International students still waiting for work off campus

Daniel Ogutu-were, Sci ’07, from Uganda, hopes to be able to work off-campus by summer.
Daniel Ogutu-were, Sci ’07, from Uganda, hopes to be able to work off-campus by summer.

Most international students aren’t as lucky as Daniel Ogutu-were when it comes to finding work.

“Looking for a job is a nightmare for the average international student,” he said. “I am a poor example in reference to employment of international students on campus, because I have found it a lot easier than most of my peers.”

Under current government guidelines, international students can’t work off-campus. However, changes to these policies may see students working off-campus as early as this summer.

Ogutu-were, a third-year engineering student from Uganda, said it was luck that got him an on-campus job in the faculty of Applied Science.

However, Justin Kerr, international student advisor (short-term programs) at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC), said most students don’t have it so easy.

“There are definitely students that find it a challenge to come by on-campus work,” he said.

On Nov. 1, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities signed an agreement with the federal government to give international students permits to work off-campus in Canada. Not much progress has been made since, however.

“International students weren’t, and still aren’t, eligible to work in Ontario outside of some very special instances,” said Shiva Mayer, AMS VP (University Affairs), who added that in the 2004-05 school year the Ontario University Student Alliance (OUSA) put forward a policy to represent international students on the issue.

Since then, Mayer said, progress has been slow. However, he cited the agreement between the ministry and the federal government as a major breakthrough.

“From the very beginning, the province has agreed that this is a good thing,” he said. “They’ve just been slow to move on it.”

Steve Robinson, head of issues management and media relations with the ministry, said that while universities could contact the ministry, negotiations about international students working off campus couldn’t take place without federal consent.

“We did reach an agreement with the federal government, but right now the implementation of the program is subject to federal approval and funding,” he said. “The ministry is certainly committed to this project, and we are encouraging the federal government to move forward.”

Scott Courtice, executive director of OUSA, said progress has been slow in part because of the change of federal government.

“The province signed the agreement with the Liberal government one day before the election was called,” he said. “As a result, funding hadn’t yet been approved, and the new government hasn’t signed on yet.”

Courtice said he is hopeful the new Conservative government will give the initiative the green light soon.

“Usually a new government goes through a review of all spending, and OUSA has written them a letter requesting that they move ahead to fund the initiative.”

According to Courtice, the federal government will play a role in the new program because international students will be required to apply for social insurance numbers and prove their status as students at a federal level.

Courtice added that individual universities would be responsible for submitting information about international students to the federal and provincial governments before students could obtain work permits.

Ogutu-were said he has been working towards off-campus employment opportunities for international students since his first year at the University, when he was a member of the now-dissolved Rector’s International Student Committee under then-rector Ahmed Khayssi.

He said he is wary of the government’s desire for the private information of international students looking for work.

“I don’t see the need for divulging personal information which wasn’t originally available to the government by the University,” he said. “This creates a precedent to monitor and cut down on enrolment from certain international locations.”

Issues at the federal level aren’t the only things slowing down the initiative. Courtice said individual universities still need to negotiate their own agreements with the province.

“The ministry needs to negotiate with each school so that institutions are sending forms that prove international student enrolment,” he said. “The province has said that they will begin negotiations, so the onus is on each university to contact the ministry and express interest.” Susan Anderson, international student advisor at QUIC, said the University is ready to get rolling, but that things didn’t seem to be progressing.

“I think what students should know is that the University is ready to facilitate their being able to work when the time comes,” she said. “But my understanding is that it is on hold until the new immigration people in the federal government get started again.”

Anderson also said the exact details of what personal information a university would be required to share with the government hadn’t been confirmed.

Both Mayer and Courtice said they were frustrated with the lengthy delays in the process. Neither knew when international students might be working off-campus.

“In the past, the wheels have turned very slowly,” said Mayer. “With the speed of this bureaucracy, you never know.” Courtice said he is hopeful that the pace will pick up with federal support, so that international students could be working as soon as this summer.

“Anytime I make a prediction, it seems to take six months longer,” he said. “However, once the feds sign on, I think students could get work permits within four to six weeks.”

Naoki Terada, an ArtSci ’07 from Japan, said he was planning on staying in Ontario this summer, and hoped to work at QUIC on campus if he wasn’t eligible to look for work in Kingston.

“It is important for international students to work off-campus,” he said. “If I could work off-campus, then there would be more job possibilities and I could get more work experience.”

Terada went on to say that if he couldn’t find paid work, he would pursue other alternatives.

“If I can’t find a job on campus this summer, I’m looking for volunteer work,” he said.

Ogutu-were said working off-campus would provide international students with several benefits, including work experience and a chance to ease the burden of high tuition.

“International students, on average, pay almost three times their Canadian counterparts’ tuition,” he said. “[Off-campus] employment generally pays better than most on-campus jobs available to international students.”

Kerr cautioned that the new initiative wouldn’t solve all the problems.

“I think that this is a positive step for the students, the community and the institution,” he said. “But giving somebody permission to work isn’t the same as giving them a job.”

Anderson agreed.

“One of the things that international students have hoped for is to get part-time employment that is going to be related to their studies and eventually put them in the position to compete with Canadians for the big jobs afterwards,” she said. “The possibility for that certainly exists, but it is difficult.”

Courtice cited many advantages to allowing international students to work in Ontario, and said the province would benefit just as much as the students themselves.

“Work would help with tuition affordability,” he said. “It would also integrate international students into the community and give them incentive to stay here after their degree.

“We’re hoping this initiative fosters a brain gain for the community, instead of a brain drain.”

As for Ogutu-were, he said that while he may not benefit from the new program, he has high hopes for what it could do for other students.

“Having experienced the difficulty of being an international student, I use every opportunity I am availed with student and university leaders to make known the issues,” he said. “My conviction to ensure that someone doesn’t encounter the same challenges forbids me from keeping silent.”

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