BlogTo work or not to work? International students will soon be allowed to work unlimited hours in Canada

11 October 2022

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On October 7, 2022 the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Sean Fraser, announced that international students will soon be able to work off-campus for an unlimited number of hours. Previously, international students were capped at working only up to 20 hours per week during the academic year. The Minister’s new policy will take effect from November 15, 2022 until December 31, 2023 and it is expected to apply to about 500,000 international students in Canada. While this policy is intended to benefit the Canadian economy during this period of economic recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the policy is unlikely to benefit international students for two main reasons that I discuss below.

Work and Study Balance

Until this recent announcement, it has been a longstanding immigration policy that the main ‘job’ for international students is to attend classes and to successfully graduate. To reinforce this policy, when international students apply for their study permits they are required to provide strong evidence that they can afford their studies in Canada. For instance, there is a requirement that they demonstrate that they have at least enough savings to pay for their entire first year of tuition as well as living expenses, which can easily come to more than $20,000 CAD. In other words, pre-existing safeguards have been put in place to ensure that international students will focus on their studies while in Canada and that any work experience they gain here will be for the main purpose of personal and professional development while also having the opportunity to earn spending money.

Allowing students to work an unlimited number of hours will likely encourage many of them to prioritize work and upset the important balance between work and study. In this regard, it is important to clarify that the new policy only applies to international students who are taking a full-time course load. This means that any international student who wants to benefit from the policy will have to carefully manage a full-time course load and their increased work commitments, all while adjusting to culture shock and the other challenges that international students regularly experience.

As an immigration lawyer I have seen firsthand that many students, especially younger students who come to Canada directly after high school, have difficulty keeping up with their studies. Some lack the maturity and discipline to prioritize school first, especially when they are adjusting to new teaching styles and expectations and when they are leaving home for the first time. For these students, the Minister’s new policy may create new distractions and exacerbate an already difficult situation.

Moreover, it is very important that we do not downplay the consequences of poor academic performance. Students who do not meet academic expectations can be put on probation or even suspended by their school, both of which can have lasting consequences on a student’s ability to qualify for Canadian permanency because it affects whether they can remain enrolled in school on a full-time basis, or at all.

Eligibility for Canadian Permanent Residency

Historically, international students have been viewed as excellent candidates to become Canadian permanent residents because they have studied in Canada and become familiar with Canadian standards, have demonstrated an intention to reside in Canada, and have a combination of language proficiency and Canadian work experience that employers are looking for.

Most international students have achieved the goal of becoming permanent residents through a set pathway that begins with their graduation. After successfully completing their program of study at an eligible school, international students can apply for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP), which allows them to gain at least one year of skilled work experience in Canada that qualifies them for permanent residency under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). For more information about PGWPs, please see my most recent blog on this subject:

https://canadian-visa-lawyer.com/immigration-trials-and-tribulations-for-international-students/

The Minister’s new policy may lead to unintended negative consequences as to whether a student will qualify for Canadian permanent residence in the future.

Firstly, in order to obtain a PGWP, students must have maintained full-time status throughout their program of study. Any period when they were not studying full-time will jeopardize their ability to obtain a PGWP. This includes the situation where a student voluntarily reduces their course load because they are underperforming at school and where they are involuntarily placed on academic probation or suspension. In either case, poor academic performance can directly impede a student’s ability to qualify for permanent residency because they will not have a pathway to remain in Canada to work after graduation.

Also, many students will not understand that they are only allowed to benefit from this policy if they are attending school on a full-time basis. Any students who do not abide by this policy, whether knowingly or not, will be in breach of our immigration laws and can be issued a removal order to leave Canada.

Secondly, international students may not understand that none of the hours they work in Canada while under full-time student status counts towards qualifying for Canadian permanent residency. Therefore, the Minister’s policy may create false expectations that international students can fast track their dreams of becoming permanent residents by working hard to juggle both a heavy workload and course load when, in fact, our immigration laws are written to specifically exclude these hours from meeting the minimum eligibility requirements for permanent residency.

The Minister’s October 7, 2022 announcement was made with the express purpose of helping the Canadian economy rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. International students are already here in large numbers, and they can help fill crucial labour shortages for Canadian employers during this important time. While the Minister’s policy is welcome news for many employers, is it equally beneficial for international students?

Given that there are strong policy reasons for why students were never allowed to work more than 20 hours per week off-campus before this announcement and given that any additional hours worked by international students do not help them qualify for Canadian permanent residency, there is presently little upside for students to make full use of the policy. Moving forward, the Minister should consider implementing new policies that will recognize the contributions of international students to the Canadian economy by creating clear and predictable pathways for them to qualify for Canadian permanent residency within a reasonable timeframe after graduation. At present, international students should carefully consider whether the ”reward” of additional work experience is worth the “risk”.

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About the Author