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International students break study permit restrictions to work

Students are taking more shifts than legally permitted out of necessity
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The Centre for International Experience. Wyatt Clough/THE VARSITY
The Centre for International Experience. Wyatt Clough/THE VARSITY

International students’ tuition is higher than it has ever been, with 10 per cent of international students receiving less than 10 per cent of their tuition in financial aid. Regardless of their financial situation, these students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours off-campus. 

Miranda Cheng, director of the Centre for International Experience (CIE), said that in the 2012–2013 school year, U of T awarded 1,600 international students a total of 4.95 million dollars in financial aid. This amounts to less than $4,000 dollars per person for only 10 per cent of the year’s international students.

Currently, the only way for an international student to exceed the 20-hour limit is through a loophole in the wording of the law itself. The law states that they are prohibited from working over 20 hours off the university campus, but does not specify how many hours they can work on-campus. 

Working students

Aaron*, a recent U of T graduate and international student, worked over 20 hours per week throughout their** university career, since receiving their off-campus work permit in second year. “My choices were either to take extra shifts and sign up for extra work to cover expenses or take out a loan,” they said. “So I chose the former.”

They said that they were nervous filing their taxes after working more hours than permitted, but said that nothing came of it. 

All international students’ study permits restrict the hours they can work during the school year. Their domestic peers face no such restrictions. 

Domestic student Lindsay Champagne worked two jobs throughout university averaging over 20 hours per week, sometimes working as much as 50 hours. 

“Some weeks I would work 30-40 hours,” she explained. “But in order to just afford rent, food, and my phone bill after receiving OSAP, I still had to work a minimum 15 hours a week.”

Aditi* a masters of engineering student from India, came to Toronto to pursue her studies in 2012. At the time, the law stipulated that students had to wait six months to apply for an off-campus work permit. 

“I worked as a waitress and babysitter,” she said. “[By then], I had a work permit but the restaurant I worked at paid me cash because it was easier for the owner to avoid paying taxes.” 

Aditi does not believe that she ever had to work over 20 hours per week, but she does add that, “I don’t think that international students should have [restrictions] considering we all have the same workload.” 

Consequences and resources

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), any breach of a permit can lead to a student being defined as “non-compliant.” If they then do not stop the activities that caused the breach, the Canada Border Services Agency could take action, or their study permit could be made invalid. According to the CIC website, “it may also negatively affect future application made under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its regulations.” 

Cheng notes that there is emergency housing that is available to international students if they find themselves in a dire situation. “The great thing about U of T is the resources,” she said. 

According to Cheng, students can either reach out to the CIE or their individual registrars. “We try to triage the situation so we can ensure the first referral we make will be the final referral.” 

*Name has been changed at student’s request

**This article uses they/their pronouns to refer to individuals that do not identify with gender binaries.