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Opinion: U of T must do more for the employment of international students

Specific career programs, networking, communication should be improved
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CELENE CZARNOTA/THE VARSITY
CELENE CZARNOTA/THE VARSITY

A recent report from Statistics Canada revealed that international students are earning less compared to domestic students after graduation. According to Statistics Canada, this has mainly been caused by “fewer years of pre-graduation work experience and lower levels of pre-graduation earnings.”

The University of Toronto needs to resolve the structural difference between its own international and domestic students — a gap which has caused low-level pre-graduation work experience and low-level pre-graduation earnings. 

Unlike domestic students, international students have relatively weaker ties with local communities, which means that they lack the social capital to help them familiarize themselves with the local employment market. Furthermore, high tuition fees — over $50,000 a year — may force international students to speed up their study in university to slash tuition costs. 

Lastly, and most importantly, several employment restrictions as a result of federal policy may hinder international studentsʼ access to high-quality working experience required by their future job prior to graduation. 

According to federal policy, international students cannot work more than 20 hours a week during their school terms. Due to the pandemic, this restriction was lifted but only for those working in an “essential service or function,” like nursing workers or food suppliers. With such restrictions, it becomes difficult for international students to find an employer content with hiring someone who can only work about half as long as a full-time employee.  

Indeed, as foreigners to this country, international students inevitably enjoy less political rights and social network resources compared to domestic students who have citizenship in Canada. However, as students at the University of Toronto, international students should enjoy the same rights and status as domestic students. 

Also, since international students are now under an inferior condition to domestic students on the employment market, the university should pay more attention and do more work to support them. 

In an email exchange with The Varsity, a spokesperson for the University of Toronto listed several programs and opportunities for international students and alumni. However, most of the programs are actually not specific for international students; they are just ordinary programs provided by career centres. For example, the spokesperson introduced a program called “Career Chats,” which is a flexible chat service provided to all students in the university that holds discussions on the career-related concerns of students.

Also, according to the Toronto Star report, one reason why international students and domestic students have differences on future earning is because “the difference in participation rates… in work-integrated learning (which) provides participating students the benefits of workplace-related skill accumulation and connections to potential employers.” 

Thus, U of T could also prepare work-integrated lessons specifically for international students, so they can at least understand the local culture and make several domestic friends to gain further social capital as well as gain workplace-related skills. 

However, I think that the more critical factor is the lack of opportunities international students have to get to know each other. Alienation may make some international students rely on untrustworthy career agents, or those students may not seek employment opportunities since they do not know how and where to apply for their position or what to even apply for. 

Two big opportunities for U of T students to meet other students on campus are orientation week and club orientation. It should be noted that both of these two opportunities are not organized by the university officially but by student organizations. The university should hold events similar to these and positively involve itself rather than just rely on students.

If U of T were to provide more events — whether college-wide, university-wide, or even department-wide — international students could be more involved in the mainstream university community and establish social networks with locals, which could help international students when they want to seek employment opportunities before or after graduation. 

In addition, the university should provide more publicity on work-integrated lessons and communication events for international students. From my own experience, I rarely received emails publicizing career support programs or lectures for students, and I only came to know about some of the available programs when I interviewed the spokesperson for this article. 

International students are 20 per cent of the composition of undergraduate students and constituted the main part of the income from student fees to the university last year. However, international students receive little support from the university in resolving their employment issues, which are critical to their future. 

An appropriate analogy would be a luxury hotel that is reluctant to give even a bath towel to its VIP customers. Considering that the employment market is expected to shrink after the pandemic, the university should focus more on the job challenges of its international students to help them succeed in the future.

Yixuan Li is a third-year economics and public policy student at New College.