International students may be the solution

Changes to the 20-hour work limit may solve the labour crisis


By Marilyn Reichert and Aishwarya Singh

The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has refocused attention to the ongoing labour shortage in the hospitality and tourism industry in the province.

Some believe that international students have the potential to take on work to fill that shortage but are restricted by federal government work regulations. 

Although international students are willing to work extra hours to sustain themselves in Canada and enhance their skillset to be prepared for the Canadian job market, they are limited by a study visa with a time limit of 20 hours per week for a part-time job.

Jenny Kwan, NDP member of Parliament for Vancouver East, advocates for the lifting of restrictions on the working hours placed on international student visas.

“It is important for the international students to meet their financial needs while they’re here in Canada, and international students tend to pay a much higher fee in comparison to the domestic students,” Kwan said.

According to Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association, there is a shortage of 30,000 in the food services industry in British Columbia which normally has 190,000 workers. Kwan says that international students studying in Canada could help to fill the gap but are limited to working 20 hours per week on their student visas.

The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training wrote in an emailed statement that they value international students, their skills, talents and the cultural perspectives they bring to the province, but the Government of Canada is responsible for policies.

Unfortunately, the ministry was unable to make anyone available for an interview.

“It’s a big benefit for the Canadian economy because below some segment of the economy, we need flexible labor,” Feng Hou, principal researcher at Statistics Canada said. “For example, tourism, the service industry, where the job tends to be external.”

Increasing hours benefits all

According to Statistics Canada, there are more than 500 international students enrolled in Canadian colleges and universities every year.

 “Since the students are here already, and if they’re ready, willing, and able to work, then I think we should lift those limitations and allow them to work,” Kwan said. “That would not only help the students financially, but it would also help with the worker shortage.”

She said the Canadian government should value the contributions that students have made while studying in Canada.

Jasleen Kaur, a second-year health sciences student, would like to see changes to the hourly restrictions.

“If we are limited to just 20 hours, our basic needs are not met,” Kaur said. “We find it quite difficult to maintain our stay.”

Because of the labour shortage, Karen Lewis, general manager of Grey Line Westcoast Sightseeing, said that they are rethinking their approach to recruitment as well as revisiting wages.

Lewis believes the labour shortage needs can be met by international students.

“When the cruise ship season starts, we will include them. They’re all very keen and enthusiastic and we appreciate the ones I’ve been able to talk to over the last couple months of learning how tourism works in the city,” she said. “So absolutely, they will be a huge part of our workforce in helping welcome guests back.”

Beatrice Fenelon, a communication advisor from the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said, “Limiting off-campus work to 20 hours per week reflects the fact that an international student must focus primarily on their studies.”

Students can work full-time when they are on a scheduled break, such as winter and summer holidays or a fall and spring reading week.

“Students who wish to work more than 20 hours a week while class is in session may apply for a regular work permit on top of their study permit,” Fenelon said. “If they are eligible, as it is possible to hold both a study and work permit at the same time.”

Restaurants feel the effects of worker shortage

Jobs will also be available in hospitality.

“Because of the effects of the pandemic, we’re also looking for cooks, chefs and servers… what we refer to as front of the house and back to the house,” said Tostenson.

He encourages international students to be a part of meeting the labour shortage.

“You’ll learn great people skills, marketing skills, scheduling skills. And money is good too,” said Tostenson.

Stacy Chala, communications manager with the Capilano Group, encourages international students to apply, even as a part time worker.

“It is a super fun industry for people to work in and get to meet people from around the world,” Chala said. “They can showcase why they’re here and why they’re learning and why they’re wanting to be in tourism.”

International students already being overused illegally

Jaswinder Sandhu, a settlement counselor from Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) which is another non-profit organization that assists immigrants, women, and youth said some international students are already working over limited weekly hours for cash.

According to a pre-Covid data assessment by Statistics Canada, 66.6 per cent of international students admitted into Canada had a work permit and 37.1 per cent didn’t have a work permit in 2019.

Amongst the province of destinations on a work permit, B.C. has 46 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest with numbers – 57 per cent.

As of 2022, the numbers in all cases are anticipated to rise post-pandemic.

“It depends upon their qualification,” Sandhu said “They [are] certainly good, but their orientation needs to be done well. They need to have proper training and they need to connect with the Canadian labour market.”

Students also need to have knowledge and skills to meet the Canadian labour market standards. According to Sandhu. those, who go to universities are well qualified and because the subsidies are not available for them, they probably don’t find jobs they want. However, they can bring a big change in the Canadian labour market.



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