International students in Canada can now work over 20 hours per week

Move is expected to improve workers from being exploited 

International student organizing helped in the removal of the cap.

The Government of Canada amended their policies for international students on student visas in Canada. The change in policy allows for international students to work off-campus in excess of 20 hours per week. 

Starting Nov. 15 and continuing through Dec. 31, 2023, international students who hold study permits at a designated learning institution (DLI) may work over 20 hours off-campus given they meet other eligibility requirements on the nature of study. 

Ali Alansari, AMS international affairs deputy, said he’s excited to see international students have the same contracts in terms of number of hours as permanent residents and Canadian citizens. 

“It gives me the opportunity to work more,” Alansari said in an interview with The Journal

“It's not only about making money; it's about growing as a person. Getting the experience, you need for the future.”

To put the recent change by the Government of Canada in context, Prerna Subramanian, equity officer at PSAC 901, spoke about the activism and organizing international students have done over the past few years. 

“Migrant Students United is an organization that started a petition which actually got 52,000 signatures to stop the deportation of Jobandeep Singh Sandhu—it didn’t work, but it registered in the public as a problem,” Subramanian said in an interview with The Journal.

Jobandeep Sandhu was an international student who was arrested and eventually deported for working over 20 hours under the terms of his then student visa. 

Subramanian described the main reason many international students used to exceed the 20-hour limit as the need to survive when in Canada. International students often must pay for basic expenses such as food, housing, and then schooling in a country far from home.

After the petition circulated, international students started organizing, according to Subramanian. She said at Queen’s, graduate students organized to have tuition fees reduced and aided in the movement to have the 20 hour per week exemption removed. 

“Queen's decided to reduce tuition fees just for [international] Ph.D. students [...] our mandate was to have all international student tuition fees reduced. We had to keep curtailing our demands, because nobody was listening to that bigger demand, because of provincial and federal loopholes,” Subramanian said. 

At the crux of the issue, Subramanian said, is the notion full-time students should not work over 20 hours per week. She said this is the ideal case, but with the realities of how expensive education is and the impacts of inflation, working less than 20 hours can make survival difficult. 

“I want to learn, but the amount I'm paying for learning, the amount of money I'm paying for renting a space to live in, the amount of money I'm paying for food does not really allow me to just study. I need to work,” Subramanian said. 

At the most basic level, Subramanian says the changes to the limit on working hours will help reduce the exploitation of international student workers. 

“It's about empowering workers, giving us a choice whether we want to work or not [...] It empowers us to leave an exploitative workplace,” she said. 

In many cases, Subramanian said, international students were underpaid for the amount of work they were putting into their jobs. She said there was a fear of reprisal or being reported if the international student chose to file a complaint or quit the workplace. 

“If there are three more international students in the same workplace, you can mobilize, you can say ‘hey, I think this is not right for any of us,’” Subramanian said. 

For graduate students in particular, Subramanian highlighted that in many cases, the working environment in universities can pose a challenge. She explained that funding packages are attached to TA, RA, and TF jobs—which don’t count towards permanent residency applications.

Subramanian said the Tri-Council—the agency responsible for setting up research guidelines—recommends full-time graduate research students work under a specified number of hours per week even if on-campus.

“[In policy] a graduate student should not work more than 20 hours, even on campus, it's a recommendation [...] supervisors don't understand this is because we are financially insecure, we do not have enough money to pay rent,” Subramanian said.

Both Subramanian and Alansari recommended resources or ways for students to get involved in international student related issues. 

The AMS is organizing a meet-and-greet for international students, and Alansari recommends students reach out to QUIC for resources. PSAC 901 is hosting an open mic on Nov. 9 called migrant dispatch

Subramanian said there’s currently a petition circulating asking the federal government to permanently remove the 20 hour per week limit on work.

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