By Upkar Singh
Nikhil Sehgal saw his Canadian dream dying when he struggled to find a part-time job as an international student. This became a realization for the business student after he made the 11, 356 kilometer trek from Punjab to Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont.
“Finding a part-time job was very tough because everyone was hiring full-time and we could only work for 20 hours per week,”
The 21-year-old says he used to work for 16 hours with two shifts per week too but the downside to that was nobody will call you to work for only two hours on the third day. He was earning $16 per hour.
Inflation rose to 8.1 per cent in June last year, and Seghal said that considering this, the average income international students earn in a month is even less than what’s on their paycheck. He said this made him depressed, and isolated and he was worried about his expenses with no loved ones by his side.
“All these things impact on how your brain is focussing on studies,” he said.
But a new rule announced by Immigration Minister Sean Fraser now means that international students like Sehgal will be able to work full-time hours. This rule will take effect in December.
This new rule will mean international students like Seghal and the ones eagerly awaiting approval to study in Canada, will be able to support themselves financially and will be able to focus on studying without the stress of worrying about how they can juggle paying rent, buying food and living abroad.
The number of international students in the country has been steadily increasing since 2010, according to Statistics Canada. In 2022, there were 360,000 study permit applications from students who live in India wanting to study in Canada. That figure was 55 percent more than the previous year.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said that removing the 20-hour cap will not only boost the Canadian economy and address the labour shortage but also allow international students to gain Canadian work experience and open doors to the workforce.
The minimum wage in Ontario is $15.50 per hour. On a 20-hour limit, this allows international students to make approximately $1,000 a month. With Ontario being the most expensive province for international students, it’s just not enough to survive.
Lovepreet Kaur, a Wireless Networking student at Loyalist College in North York, said that lifting the 20-hour rule relieved her mental stress.
“I was falling into depression because of my expenses. It’s very hard to manage all my finances together,” Kaur said. “Some will say this rule won’t allow us students to focus on our studies but they need to understand that we are getting financial stability which will help us to focus more.”
For international students right now most part-time jobs offer shifts of eight hours. But international students are only permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours per week which means, on a good week they can only work two shifts a week of eight hours.
Taranpreet Makkar, an Electrical Engineering student at Humber College said working more than 20 hours a week allowed him to find a better job. Makkar is now working as a supervisor at Odd Burger Brampton.
“Personally, it has benefited me a lot by helping me manage my expenses,” he said, adding that now that the students can work more, the students who work for cash won’t be exploited.“Now they can choose their employer, a good job.”
Working full-time will help international students’ shift their mental health. According to a survey by National Institute on Mental Health and Substance Abuse (NIHAS), students who study and live abroad experience a distinct set of stressors and barriers that can increase their risk of suicide: 14 per cent of the international students surveyed said they were going to commit suicide and two percent of the cases surveyed had financial stress during the time they attempted suicide.
Gurmeet Sohi, a financial advisor for international students at Canfin Financial Group in Toronto, said the rule enables many employers to employ students on legal terms instead of giving jobs on cash which is illegal.Students who used to work on cash will now turn towards working under a Social Insurance Number.
“It has advantages for both the students, as well as for the country because we have an employment shortage,” Sohi said. “This actually fills that void we have in the economy.”
Angad Singh Handa, a student on the board of directors of IGNITE at Humber College said that lifting the limit of working hours will help thousands of international students. He said now students can pay their rent and have a sustainable income.
“It is easier for them to focus on other things now and be stress-free,” Handa said.
For Sehgal, the new rule will change his life for the better. He says by working more he can pay tuition fees and won’t have to bother his parents for money and that means a less stressful studying experience.
“If my financial condition is going well, I can focus more on studies,” he said. “The only thing that gave me relief about this new rule was that now there will be no pressure on my mind about money. I think this new rule will impact me positively not only on my financial conditions but on my mental health too.”