International students studying in New Brunswick along with the province’s business community say they hope the federal government will increase the number of hours they are permitted to work each week.
They fear Ottawa will reimpose the 20-hours-per-week limit that was temporarily waived in November 2022 to address a Canada-wide labour shortage.
Jovial Orlachi Osundu, president of the international student association at the Université de Moncton, said many students have benefited from the policy change, which allowed them to work more.
“The cost of life in Canada has increased, so they also need to increase the number of hours,” she said.
The temporary policy currently waives the limit on the number of hours international students can work off-campus.
The policy was recently extended to April 30, after initially being set to expire at the end of 2023. The federal government said in a December news release that it is considering raising the limit to 30 hours per week.
“We 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,” the release said.
‘There are people who are capable’
Karelle Bohoua, a business administration student at the Université de Moncton, took advantage of the waived cap to pick up extra shifts at her part-time job at the Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.
Set to graduate this year, Bohoua has worked at the reception desk, as an administrative assistant and as a COVID screener for up to 30 hours per week.
“The role that I had gave me experience, it allowed me to enter the workforce,” she said in French. “Since the cost of living is heightened, it allows me to meet my needs and to get experience.”
Bouhoua, who is originally from the Ivory Coast, said she was able to balance her full-time course load and extracurricular activities with working more hours. She thinks the government should continue to allow students to have that option.
“There are people who are capable of working more than 20 hours, but with the restriction they can’t. And employers refuse to employ them, because it’s not in their favour to take a person who can work just 20 hours,” she said.
New requirements for international students
A series of new requirements for international students went into effect at the beginning of this year.
Prospective students now need to show proof of access to $20,635 in funds, up from $10,000, in addition to paying for travel and tuition. It is a one-time requirement when applying for a student visa.
Osundu said even with that requirement, some international students are struggling with limited financial support from parents and high rents because of Moncton’s housing crisis.
She said some international students in master’s degree programs are also parents, with children to support while completing their studies.
“We need to give more credit and trust to international students to remember that they are firstly here for studies,” Osundu said.
She said students also face an uncertain future and need to save money when they can.
Business community pushing for change
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton is also calling on the federal government not to re-impose the cap of 20 hours per week and instead consider permanently raising the number of hours international students can work.
In New Brunswick’s largest city, these students fill hundreds of jobs, primarily in retail and restaurants.
John Wishart, the chamber’s executive director, said the region is facing an acute labour shortage and international students are helping to fill that gap.
“It gives international students an opportunity to taste the local business market, and sometimes relationships are made and it could end up being a full-time job after graduation,” he said.
In the Moncton region, 70 per cent of businesses are having trouble finding skilled labour, according to a survey by the chamber at the end of 2023.
Wishart said the service sector, including big box stores, restaurants and hotels, is “desperate” for labour, and they’ve leaned on international students to work beyond 20 hours a week. He said a 30-hour-a-week cap would be reasonable for the federal government to test out.
“You walk into a lot of retail establishments … and it doesn’t take you long to realize that international students and newcomers in general are really what is keeping the doors open,” he said.
Helps with recruitment
At Crandall University in Moncton, international enrolment has grown to just under 50 per cent of the student body, or about 700 students.
Chris Robb, the vice-president for enrolment management, said the ability for international students to work helps with recruiting and retaining students.
“They’re looking to gain Canadian work experience while they’re studying, so for us, having the ability for our students to work is a huge advantage.”
Robb said students are also looking for financial relief to help cover tuition and the cost of living, even with the new financial requirements to get a student visa.
Most of Crandall’s international students are older and enrolled in graduate programs, so they already have experience balancing work, life, studies and family.
Robb said faculty reminds and encourages students that their primary focus is their studies and a job should revolve around their university schedule.
“The ability to get out and work is quite valuable to them, and they’re able to balance quite well with their studies while they’re with us,” he said.
“We do hope that [the government] will allow for some flexibility so students can maintain the amount of hours they are working.”