St. Clair’s Student Representative Council (SRC) questions the wisdom of a new federal government policy that will ease work-hour restrictions for international students.
On October 7, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser announced “the temporary lifting of the 20-hour-per-week cap on the number of hours that eligible (international) postsecondary students are allowed to work off-campus while class is in session”.
A media release issued at that time stated:
From November 15, 2022, until December 31, 2023, international students who are in Canada and who have off-campus work authorization on their study permit will not be restricted by the 20-hour-per-week rule. Foreign nationals who have already submitted a study permit application, as of today (October 7), will also be able to benefit from this temporary change, provided their application is approved.
This measure will provide many international students with a greater opportunity to gain valuable work experience in Canada, and will increase the availability of workers to sustain Canada’s post-pandemic growth.
With more than 500,000 international students already in Canada available to potentially work additional hours, this temporary change reflects the important role international students can play in addressing our labour shortage, while continuing to pursue their studies.
Study permit holders are still expected to balance their study and work commitments, as those who stop studying or reduce course loads to only study part-time are not eligible to work off-campus.
It is the first portion of the last paragraph that concerns the SRC.
“Maintaining study-related requirements can be extremely difficult when one attempts to work in excess of the part-time level of 20 hours per week,” said SRC President Navjeet Singh. "There are only so many hours in the day. To be academically successful, school does demand a commitment of a significant portion of those hours."
“For years, based upon decades of research, academic counsellors at the college have been urging all students – domestic and international – to restrict their employment work-hours to a maximum of 20 hours per week. Anything beyond that can dramatically – and negatively – affect the basic ability to study, to keep up with homework, and to constructively contribute to group projects.
“Now, out of the blue, the federal government is disregarding that long-standing guideline, and seemingly encouraging international students to pursue full-time jobs while simultaneously functioning as full-time students? That’s just a recipe for academic disaster,” Singh said.
If Canada has such a dire shortage of prospective employees to fill gaps in its workplaces, Singh argues that the government should open the gates to more extensive immigration of experienced, mid-adult-aged individuals – “as opposed to irresponsibly diverting students from their studies to try to fill these gaps”.
Singh also rejects the idea that the newly announced policy will give international students substantially more employment opportunities. “In fact, the reverse might be true,” he said. “Instead of two new part-time positions to cover a job vacancy, this new policy means that, in many cases, only one international student will be hired to work virtually full-time hours. Extending your work hours might mean that you’re actually depriving another international student of the chance to get a job.”
Singh and the SRC know that the federal policy could be extremely popular among cash-strapped international students.
“But, please, remember why you came to Canada originally, and keep your priorities in order: school has to remain your primary concern, for scheduling and everything else,” the SRC President advised. “If you think you can add five or so hours to your existing part-time job without adversely affecting your schoolwork, I suppose you could try that. But, please, don’t start approaching anything close to full-time work-hours. That really will jeopardize your academic work – and that could, eventually, jeopardize your visa status.”
The federal government’s media release also noted that: “This month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is also launching a pilot project to automate the processing of study permit extensions. The types of applications being included in this pilot have a consistently high approval rate, as all applicants have previously been approved to study in Canada. The pilot will involve a small group of applicants who could see their extended study permit processed much faster, with the goal of improving client service. Should the pilot be successful, it will be expanded in order to help reduce processing times and allow officers to focus on more complex applications.”
The media release also noted:
• From January 1, 2022, to the end of August 2022, more than 452,000 study permit applications have been processed. During the same period in 2021, which was a record year, 367,000 applications were processed. This represents an increase of 23 percent.
• IRCC processed nearly 119,000 study permit extension applications in 2021, with an approval rate of 97 percent. From January 1, 2022, to the end of August 2022, more than 135,000 were processed, with an approval rate of 96 percent.
• Applications being considered as part of the pilot to automate study permit extensions will need to meet certain criteria in order to be automated. Applications that fall outside of the criteria will be manually reviewed by officers. The automated process will not refuse applications or recommend refusals. Any decision to refuse an application will continue to be made by an officer.