International students seek jobs off-campus

International student Kim Wiegand, ArtSci ’07, works at the Lakeshore Grill in Edina, MN, during the summer. If new federal government legislation is adopted in Ontario, international students will be allowed to work off-campus.
International student Kim Wiegand, ArtSci ’07, works at the Lakeshore Grill in Edina, MN, during the summer. If new federal government legislation is adopted in Ontario, international students will be allowed to work off-campus.
Photo courtesy of Kim Wiegand

When Kim Wiegand, ArtSci ’07, arrived in Kingston from Minnesota in 2003, the University admissions office told her that her chances of finding work off-campus were next to none, simply because she was an international student.

“[I was told] that I would not be allowed to work off-campus without a work permit, and obtaining [one] is essentially impossible,” Wiegand said.

With on-campus employment as her only money-making option, Wiegand applied for a position at the Common Ground during her first year. She said she quickly realized jobs at the University are difficult to secure.

“[I couldn’t get a job] because they interviewed so many people for so few positions,” she said.

Wiegand said she gave up trying to find work in Kingston after the experience. She now works full-time during the summer months in her home city of Minneapolis to save money for school.

Employment constraints on international students may soon be relaxed, however, with the introduction of new government legislation that proposes allowing them to work off-campus while in school.

The changes announced by Federal Immigration Minister Joe Volpe last April will come in two parts.

First, international students studying at a Canadian university will no longer be limited to on-campus jobs.

Second, the regulations will also permit international students to work throughout most of Canada, with the exception of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, for two years after receiving their diploma. Currently, there is a one-year cap.

International Student Advisor Susan Anderson acknowledged the difficulty of finding a job for international students, be it on or off-campus.

“While Queen’s is a midsize university, it is in a small community,” she said. “Lots of people in the same demographic are all looking for employment, which can make it really hard for any student to find work.” International tuition fees at the University are approximately three times higher than domestic tuition, or around $15,000 a year for Arts and Science students.

The Federal Immigration Department estimates the legislation could add as many as 20,000 new international students to the 60,000 already studying in Canada.

Anderson said cautious optimism should be exercised concerning benefits for students.

“I hope that [this legislation] would give students experience in the Canadian work environment and erase one of the barriers between Canadian and international students, but I’m concerned that the right to work might be confused with [actually] finding employment,” she said.

Anderson said she is also concerned because the new legislation would require foreign students working off-campus to submit participant release forms, giving the government unprecedented access to their personal and financial details.

“[The new policy] will put in place mechanisms by which information can move from institutions to the provincial and federal governments, [whereas] at present, data on [these] individuals does not go to the government.”

Both Wiegand and Vermont native Sarah Solomon, ArtSci ’07, said they have found the on-campus job hunt frustrating.

“On-campus jobs are limited and competitive, and may not pay as well as off-campus jobs,” Wiegand said.

Solomon said her frustration related specifically to the AMS and their hiring policy, which is currently designed to give priority to international students.

“The AMS is supposed to give preferential treatment to international students, but I don’t see a good system for that happening,” she said. “This is something I think the AMS really needs to work on, as I believe that domestic students who are equally qualified are taking on-campus opportunities away from international students.” Section 17.01 of AMS policy states, “When equally qualified candidates are available, international students shall be given preference for hiring by AMS services.”

Although the legislative changes have already been implemented in New Brunswick, Quebec and Manitoba, the federal government is still negotiating with the province of Ontario. As a result, the AMS has not yet considered making any changes to their current hiring practices.

“We are just waiting to see whether this legislation goes through, before making any decisions,” said Johnathan Falstrup, outgoing AMS human resources officer. “[But] I do think that we are going to take [our policy] under review.” VP (Academic) Suzanne Fortier said the proposed changes are a stride towards community enrichment.

“Kingston is not a very diverse city, and we have been urging the government to enter into this kind of opportunity for employment and participation in the community,” she said. “The contribution [international students could make] in our community is an important thing.” Wiegand said she thinks changes to the employment policy would entice more international students to make Kingston a permanent home during the summer months.

“I would really love to spend the summer in Kingston with my friends,” she said. “That is probably the one thing I really wish I could have taken advantage of, in my years at Queen’s.”

Fortier, whose proposal not to raise international tuition fees was approved by the Board of Trustees for the 2005-06 academic year, said she is excited about the possibility of more diversity on campus.

“We have [always] approached enrollment plans carefully, to make sure that students in Canada can be enriched by those [from elsewhere],” she said.

“We didn’t raise our tuition fees [this year] because we want the University to be as attractive as possible to international students.” Although the proposed changes will not be implemented in Ontario this summer, Wiegand said their inception prompted her to reflect on the difficulties of being an international student studying in Canada.

“Queen’s is a great school, but it comes with a very high price tag,” she said. “Students really need all the help they can get.”

—With files from the Toronto Star

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