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Minister was warned lifting international student work limit could undermine program



Documents obtained through an access-to-information request reveal that public servants warned former immigration minister Sean Fraser about the potential consequences of lifting the international student work limit, a policy eventually implemented by the Liberals. The caution emphasized that allowing international students to work more than 20 hours a week could divert their focus from studies and undermine the objectives of temporary foreign worker programs.


While acknowledging that waiving the restriction could address labor shortages, the internal memo cautioned against the unintended consequences. It highlighted concerns that an increased emphasis on work might detract from the primary goal of international students—studying. Additionally, there was a risk of circumventing temporary foreign worker programs, raising program integrity concerns within the international student program.


The scrutiny of Canada's expansive international student program, a focal point in the broader critique of Liberal immigration policies, prompted the federal government to introduce a cap on study permits over the next two years. The program's growth has been staggering, with over 900,000 foreign students having visas last year, more than three times the number a decade ago. Critics have raised alarms about enrollment in dubious post-secondary institutions and questioned whether the program serves as a backdoor to permanent residency.


The memo highlighted the stark contrast between removing the limit for off-campus work and the requirements of temporary foreign worker programs. The latter demands employers to demonstrate the necessity of hiring a migrant worker when no Canadian or permanent resident is available for the job.


Despite the warnings, Fraser announced in October 2022 that the federal government would waive the restriction until the end of 2023 to address labor shortages across the country. The waiver was limited to students already in the country or those who had applied, avoiding an incentive for foreign nationals to obtain study permits solely for work purposes.


Immigration Minister Marc Miller extended the policy until April 30, 2024, and suggested the possibility of setting the cap at 30 hours a week thereafter. In an interview, Miller expressed concern about impacting students' financial arrangements in the middle of an academic year. He emphasized that over 80% of international students currently work more than 20 hours a week.


While Miller justified the temporary waiver in response to labor shortages, he emphasized that it was never intended to be permanent. Job vacancies, which exceeded a million in the second quarter of 2022, have decreased as the economy slowed. Miller is now contemplating a permanent change to the cap, aiming for a balance between providing students with work experience and financial support without compromising their studies.


As discussions continue, Miller emphasized the need to determine a reasonable number of hours, considering the substantial financial burden borne by international students. The goal is to strike a balance that exceeds the current 20-hour limit but ensures students can manage their academic commitments effectively.


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