Businesses welcome removal of work restrictions for international students
New policy aims to recover labour shortage, but some students concerned
By Hannah Rowena Mondiwa
Businesses in B.C. see the new international student work policy as an opportunity to fill vacant job postings.
The food and restaurant industry has experienced a large labour shortage. Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association, welcomes the news of the federal government’s decision to remove off-campus work restrictions for international students.
“Our industry is about 30 to 35,000 people short in all positions in our restaurant industry throughout British Columbia, so this is going to help. It’s not going to alleviate the problem, but it’s certainly going to allow us to schedule in more students to help us out, and we could solve the major labour shortage we have right now.”
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Canada is 5.2 per cent while the latest figures for B.C.’s unemployment rate is 4.2 per cent. There are currently 169,280 job vacancies in B.C. and over one million in Canada.
Behind the ongoing labour shortage
Tostenson said that although the pandemic exacerbated the labour shortage in the restaurant and food industry, the main reason for a lack of workers is a change in demographics.
“We’ve had a lot of people leaving the industry just because they’re getting older, especially in kitchens where people are retiring. We have an aging population in British Columbia,” Tostenson said.
Statistics from the 2021 census shows that 19 per cent of Canadians are aged 65 and older. This represents a 2.1 per cent increase in the 2016-2021 period.
The Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced the policy change to deal with an on-going labour shortage in Canada.
Limited time for new policy
On Oct. 7, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced a temporary lift on off-campus work restrictions for international students. From Nov. 15, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2023, international students will have unlimited work hours during school.
Teresa Brooks, associate director, international services at Langara Global, said that as the new policy removing work restrictions has yet to come into effect, it’s not yet clear how it will affect international students.
“However, it is important to note that while the opportunity to gain valuable Canadian work experience can be an effective component of a student’s study abroad experience, focusing on academic achievement must be the priority,” said Brooks.
Mixed feedback from international students
According to Studyinbc.com, British Columbia is home to nearly 188,000 post-secondary international students.
Pedro Soriano Ribeiro, a first-year marketing management student from Brazil, welcomed the news about the new policy with caution.
“Sometimes I work 20 hours a week, and I’m devastated. I have five courses and I know how brutal that can be,” Soriano Ribeiro said.
Gokul Babu, a first-year post degree student in business administration from India, also said he was concerned about the new policy.
“In one case, it’s all good to have a full-time job but for some students, I guess… it feels hard to cope with both the job as well as the studies,” Babu said.
Jenny Kwan, MP for East Vancouver and the NDP critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, said the lifting of restrictions is long overdue.
“It’s a tiny step forward in terms of opening up more recognition of students’ needs. But I think the policy was determined, not so much to meet the needs of the students, but rather to meet the needs of, you know, the industry and Canada’s economic needs.”
Kwan said that despite the new policy there is still a lot of work to be done, including making the temporary initiative permanent.
Babu said he plans to increase his work hours but warns students to be careful about work and school balance.
“I would suggest, students should not like compromise with their studies,” he said.
See below for an interactive look at the numbers of study permit applications in 2022 so far, and the number of jobs vacant in Canada as of Q4 in 2022.
International students like Pedro Soriano Ribeiro and others will find new balance on their school and work time.