TMU students welcome temporary removal of international student work limit

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By Aditi Roy

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) international students expressed excitement over the temporary removal of the international student work limit.

Starting Nov. 15, the federal government will lift the previous 20-hour-per-week work limit for international students on off-campus work while classes are in session, according to the government’s press release

The removal of the limit, in effect until December 2023, is to combat the labour shortage the country is facing, according to the press release.

Second-year accounting and finance international student Pavit Sethi said he is pleased by the change. 

“I would love to work more than 20 hours; I could work for more time to spend on expenses.” 

Riya Shah, an international student in her second year of law and business, said the change is helpful especially because of high international student tuition fees. 

“It’s going to be a major help to cut down on our living expenses and other costs which we pay by ourselves.” 

International student tuition at TMU can range from $31,749 to $38,472, according to TMU’s website. Domestic tuition fees for students range from $7,050 to $11,986. 

First-year master’s in digital media student Sarosh Chopra said as an international student himself, the change offers all international students a great opportunity to get ahead. “[We can] earn more money, get more experience and be on a fair playing field with local students.”

Usha George, the academic director of the TMU Centre for Immigration and Settlement said the change can prevent students from being exploited for working long hours with no protections.

“Many of the students [work] more than 20 hours and their employers exploit them,” George said. “This change removes the under-the-table discussions and allows them to gain good work experience with protections.” 

One Voice Canada, a non-profit organization that focuses on bridging gaps between the local communities and international students, said labour exploitation is seen as a common issue among international students, according to their website.

In a 2021 study from the organization, 25 per cent of the requests for assistance from international students were related to labour exploitation. 

Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, an immigration and settlement professor at TMU, said international students often work more as they have increased expenses—such as paying for English language lessons.

 “So, of course, they will try to work longer hours,” she said.  “That could jeopardize both their health and wellbeing and possibly also their academic performance. But the thing is that if we don’t give them the opportunity to work more than 20 hours, then they are going to be really struggling.”

A 2022 Academica Forum study found that almost 80 per cent of respondents said they were “concerned” or “very concerned” about paying for their education; while 55 per cent of Canadian international students who responded were at risk of developing depression while 50 per cent were at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. 

“Oftentimes, their families have made big investments, meaning they need to work to survive here,” said Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at TMU.

While some students and faculty members expressed excitement, the decision to temporarily lift the 20-hour work limit was also met with criticism. 

“I am a bit worried. Many students will definitely jump at this opportunity, but how will they manage to balance their jobs with their academic work?” said George.

John Shields, a TMU professor and expert in immigration and settlement said international students aren’t getting the support they need. “We have an obligation to these students,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be using them for economic advantage—we need to give back and make sure that they’re being supported.” 

He said allowing students to access settlement services and receive the help they need for free would be a good place to start.  

George advised that the community should focus on “giving them adequate information and orientation to Canadian life and work.” 

Ali also stressed the importance of offering more language support, urging more initiatives to teach academic English and not just conversational English. “We need to ensure students are able to write and communicate in academic English which is what they are going to need in university. Casual spoken English is not sufficient for the work we assign,” she said.

Although Sethi said he hopes for more support for international students like himself, he said the temporary removal is a step in the right direction and gives him and other students the chance to be independent. 

“Everyone knows taking out your own expenses by yourself is a very great feeling for you. You just left your home country and now you’re dependent on yourself, and I feel pretty proud now that I can do that.”

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