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Is the Public Policy allowing International Students to work full-time off-campus cruel?

Updated: Feb 23

On November 25, 2023, I had a chance to speak with Rob Fai from Vancouver's 980 CKNW "Weekends with Rob Fai" about the public policy allowing some international students to work full-time. You can listen to the episode here.


Initial Public Policy - October 7, 2022

Who:

International Students who are normally authorized to work 20 hours per week off-campus and who submitted their study permit or study permit extension application on or before October 7, 2022

What:

Permitted to work more than 20 hours a week off-campus from November 15, 2022, until December 31, 2023, while actively pursuing full-time studies.

In Force

November 15, 2022

Ends

April 30, 2024 (extension announced on December 8, 2023 - was previously set to end December 31, 2023)

Public Policy Extension - December 7, 2023

Who:

International Students who are normally authorized to work 20 hours per week off-campus and who are already in Canada or who submitted their study permit or study permit extension application on or before December 7, 2023

What:

Permitted to work more than 20 hours a week off-campus from December 7, 2023, until April 30, 2024

In Force:

December 7, 2023

Ends

April 30, 2024

On October 7, 2022, IRCC announced a new public policy for eligible international students. Prior to that date, eligible international students were limited to working off-campus a maximum of 20 hours per week during the regular academic year. The temporary policy which came into effect on November 15, 2022, was set to end on December 31, 2023. It permitted eligible international students whose applications were received on or before October 7, 2022, to work unlimited hours off-campus, until December 31, 2023. This temporary public policy allowed eligible full-time international students to work full-time without a work permit during regular academic sessions.


On December 7, 2023, IRCC announced a temporary extension of the public policy for eligible international students. International students already in Canada, as well as applicants who had already submitted an application for a study permit as of December 7, 2023, will be able to work off campus more than 20 hours per week until April 30, 2024. IRCC says they "continue to examine options for this policy in the future, such as expanding off-campus work hours for international students to 30 hours per week while class is in session." However, students should not rely on this public policy being extended beyond April 30, 2024.


The Federal government claimed that the policy was being instituted to "provide many international students with a greater opportunity to gain valuable work experience in Canada." They also explained that it was being instituted to address Canada's labour shortage by increasing the "availability of workers to sustain Canada’s post-pandemic growth." Of note, international students, unlike foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (those with LMIA-based work permits) are not subject to the median prevailing wage requirements.


Many international students understandably celebrated the announcement and are advocated for its extension beyond December 31, 2023. The cost of living in Canada has skyrocketed making it hard for those in Canada to pay for basic necessities. Covering the costs of daily survival in addition to the ever increasing exorbitant tuition being charged to international students ($57,000+ for one year of tuition for a Bachelor's degree at some universities) is prohibitive for most. Many students need to work more than 20 hours per week in order to pay for food and rent as well as the cost of their tuition.


Though some argue that international students should have been aware of the cost of living in Canada prior to applying to study in Canada, few could have foreseen the post-pandemic cost increases. Many students also do not know where to look for up-to-date and realistic information about the cost of living in Canada, and many schools do not provide this information. Schools in Canada have taken advantage of international students, happily taking ever-increasing tuition fees, while failing to to provide the information and support students require to know whether they can actually afford to live in Canada. This is exacerbated by the fact that schools pay substantial commissions to "Education Agents" who recruit students. The commissions often represents a percentage of the student's tuition, though the commission structure and commission rates varies by school. Paying commission for student recruitment, incentivizes agents to push students to schools they cannot afford with unrealistic promises about what they can expect in Canada.


In their December 7, 2023, announcement, IRCC also announced that starting January 1, 2024, the cost-of-living financial requirement for study permit applicants will be raised annually. It will now be tied to the low-income cut-off (LICO). For 2024, a study permit applicant who is single, will have to prove they have $20,635 CAD, representing 75% of the LICO, in addition to their first year tuition and travel costs. This change will apply to study permit applications received by IRCC on or after January 1, 2024. Though students will now have to prove they have more available funds prior to coming to Canada, they will still need to be able to support themselves while in Canada.


Unfortunately, though many international students need the additional hours of work to help cover the cost of living and though Canadian employers would like access to this large potential work force, neither of these facts make this a good public policy.


In order to comply with the terms of their study permits, students must:

  1. Be enrolled at a Designated Learning Institute (DLI);

  2. Be actively pursuing studies;

  3. Comply with any additional terms listed on their study permit.

If the conditions of their study permit and their program of study allows for it, students are normally permitted to work up to 20 hours per week off-campus during the regular school year and full-time during regularly scheduled academic breaks. Students cannot work before their studies begin or after they have been advised that they have met the requirements to graduate.


Many students did not understand that the public policy only applied to those whose study permit applications were received on or before October 7, 2022. Many also didn't understand that the public policy only permitted full-time work to those who were already permitted to work based on the terms of their study permit. Some did not understand that though they were authorized to work full-time, they still had to comply with the terms of their study permit, including the requirement to be enrolled at a Designated Learning Institute and actively pursuing studies. Failing to comply with the terms of their study permit or engaging in unauthorized work could have severe consequences for students, including on their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP).


To qualify for a post-graduation work permit, in addition to meeting the general eligibility requirements, students must have maintained full-time student status during each academic session (except in certain circumstances during their last academic semester). What is considered "full-time status" is determined by each individual school. Students must also apply for a PGWP within 180 days of meeting the requirements to graduate.


Unfortunately, some students, not knowing the PGWP requirement of having maintained full-time status for the duration of their studies, will have decreased their course load in order to be able to work more hours under the public policy thus rendering themselves ineligible for a PGWP. Other students, who were not eligible under the public policy, but who worked full-time hours, worked without authorization, will have to wait 6-months after ceasing the unauthorized work in order to be eligible for a work permit. Having to wait 6 months may place them outside the 180-day window to apply for a PGWP.


Without a PGWP, many students will not be able to gain the required Canadian work experience or points for Canadian work experience required to qualify for permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Canadian work experience gained while pursuing full-time studies or which was not authorized is not eligible for either comprehensive ranking system (CRS) points or to meet the Canadian work experience requirement under CEC.


In sum, I hate this policy because it will result in some students:

  1. Engaging in unintentional unauthorized work;

  2. Decreasing their course load to work full-time, disqualifying themselves from a PGWP;

  3. Not being eligible for PR under Express Entry because they were not able to obtain eligible Canadian work experience;

Like many immigration lawyers I have been firmly against this public policy since it was first announced and I am hopeful that the public policy will not be extended. If the Federal government chooses to extend this policy, I would hope that they would also make changes to the requirements for a PGWP. I would also hope that they reconsider the requirements for CRS points and CEC eligibility under Express Entry for those students who do both work and study full-time so that students who make use of this public policy are not then unfairly punished.


*December 7, 2023


*October 7, 2022





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