The country’s organisation representing two official languages – English and French – Languages Canada is working closely with government to update the regulation around access to work for some language students.
“There is a willing [in government] to look at changes,” executive director, Gonzalo Peralta, told The PIE. While amendments would be expected to take nine months to implement, Languages Canada is in conversation with officials within IRCC to proceed.
Currently, language students enrolled in an English or French as a second language program are not eligible to work off-campus in Canada while they are studying.
Changing existing regulations would allow some language students access to work to benefit Canada, students and Languages Canada members alike, Peralta emphasised.
“We want to provide a complete and full offer to language students”
“This is not about opening the floodgates for people to come and learn a language and have access to work,” he said. “This is about meeting the needs of Canada and supporting students appropriately.
“We are in conversations with the minister’s office and with senior officials in IRCC. And I think that there is a willingness to look at changes for a number of reasons and they get our reasons behind this.”
Changes would give the language sector parity with other segments of the country’s wider education market, he continued.
“But really the major reason is because we want to provide a complete and full offer to language students and we want to contribute to Canada’s growth and development.
“Language learning is contextually driven. The reason why people travel to learn the language is – living with a Canadian family or working and so on – that’s where the final steps in language learning takes place. This isn’t simply a financial issue. This is also an educational and pedagogical issue that we’re fighting for,” he said.
However any changes to the rule would have to be well thought through and should ensure benefits for students, schools and Canada as a whole. The immigration piece is an area where the language sector could have a significant part to play, Peralta suggested.
“We need a half a million immigrants every year,” he said, and language skills are one point of complaint for employers.
As such, a “far more targeted, integrated and collaborative approach” between Canada’s language sector and other sectors is where Languages Canada expects to make inroads.
“Sometimes [foreign workers] are not properly integrated. They’re a vulnerable population, just like students, so we want to do it the right way,” he said.
One pilot the organisation is leading is together with Tourism HR Canada – a sector that is in need of 10,000 workers and an organisation that presented at Languages Canada’s recent conference.
“We’re putting together a proposal [for government] to head out and seek candidates for a program that would match their very specific profiles,” he said, placing integration at the heart of the initiative.
“Language, society, culture, transportation, banking, social networks, all of these aspects which Languages Canada members do best and are so important to success of people coming here.
“So they would go through their language and integration program and then go on to jobs in hotels and other tourism and hospitality businesses that need them right across the country. It’s everywhere from Victoria to Halifax. The thing is for that just to go ahead, the regulation needs to change.”
The opportunity came to light during the pandemic when all hotel rooms in Nova Scotia sell out as a result of the ‘Study Safe Corridor’.
“Hotel associations were very grateful and they started paying attention. And so we saw a lot of similarities between the two sectors,” he continued, pointing to the sectors’ seasonal natures along with the mobility involved.
While Canada’s visa backlog is “mostly resolved”, delays last year hurt Languages Canada’s members, Peralta added.
“We think that the context has changed and it is the right time to ask cabinet for an amendment”
As student visas were prioritised ahead of tourist visas – students on tourist visas make up around half of members’ enrolments – student numbers were 20% below expectation, he explained.
While the regulatory change has not yet been announced or launched, Languages Canada noted that initial signs are “very positive”.
Others in the sector have said that, once launched, the work and study rights will “be a real game changer for language schools in Canada”.
Languages Canada has been pressing for a change for several years, but suggested the government is now more receptive. Last year, the government revealed the temporary lifting of work limits for other student cohorts until December 31, 2023.
“We’re going to be able to learn some lessons over the course of the next year, and we’re going to be able to determine whether this is the kind of thing we can look at doing for a longer period of time,” Canada’s immigration minister Sean Fraser said at the time.
“We think that the context has changed and it is the right time to go back to cabinet and ask for an amendment to the regulations,” Peralta added.
“What it means for providers is expanding their offer, of course, both quantitatively and qualitatively. But even beyond that, it means being an integral part of the Canadian conversation on immigration, labour, education and tourism.”