Thousands of international students could help ease the crisis in long-term care homes, food processing and emergency services under new rules announced by the government of Canada.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced April 22 that it would increase the number of hours students may work if their job involves an essential service. Students are usually restricted to working 20 hours a week or less while attending classes. Under the new rule, students in essential services can immediately start working full-time. The rule will last through August 31.
The new rule applies to students working in 10 fields: energy and utilities, information and communications technology, finance, health, food, water, transportation, safety, government and manufacturing. Hundreds of jobs are covered by the new rule; they range from plumbers to personal care assistants to bank tellers.
Students petition to help more
The change follows a plea from some international students who wanted to help out, but were prevented from doing so by the immigration rule capping employment hours. One student wrote to Polestar last week asking how to start a petition that would let her and students like her work more during the crisis.
“Here in Canada, I work as a PSW (personal support work),” she wrote. “I wish I could do more to help, as I also have a nursing degree back in my country, but working only 20 hours a week is not enough. I wish there was a way to request this temporary change.”
The rule change comes as Canada faces critical shortages of workers in key sectors of health care, emergency services and food processing and distribution. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has estimated there are 10,000 staff missing from that province’s health care system. Ontario is relying on volunteers to staff nursing homes and both provinces have asked the federal government to send military personnel to staff long-term care homes.
Hundreds of thousands affected
According to a press release issued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, there were more than 11,000 international students enrolled in health-care programs in 2018. In a press release issued by his office, Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino lauded their contribution to fighting the crisis:
“Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making important contributions as frontline workers in health care and other essential service sectors. We know and value their efforts and sacrifices to keep Canadians healthy and ensure the delivery of critical goods and services.”
There are more than 600,000 international students with a valid permit to study in Canada.
Jacquelyn Hoult is director of knowledge mobilization at the Canadian Bureau for International Education. She write in an email that the rule change is just one example of how the Canadian government has helped international students financially during the crisis. The government also made international students eligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
“The Canadian Bureau for International Education welcomes recent initiatives from the Government of Canada that seek to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 upon international students in Canada. These include allowing international students to work more than twenty hours per week while studying, in the provision of essential services and extending eligibility for the CERB to international students who meet the program criteria. These are important interventions that demonstrate Canada’s commitment to international education.”
Canada exempted some international students when it closed the border to non-essential travellers. Students who had a valid study permit prior to March 18 were allowed to return to Canada. The government has continued to process new study permit applications during the crisis and has extended some application deadlines. It has also changed the rules so that students won’t lose their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit if they are forced to study online because of the COVID-19 crisis.