The move is an attempt to address Canada’s labour shortages as the country faces its lowest rate of unemployment on record, with nearly one million job vacancies going unfilled.
International students are currently limited to working 20 hours per week but student groups have renewed calls over the past year for this cap to be lifted as living costs spiral.
“This change is going to help sustain Canada’s post-pandemic growth and provide a boost to thousands of employers looking to add to their staff for the upcoming holiday season, particularly in sectors that are facing the most severe labour shortages,” said immigration minister Sean Fraser at a press conference today. “It’s also going to give many post-secondary students a greater opportunity to support themselves to gain work experience in Canada and in many instances actually in their field of study as well.”
Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president, global engagement and partnerships at York University, said that the new policy will give students “choice and flexibility” but that work needs to be balanced with “professional and personal goals”.
“I would want students to think carefully about how to balance work and their academics and wellbeing and long-term aspirations,” she said, explaining that while it is understandable that international students want the choice to work longer hours, she does not believe that they should be viewed as the solution to Canada’s skills gaps.
“A temporary lift is not the way to address Canada’s labour market shortages,” Gengatharan said.
The new policy will last until December 31 2023, although the minister hinted that this may be reviewed.
“What’s unique about the strategy that we’re employing is 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,” Fraser said.
Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of CBIE, wrote on LinkedIn that the news is “a welcome development for our international students”.
The announce is an “encouraging message for international students in Canada”, the organisation said.
“We know from recent studies and our 2021 International Student Survey that students who wish to pursue pathways to permanent residency are helped tremendously by early connections in the community and labour market. This temporary shift in policy will expand the possibilities for our students to gain valuable hands-on experience and build people-to-people ties that will further their educational and professional goals while benefiting local communities, large and small, across Canada,” it told The PIE.
A third of the 40,000+ students responding to the survey indicated that they depend on off-campus work to finance their education, CBIE continued.
“Expanding the opportunity to work while studying will support international students in their pursuit of a Canadian education. This is a much-appreciated accommodation as international students continue to face economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic.”
A further measure that “would significantly benefit international students”, would be the removal of the co-op work permit requirement for students enrolled in programs with co-op, internships or other work-integrated learning components.
“This would ensure that international students can participate fully in the experiential learning opportunities available to them during their studies in Canada.
“Moreover, CBIE welcomes the opportunity to work with IRCC to introduce further policy flexibilities for our international students that will provide greater access to experiential and work-integrated learning opportunities that extend well beyond the traditional co-op model. As the education landscape continues to evolve in terms of practical student learning, so should the policy frameworks for Canada’s international students.”
“This change is going to help sustain Canada’s post-pandemic growth and provide a boost to thousands of employers”
Fraser also announced the launch of a new pilot program that will automatically approve eligible study permit applications in light of Canada’s ongoing visa backlogs.
IRCC said it has processed over 452,000 study permit applications in the first eight months, beating last year’s record of 367,000 – but students continue to face severe delays.
“We’re speeding up this processing, but we know that we can do even better as more international students set their sights on Canada as a top destination,” Fraser said, adding that the new system will not be able to automatically reject applications.
The minister also confirmed that additional working hours will count towards future post-study visa applications.
“International students make extraordinary social, economic and cultural contributions to our country,” Fraser said. “They contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy, fill key gaps in the labour shortage. In my view, we need to continue to do more to promote the international student program.”
Randall Martin, executive director at the British Columbia Council for International Education, said the news will “take a lot of pressure off of certain communities of international students, who have found recent inflationary increases, and the relatively higher cost of living than anticipated, difficult to accommodate.
“It is likely the case that some or many students are already working ‘over’ that 20-hour threshold, and so they now may begin to document or legitimate these hours and diminish the possibility of jeopardizing their status in Canada.”
The PIE reported earlier today that Australia will reinstate its cap on working hours in July for international students after temporarily lifting it last year. The International Education Association of Australia previously raised concerns that unlimited work rights for international students in Australia could “inflict lasting damage on our hard-won reputation as a quality-focused study destination” if students chose to work full-time.