by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, ON
In Canada, a post-secondary education is believed to improve the prospects of the student as well as the country as a whole. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau realized this and promised to make it easier for international students to become Canadian citizens. Post-secondary-student-life is difficult and seemingly unrelenting, especially for international students who’ve uprooted themselves to follow a path that lead them to a new country. Not to mention that international students pay significantly higher tuition fees than domestic students. In 2015, Trudeau campaigned on reducing the barriers facing international students. Today, the government is trying to deport international students who “work too hard?” It doesn’t make sense.
22-year-old-international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, was arrested on December 13, 2017—10 days before receiving his diploma—for “working too hard.” Sandhu moved to Canada from India to study mechanical engineering at Canadore College in Mississauga.
He worked as a commercial-truck driver when he was stopped by Ontario Provincial Police officers between Toronto and Montreal. After a few minutes and with little explanation, Sandhu says he was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of an OPP vehicle.
Sandhu’s background check showed no criminal history but his logbook revealed he’d worked “way beyond” his limit. As an international student in Canada, he was only allowed to work up to 20 hours a week, as per the federal government. The policy stipulates that international students can work a maximum of 20-off-campus-work hours without a separate work visa.
A change to the system
Until 2006, international students in Canada were only allowed to work on campus. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government launched the Off-Campus Work Permit Program allowing students to apply for permits to work off campus after they’ve completed six months of their studies.
A petition signed by thousands of people was started to save international students like Sandhu from similar situations. The petition aims to prevent deportation of students who’ve worked too many hours and to allow such students to report for continuous work before graduation. Sandhu believes the petition is important because it will allow others to financially support their education. He explained that his only option to pay his tuition fees and follow his dream was to work hard.
Last month, Sandhu started a social media campaign with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to stop his proposed deportation. Sandhu supporters gathered outside of Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen’s, office last Friday, and submitted a petition to Hussen’s staff signed by 50,000 people.
“Everyone should have the same rights”
International students have opportunities to work full-time hours outside of their academic school year, like during the summer break. While that may be the case, domestic post-secondary students in Ontario pay around $9,000 for tuition while international students pay about $35,000. According to Sandhu, the disparity in tuition fees forces international students to work even harder.
Sandhu’s story has resonated with hundreds of students, some have come forward to complain about abuse and mistreatment. “I came to Canada with a dream, to study, to settle here, to build a life for my family and me, and I had no choice but to work while studying, like so many other citizens,” Sandhu said. “Now, I am being punished for working too hard, and I’m calling on Canada to grant me a temporary resident permit and ensure fairness and justice for other students like me.”
Coordinator of the national MWAC, Syed Hussan, said “It makes no sense to arbitrarily pick a random number and limit people like Jobandeep’s ability to work to just those hours. We can’t have a multi-tiered economy or different laws for different citizens. We need a single system, and that means permanent resident status on arrival for all migrants, including students.”
According to the MWAC, there were 357,230 study permits issued in 2018. “Student workers are suffering, we pay all the taxes, but are excluded from healthcare and decent housing. We face wage exploitation and abuse, and most of us do not get permanent resident status,” said Varunpreet Singh, a MWAC organizer. “Everyone, including migrant students, should have the same rights, and that means full labor rights, the same fees, and permanent resident status from day one, that’s just fair.”