International Students Urge Canada to Make 20-Hour Work Cap Lift Permanent Amid Financial Struggles

Left to right: Doris Yim, Upkar Singh, Meghal, Domenici Medina and Krunal Chavda are international students at the University of Saskatchewan. They are among those worried across Canada about Ottawa's temporary policy to lift the cap on hours they can work off campus coming to an end. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

International students and advocacy groups across Canada are calling for the federal government to make the temporary lift of the 20-hour work cap permanent. This move comes as many students face increasing financial pressure due to high tuition fees and the rising cost of living.

Last year, Ottawa temporarily removed the 20-hour limit on off-campus work per week for international students while classes are in session. According to CBC News, the pilot program, which has benefitted over 500,000 students, is set to expire at the end of this year.

Freshman International Welcome Day at Centennial College Progress Campus in Scarborough at the Athletics and Wellness Centre, Sept. 7, 2019. Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star

Krunal Chavda, an international student at the University of Saskatchewan, shared his experience with CBC News, “The past year has been quite good in terms of finances because I could work 40 hours a week and have been able to pay off my tuition fees.” Chavda, who has around $40,000 in student loans, managed to pay off $10,000 thanks to full-time work. However, he also highlighted the spike in his monthly grocery expenses, from $100 to as much as $300 due to inflation.

Meghal, Chavda’s classmate, echoed these concerns, telling CBC News about the growing anxiety among students. “There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiousness in the air. We’re on the edge,” she said.

Domenici Medina, another international student from Ecuador, expressed how full-time work eased her financial burden. “It allows us to get more money and not have that financial burden, or worry so much about money,” she said to CBC News. Medina is already seeking on-campus jobs in anticipation of the policy’s potential expiration.

International students and advocacy groups in Canada say Ottawa’s temporary removal of the cap on hours the students can work off campus each week should be made permanent.

Pharmacy student Doris Yim emphasized the benefits of the policy for employers as well. Yim is eyeing a pharmacy cashier job but faces limitations due to the impending return of the work hour cap.

In a statement to CBC News, the federal immigration department noted that it is assessing the policy’s impact and will inform the public of any changes to the current plan.

Ana Sofía Díaz, a fourth-year psychology student at the University of Manitoba, spoke to CBC News about her frustrations, “It is definitely frustrating and discouraging. Not only do we have to pay more expensive fees, but the resources we’re trying to use to pay those fees or not to be in high debt are being taken away from us.”

University of British Columbia students on the campus in Vancouver. PHOTO BY DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Karandeep Singh Sanghera, the student union president at Capilano University, highlighted the challenges of living on a minimum wage of about $16 with a 20-hour work week. Sanghera, who shares a three-occupancy space with five people, mentioned that their union has requested MPs in Ottawa to make the policy permanent.

James Casey, a policy and research analyst at the Canadian Federation of Students, pointed out the stark differences in tuition fees for international students compared to domestic ones. He cited the University of Toronto’s nursing program as an example, where international students pay over $90,000 for two years, significantly more than domestic students.

Food Banks Canada reported the highest level of food bank usage since 1989, with a noticeable increase in international students seeking help, as noted by Casey. He warned of dire consequences if the decision is not made permanent, including the risk of international students being caught up in exploitative labor practices.

The white board outside the Ste. Louise Outreach Food Bank notes: “Do not enter food bank / No international students!! (Government regulations)” PHOTO BY X

Advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has been a vocal supporter of this change. Sarom Rho, an organizer with the alliance, told CBC News about the urgency of the situation and the need for action from Prime Minister Trudeau and Immigration Minister Mark Miller.

According to Rho, current and former international students often face exploitation and mistreatment from employers and are at risk of deportation or jeopardizing their permanent residency.


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