Temporary Relief Welcomed by International Students
International students studying in Canada have been kept anxiously waiting for news regarding the number of hours they will be able to work in 2024, until yesterday. Initially set to expire on December 31, 2023, the federal government announced an extension to its temporary policy that allows international students to work off-campus for more than 20 hours per week until the spring of 2024.
The Federation applauds Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, for listening to thousands of students and advocates from across the country. This extension will provide relief to international students that have been worried about losing the income they rely on and who are already struggling with the high cost of education and the cost of living in Canada.
This will also provide international students the ability to continue working in safe and regulated workplaces and extend the pilot program to international students who were previously ineligible for the program based on when they applied for their study permit.
“Without this extension, thousands of international students could face the precarious choice of working in unregulated workplaces and jeopardizing their study permit or paying high tuition fees by sacrificing safe shelter, transportation, and food,” said Melissa Chirino, BC Federation of Students Chairperson.
The announcement included an update on 3 temporary policies affecting international students, including the following:
- The waiver on the 20-hour-per-week limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work off campus while class is in session will be extended to April 30, 2024. This will apply to all international students already in Canada and applicants who have applied for a study permit as of December 7, 2023.
- The measure that allowed international students to count time spent studying online towards the length of a future post-graduation work permit – introduced in response to travel restrictions during the pandemic – will end. This measure will remain in place for students who begin a study program before September 1, 2024; it will no longer apply to students who begin a study program on or after that date.
- In response to labour market disruptions during the pandemic, a temporary policy was introduced on three occasions to provide an additional 18-month work permit to post-graduation work permit holders as their initial work permit was expiring. Those with a post-graduation work permit expiring on December 31, 2023, remain eligible to apply; however, this temporary policy will not be extended further.
International Students in Canada Continue to Face Precarity
For the next five months, international students that need to, will be able to work the number of hours they deem necessary to pay for basics like shelter, food, transportation, and tuition. This extension may have stopped what could have been a mass exodus of much-needed workers from our job market, a crisis within our post-secondary institutions that have become overly reliant upon international tuition fees to operate, and a large hit on our local economies.
“But we cannot celebrate this extension without reiterating that leaving international students in limbo – not knowing whether they will have the ability to earn enough to cover their living expenses or being unsure of their employment status – forces these students to live precariously,” said Chirino. “Many international students would have been forced to resign from jobs where their employer needs them to work more than 20 hours per week and seek new employment.”
With the extension now set to expire on April 30, 2024, Minister Miller also highlighted that a permanent 30-hour off-campus work limit is being considered a prospective policy change. This move may help stabilize and support international students in the short term. However, the Federation and student advocates have been calling for the removal of all work limits.
“International students deserve the autonomy to decide where and when they want to work and should not have to worry about the regulations around their employment constantly changing as they experience today,” said Chirino. “Communication needs to come in a timely, transparent, and upfront manner. Thousands of international students that have been unsure about their future in Canada should not have to wait until there are only three weeks to spare on the waiver.”
Advocates welcome the opportunity to share international student experiences with the IRCC as it explores permanent policy changes to the International Student Program. We hope the federal government will act urgently and communicate any program changes with adequate notice.
Pursuing Post-Secondary Education in BC is Increasingly Unaffordable
Since the early 2000s, international students studying in Canada have been required to provide proof that they meet the cost-of-living requirement set at $10,000 – a figure that has not kept up with the cost of living. As a result, hundreds of thousands of international students have faced exponential barriers during their studies due to the lack of open, honest, and upfront realities of the high cost-of-living we see across the country. By doubling the cost-of-living requirement to $20,635, the federal government says this change will help prevent student vulnerability and exploitation.
The doubling of the cost-of-living requirement highlights how unaffordable being a student in Canada is. The Federation has always and will continue to fight for accessible and affordable education for all learners. Students are struggling to cover the ever-increasing cost of tuition fees and textbooks on top of their housing, groceries, gas, and other living expenses.
International students, who pay five times more for their tuition than their domestic counterparts, are relied on by institutions to fund their operations. This reliance on international students to fund post-secondary education in BC and other parts of Canada stems from a lack of provincial government funding and puts institutions at risk of collapsing in the event of a decrease in international student enrollment.
The Federation continues to call on the provincial government to address affordability issues by providing adequate funding to post-secondary institutions and introducing a cap on international tuition fee increases.
We believe that students shouldn’t need to work full-time while pursuing an education, but that is sadly not a reality for most students as the BC government has shifted its responsibility to fund the public post-secondary sector to students and their families. All students should be free to work as much as they see necessary while studying. We need the federal and provincial governments to work together to provide support, adequate funding, and systemic structures that help eliminate barriers to post-secondary education for all students.
Join us in sending an email to Premier Eby and the Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills to call for more affordable education for all students in BC. Add your voice today!
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