The Canadian Federation of Students is calling on the government to waive the 20-hour work limit for international students as inflation in the country reaches a 30-year high.
Rising costs – including rent, bills, tuition fees and food – have left some international students unable to afford basic necessities.
Leena Daboo is an international student from Mauritius and vice president of finance and administration at the University of Prince Edward Island’s student union. She said that international students have been left to choose between “paying their rent and not going homeless, or buying food”.
Daboo oversees the distribution of emergency funds at her university, an initiative first launched to support students during the Covid-19 pandemic. She added they decided to continue to program due to concerns over spiralling costs.
“It is very awful to see that some students don’t even have winter clothes. They don’t have blankets,” said Daboo. “They don’t have money to afford these things because they have to buy books.”
The Toronto Star newspaper reported increased demand for food banks among international students last week. International students in Canada are restricted to working 20 hours per week while also paying significantly higher tuition fees than domestic students.
Research from the Canadian Federation of Students found that, in autumn 2021, international undergraduate students paid an average of $33,623 in tuition fees, more than five times the amount paid by Canadian students.
“They have to pay more tuition by working fewer hours,” said Bipin Kumar, international students representative at the Canadian Federation of Students.
A 2020 survey of international students in Canada found that 80% of respondents were concerned about their ability to pay for their education. Kumar highlighted that some students have been left with no choice but to illegally work cash jobs in order to afford their bills, leaving them open to exploitation by employers.
In April 2020, the Canadian government temporarily waived the 20-hour work limitation for international students whose jobs provide an “essential service” in response to the pandemic, but this expired in August 2020.
“If that’s allowed within the time of the pandemic, we don’t understand why… you can’t allow it when people are facing [rising] costs of living and housing prices,” said Kumar.
The 352,000 international students living in Canada provide a significant boost to the country’s economy, contributing $22.3bn in 2018. Sean Fraser, the Canadian minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship last week commented on the “essential role” international students play in Canada.
The Indian National Students Association in the UK has warned that students could soon face the same financial problems there as the cost of living continues to rise.
“I think the pinch will be felt in April,” said Kishore Dattu, spokesperson for INSA UK, referring to looming rises in both energy prices and national insurance. However, Dattu said that the majority of INSA’s members are coping at the moment due to the strength of the UK job market.
In Canada, Kumar said he wants to see the government doing more to help, including waiving the 20-hour work limitation. Meanwhile, Daboo advised international students to contact their universities if they are struggling.
“It is just really sad to see that inflation leaves students, especially international students, with a choice of either not eating or not going homeless,” she said.
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