Off-campus work for international students

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A sketch of a person racing against time.
Work, study, sleep, have a life. These days you can pick, at most, two. Lee Lim

Relaxed work restrictions not an unqualified win

In the realm of policy shifts, every new implementation is a double-edged sword, instantly drawing a line between critics and proponents alike. Such is the case with the off-campus work policy for international students across Canada.  

Until last year, the rules were clear: International students, having a valid study permit, could dedicate up to 20 hours a week to off-campus work. This was complemented with the freedom to work without restriction on campus. Later, a significant announcement emerged, declaring the removal of all work hour limits for international students until December 2023. While many students embraced the notion, an underlying concern lingered because full-time enrollment remained mandatory. This policy’s implications thus unfolded amidst a variety of mixed reactions on part of the student body at large. 

This interim measure was meant to redefine the boundaries and opportunities for international students and sought to benefit Canadian employers. It would also give international students the opportunity to gain more Canadian work experience through off campus work, which is especially important if their long-term goal is to gain permanent residency. This policy is applicable to all international students who applied for their study permit before October 7, 2022.  

Former immigration minister and current housing, infrastructure and communities minister Sean Fraser encapsulated the essence of this policy change in the recent housing market crisis interview with CBC News: “The International Student Program makes extraordinary economic and social contributions to Canada. It contributes tens of billions of dollars to our GDP annually.” He goes on to say that lifting the cap on the number of hours worked off-campus helped students to “contribute to the labour shortage at that time and better equip themselves with what they need to take care of themselves in the community.”  

Certainly, most students, driven by the pressing reality of heightened costs, living expenses, rent, and tuition fees gravitated to maximizing the number of hours they dedicated to off-campus employment.  

To gain more insights on this issue, I spoke to several students at the University of Regina. A senior in the Faculty of Business expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of extended work hours. They shared that, “The ability to work more hours off-campus provides me with a means to cover my expenses more comfortably. It’s a practical step towards self-sufficiency.”  

In contrast, a third-year political science student sounded a note of caution. “While the freedom to work more hours is appealing, I’ve seen friends who are spreading themselves thin. Juggling academics and longer work hours isn’t as seamless as it sounds.” They added that, “It’s essential that we don’t lose sight of the essence of our education.” It’s evident that if a student focuses 30-40 hours a week, it’s difficult to give a definite answer whether they will be able to maintain the pre-requisites of a study permit, which boils down to maintaining full-time students’ status.  

The potential scenario where students can no longer uphold a full-time course load or are compelled to withdraw from their studies due to the overwhelming demands of extended off-campus work holds significant implications. This unintended consequence, if realized, threatens to reverse the initial intentions of this policy as it might inadvertently curtail students’ ability to fully engage in their academic journey. 

We thus once again come face to face with this pivotal query: are the benefits derived from prolonged work hours worth it if they come at the cost of students’ ability to wholeheartedly pursue their education? While this is a multifaceted issue, it is important to openly talk about the prospects and challenges that it brings along.  

The resounding answer should be a rallying cry for a balanced approach. It’s not just recognizing the freedoms that this policy brings, but also acknowledging the responsibilities it places on students’ shoulders. The onus is on academic institutions as well to support students’ well-being and holistic education.  

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