Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has temporarily removed the 20-hour weekly work limit on study permits for international students as part of efforts to address widespread job vacancies across the Canadian economy.
The move was immediately welcomed by the Migrant Students United (MSU) and Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC).
“Removing the limit on hours of work while studying gives migrant student workers the power to protect themselves from exploitation, abuse and mistreatment at work,” MSU-MWAC organizer Sarom Rho said in a press release today.
The alliance has campaigned for the work limit’s removal since 2019, when an international student was deported for working more than allowed while class was in session. In response, over 52,000 migrant students signed a petition to delay the student’s deportation, organized phone calls, met with government officials and protested for the removal of the 20-hour work limit.
Exclusions to today’s announcement
The IRCC’s announcement will take effect November 15, 2022 to December 31, 2023. International students currently authorized to work in Canada or who submitted a study permit application by today will be allowed to work full-time hours off campus while class is in session.
Any potential study permit applicants who apply after today’s deadline will still be subject to the 20-hour work limit.
“These exclusions further entrench a tiered system, where some migrant student workers have fewer rights than others allowing employers to continue to exploit those with less power to speak up,” Rho said.
IRCC releases pilot program
The number of international college students enrolments more than doubled between 2015 to 2021, according to Statistics Canada. Over 600, 000 international students held study permits 2021, more than half of whom were enrolled in post-secondary education at colleges or universities across the country.
In another Statistics Canada report, international students paid five times more in tuition fees for full-time undergraduate studies than their Canadian counterparts in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Average international student tuition fees for full-time undergraduate international students is $33, 623 for the same academic year, while Canadians pay an average of $6, 693.
In the 2021-2022 academic session, international students also saw a 4.9 per cent increase in fees from the previous year, while Canadian students saw an average increase of 1.7 per cent.
“Increasingly, postsecondary institutions have relied on income from international students as part of their revenue stream,” the report from last year said.
Minister Fraser also announced a pilot program to automate the approval of applications to extend study permits. By the end of August this year, the IRCC had processed 452, 000 study permit extension requests – an 81 per cent increase from 2021 – approving 96 per cent of applications, he said. The pilot program will help automate the approval of these extension requests, and hopefully streamline this arduous process for international students.
International students potential source of labour supply
In March, Statistics Canada released a report outlining the potential for international students to fill the historic labour shortage as the nation’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“International students provided a growing source of labour for the Canadian market that extended beyond their period of study,” the report said, referencing the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) Program as an opportunity for international students to gain work experience in their field in Canada and fill employment vacancies.
Advocates want to keep the focus away from how immigrant labour can breathe life into Canada’s economy, and on increasing employment autonomy removing the 20-hour work limit gives international students.
“Today’s announcement isn’t about labour shortage,” Rho said. “It’s about labour mobility and rights. It’s a direct result of years of tireless organizing by current and former international students.”
In their press release, MWAC says they will continue to “take action” on Oct. 16 at the offices of Cabinet Ministers, with demands to regularize undocumented residents and permanent resident status for all “without delay and exclusion.”
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