International students are calling on the Canadian government to extend a rule allowing them to work more than 20 hours per week.
They say a cap on work hours leaves them open to exploitation and struggling to afford to live amid spiralling costs.
Last year, Canada temporarily lifted the limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work in an attempt to help the country’s labour shortages, but the rule is set to expire on December 31 2023.
IRCC is in the process of assessing the impact of the policy, including how many students have taken advantage of it, and said it will communicate any new developments publicly.
Damanpreet Singh, International Students’ commissioner at the Canadian Federation of Students, said international students are keen to continue working more hours.
“Our living expenses are really high in Canada”
“Right now, our living expenses are really high in Canada and it is very hard for them to manage,” he said.
He added that some students have taken on more senior positions, such as supervisors, and would have to step down if they were unable to work full-time.
Critics of the government’s decision to uncap work hours have previously argued that students should focus on their courses and that unlimited work rights encourage “non-genuine” students to apply. Additionally, to study in Canada, applicants must prove they have enough funds to support themselves.
“The cost of living has unpredictably spiked,” said Sarom Rho, organiser at Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, in response to these arguments, adding that students could not have anticipated this.
“Fundamentally, the removal of the 20-hour work limit is about power and decisions,” she said. “Do we want international students to be treated the same as domestic students?”
Singh agreed that all students should be given the choice about how best to balance work with studying.
There are also concerns that limits on work hours leave students more vulnerable to exploitation as some will have to choose between continuing to work more hours, illegally, for unscrupulous employers or being unable to afford to stay in Canada.
“A removal of the 20-hour work limit gives migrant student workers the power to leave bad jobs and to speak up against exploitation and mistreatment,” said Rho.
“If [Immigration] minister Miller does not make the change to permanently remove the 20-hour work limit then, come January 1, students are going to continue to be working jobs but will be denied labour rights and protections and that’s bad for all of us.”
Australia also temporarily lifted a cap on the number of hours international students were permitted to work, but reinstated it in July 2023, leaving some students struggling to manage rising costs.
An IRCC spokesperson said, “The temporary lifting of the 20-hour limit for off-campus work is helping to address Canada’s labour shortage, and provides an opportunity for students to have a fuller workplace experience while they study.
“IRCC continues to engage with provinces, territories and stakeholders to ensure Canada is well positioned to attract and retain international students, who make significant contributions to our communities economically, socially and culturally.”
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