Nojoud Al Mallees, Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 13, 2024 5:42 am EST
Allowing international students to work more than 20 hours a week could distract them from their studies and undermine the purpose of temporary foreign worker programs, public servants warned the federal government in 2022.
The warning appeared in documents prepared for former Immigration Minister Sean Fraser as Ottawa sought to remove the restriction on the number of hours international students could work off-campus, a policy the Liberals eventually implemented.
The Canadian Press obtained the internal documents through a freedom of information request.
Waiving the cap could help ease labor shortages, a minister memo admitted, but it could also have other unintended consequences.
“While a temporary increase in the number of hours international students can work off-campus could help address this shortage, this could detract from international students’ primary study goal of placing greater emphasis on work, bypassing temporary foreign worker programs and lead to increased concerns about the integrity of the international student program,” the memo said.
Canada’s bloated international student program has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as part of a broader criticism of liberal immigration policies that have fueled rapid population growth and contributed to the country’s housing crisis.
That scrutiny led the federal government to introduce a cap on study permits for the next two years as it tries to rein in the program.
More than 900,000 foreign students obtained visas to study in Canada last year, more than triple the number 10 years ago.
Critics have questioned the dramatic increase in international student enrollment at shady post-secondary institutions and raised concerns about the program being a backdoor to permanent residency.
The memo said removing the cap on off-campus work would be in “stark contrast” to temporary foreign worker programs, which require employers to prove they need a migrant worker and that there are no Canadian or permanent residents available to do so. the job.
Fraser finally announced in October 2022 that the federal government would lift the restriction until the end of 2023 to alleviate labor shortages across the country.
The exemption only applied to students who were currently in the country or those who had already applied, in order to not incentivize foreigners to obtain a study permit just to work in Canada.
In December, Immigration Minister Marc Miller extended the policy until April 30, 2024 and floated the idea of setting the limit at 30 hours a week thereafter.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, Miller said he extended the exemption because he did not want to interfere with students’ work arrangements in the middle of an academic year.
“What I really didn’t want to do is impact students in the current year who have done their financial calculations about how they will support themselves and how they will be able to pay for tuition, rent and food,” Miller said.
Miller said the department’s internal work shows that more than 80 percent of international students currently work more than 20 hours a week.
Waiving the number of hours international students could work was the right decision given the labor shortages Canada was facing, but the policy was never intended to be permanent, he said.
Vacancies soared to more than one million in the second quarter of 2022, but have declined steadily since then as the economy slows.
Miller said he is now considering making a permanent change to the limit that would set it between 20 and 40 hours per week.
“It’s not credible that someone can work 40 hours and follow a proper program,” Miller said.
He said the goal is to create a cap that gives students the chance to get good work experience and help them pay the bills, without hurting their studies.
“So what is a reasonable number of hours for someone studying here, knowing that they are paying three to four times, sometimes five times, the price of a domestic student?” Miller said.
“I think that’s more than 20 hours.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2024.