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‘I don’t think it’s fair’: International students in Waterloo Region oppose 20-hour weekly work cap

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International students in Waterloo Region are hoping the federal government reconsiders its decision to reintroduce a policy that caps their work at 20 hours per week.

Last November, the government lifted the work hour limit for international students to allow them to work off-campus for up to 40 hours per week during the semester. Before that, they could only work 20 hours per week.

“It scares me,” Harshit Thakrar, a Conestoga College student, said. “It’s already really difficult to manage everything with rent and stuff. The thought that hours are going to be reduced even more – I’m not really sure how everyone is going to manage everything.”

The policy was always set to end on Dec. 31, 2023.  

“The temporary lifting of the 20-hour limit for off-campus work is helping to address Canada’s labour shortage, and provides an opportunity for students to have a fuller workplace experience while they study,” the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said in a statement to CTV News.

International students already pay significantly more for tuition. According to Statistics Canada, they’re typically charged at least five times more than Canadian students. Students say that cost, on top of groceries and other bills, creates financial strain that more work hours help to ease.

“Tuition fees are quite expensive for all of those students who are coming to Canada and I think the government should think about this,” Conestoga College student Rahul Thakur said. “I think [students] should be allowed to work for 40 hours so they can actually pay their rent, and their semester fees.”

Raisa Sultana, a student who moved to Waterloo from India in February, said it took her several months to find a job. After securing part-time employment, it’s still rare for her to punch in enough hours.  

She worries this policy move will make it even harder to get hours.

“As an international student I don’t know what to say. It’s very, very, very hard to save up money for groceries, save up money for your rent, your hydro, your Wi-Fi bills and your phone bills, your credit card bills,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair. Students are not ready – they face a lot when they come to this place and I don’t think this is right.”

IRCC said it’s in the process of assessing the impact that the policy lift has had, including how many international students have taken advantage of it.

“Any new developments would be communicated publicly,” the ministry said.

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