stay in Windsor.
Shivani Singh is taking logistics management courses at St. Clair College. She previously attended school in the United States, where her parents are currently live. Her parents have been able to help her with tuition and rent while she looks for work.
Singh said international students are expected to be more flexible in the type of jobs they are looking for.
"You have to be prepared to do anything. Any kind of job. Cleaning jobs, washing utensils, or any other kinds of jobs," she said, adding that there's a silver lining. "Trust me, that will only make you a good person in the future and you'll have a lot of stories to tell your children and their children."
Singh wondered whether some employers may feel unsure of hiring international students.
"It's sometimes hard. Honestly, I've never faced such issues, but my friends have. People racist at work... It's a disheartening situation, because when an international student comes, he or she brings a lot of money into the country. Some people don't respect that. They think 'why are these people even here?'"
Singh is currently employed as a security guard. She says her company stopped giving her shifts once classes resumed because they did not line up with her class times. So now, she relies completely on her parents for help, but acknowledges that not all international students have that option.
App allows job seekers to find work
Rakesh Naidu, the president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said international students reach out to him often to ask for advice on what jobs to look for. He said some even contact him before landing in Canada to ask about their options in Windsor.
Inspired by the need to help international students, Naidu created the AYEWORK mobile app, which allows job seekers to find both long-term and short-term gigs.
He is encouraging local businesses to consider hiring international students.
"I think the rewards are amazing. A lot of businesses have told us that from the time they have hired [international students], it has completely changed their business. It's helped open up new ideas for them and look at things differently."
His advice to students to gain some experience through volunteer work.
"Many students don't have any work experience before coming here. So employers may be a little reluctant to hire them. So the best way is to give them some volunteer experience to begin with and that becomes a stepping stone for them to find their way into the job market."
At St. Clair College, Mike Silvaggi, associate vice-president of student services, said there are resources available for all students, including international students.
"We provided technology-type bursaries in the event that students were expected to learn online, that they had the ability to purchase [technology needed to learn]," he said.
"We take a wide-open approach to help all our students... Because all our students are facing similar issues when it comes to employment opportunities."