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Canada: sector weighs in on scrapped working hour limits

The IRCC decision to temporarily lift the working hour limit for international students in Canada will allow employers to offer legal options to students, and curb illegal labour, stakeholders in the country have said.

Virginia Macchiavello emphasised that students come to Canada to study, and that working full time will "impact their success". Photo: Pexels

Academics will need to "monitor the impact of the lifting carefully" - Virginia Macchiavello

While this measure was applauded by many across the sector as a way to increase access and equity, to diversify communities, and to bolster the Canadian work force, there were just as many concerns voiced at the CBIE conference earlier this month.

The temporary lift puts a spotlight on the financial challenges many international students face, coupled with a desire to create an atmosphere conducive to immigration pathways.

Leaders in Canadian international education shared their thoughts with The PIE about potential implications of the new policy.

Virginia Macchiavello, associate vice president for international development at Centennial College shared some benefits about the decision, “Certainly there is a benefit to both Canada and the student.”

“Paying students ‘under the table’ and exposing them to poor wages and workplace dangers without protection is not a good situation – employers who were abiding by the law can now offer legal options to students,” she added.

Carlos Cantu, education partnerships manager at Peoplecert agrees, telling The PIE, “Limiting the number of hours a student can work creates conditions in which the students are at risk of being abused by employers.

“The recent changes will protect international students’ rights as workers by allowing them to report abuse without fear of being deported or not being entitled to apply for PGWP,” Cantu said.

Yet Macchiavello also emphasised that students come to Canada to study, and that working full time will “impact their success”.

“Currently students are supposed to demonstrate that they can afford to live and study in Canada and should not require funds to support their tuition and living expenses. The purpose of working in Canada is to provide the Canadian experience in industry, not to pay tuition,” she stressed.

“Working full time will impact their success”

She said as an educator, it is difficult to support the idea of any university student working full time and said academics will need to monitor the impact carefully.

“Perhaps for those students who cannot afford to study without working, a better solution would be to continue to allow them to start their studies offshore and then finish in Canada or completely online providing them with points for the online Canadian education.

“The points will allow us to export Canadian education and provide them a pathway to immigrate to Canada with a recognised Canadian certification,” Macchiavello said.

According to her, providing skilling and upskilling and issuing micro credentials would be another option to “fast track” all students into current workforce gaps in Canada.

Isaac Garcia-Sitton, executive director of international student enrolment education and inclusion at Toronto Metropolitan University wrote a recent article for The Conversation, arguing that Canada “identifies international students as ‘ideal immigrants’ but supports are lacking”.

He wrote that while it is clear that international students are needed in Canada, a question remains of “whether international students are valued”.

“While immigration targets and strategies are focused on bringing in more international students, current policy measures do little to address the inherent bureaucracy and lack of transparency in our systems, or the multitude of issues faced by international students,” wrote Garcia-Sitton.

He indicated some of the obstacles as food insecurity, mental health issues, and racism— many of which he asserted have intensified during the pandemic.

“For the right student, it offers tremendous opportunities”

Saurabh Malhotra, director of international recruitment and market development at Fanshawe College recently told The PIE that he has mixed feelings about the announcement.

“For the right student, it offers tremendous opportunities,” Malhotra said. While he well understood the intent driving the change, he cautioned, “As international recruitment and advising professionals, it’s our responsibility to ensure students fully understand both sides of this change.”

Antonio Rivadeneira, a regional manager at Camosun College and a former international student, shared his concern with The PIE about the potential for the decision to affect the students’ academic performance.

“During my time as an international student, it was hard to keep my grades high while working 15 hours per week,” Rivadeneira said. “I cannot imagine how hard it could have been if I had worked more than 20 hours.”

While he said he understand the reasons behind this decision, he also expressed his hope that students will “keep their studies as priority and not become workers instead of students”.

“In the end, it may affect Canada’s reputation as leader in education destinations,” Rivadeneira warned.

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