Isabella Baralt, international student from Venezuela, is one of the many benefit by the increase of working hours for international students. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

The Canadian government announced on Oct. 7 that it will temporarily extend the hours that international students can work off-campus to combat labour shortages.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the new rules take effect on Nov. 15 and will boost sectors facing severe labour shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Prior to the announcement, international students could only work a maximum of 20 hours per week at off-campus jobs or otherwise risk losing their student visa.

Isabella Baralt, a third-year student from Venezuela at St. Thomas University, works three jobs — both on- and off-campus — so she can study in Canada. She said on two occasions, her jobs had issues scheduling her shifts due to the previous limitation.

“It was hard to schedule me since they had to count every minute,” said Baralt. ”[On one occasion], I had to cut work hours because I would be over 20.” 

She believes the change is a good thing as it might give more flexibility for employers to hire international students. But Baralt is also critical of the new rules, noting that it’s upsetting for her to see international students used as “pawns” to boost the Canadian economy. 

“We are international students, not international workers. We are here to study and it is crazy that [politicians] think we will keep the economy up,” she said. 

Baralt calls on the Canadian government to support international students in return for them covering for Canadian workers, suggesting increases in the chances to get student loans for tuition expenses.

Ana Cañarte, a third-year student from Ecuador and Colombia at STU, said it is tempting to overwork herself because her income is insufficient to cover her expenses. But she admits the 20-hour limit prevented her from working too much and instead focused on school.  

“I am afraid that I am dedicating all my free time to work, which is not why I came here. I want to experience university as a regular student, explore myself and not be working all the time,” said Cañarte. 

Just like Baralt, Cañarte said that it is unfair for the Canadian government to depend on international students to lift the economy.

“It is a lot of pressure saying that international students will help fix this labour shortage,” she said.

Due to her commitments to work and school, Cañarte sometimes experiences burnout. The best advice she gives to other students is to practice self-care and have a day of the week for themselves. 

Alberto Chávez, a second-year student from Ecuador, said he hated the 20-hour per week limit because it made him anxious about losing his student permit if he accidentally went over it.

“I’ve heard countless stories of students who had more hours and had been deported from Canada,” he said. “I needed more hours, but I was scared that employers would add more hours into my shifts, which would affect my status here.”

Chávez believes employers will now ask their international workers to work more hours, which he thinks is an excellent opportunity for international students to take the lead.

“I believe that if there is a good communication space between the two parties, it can be an awesome deal,” he said.