On Campus

Working in Canada for international students

You can hold a job while in school, just don’t expect much else in terms of support

We have an international readership here, and I received some mail the other day from a student hoping to study in Canada.

I am an international student considering education in a college in Toronto. I am also depending on part time jobs to take care of my living expenses. Now that the announcement has been made that recession is over in Canada, is the situation still the same or got better now and how do you expect it to be in the near future. Thanks in advance.

First, let’s talk about working on a student visa. It’s not nearly as difficult as it once was. The extended details can be found at this government website. The short version is that you can always work on campus with no restrictions. For off campus employment, you need to apply for an additional work permit that will allow you to work 20 hours per week during the school year and full-time during breaks and in the summer. I gather that’s a pretty straight-forward application and shouldn’t be a problem. Though as the site says, merely having the permit doesn’t guarantee anyone a job.

Now, I can’t swear that’s going to be enough to support your studies. In fact, once you combine living expenses and tuition the odds that you can earn enough to entirely cover your studies are probably quite slim. I’m not sure if that’s going to be a problem for the student who wrote me in this case, but it’s something that international students need to know. And it leads me around to an interesting point.

Quite a lot of international students are interested in studying here. I suppose that’s a good thing, and reflects well on Canada. But some of the questions they ask about funding, scholarships, and covering their costs suggests that not all international students understand how they are regarded by Canadian institutions and governments. Rightly or wrongly, no one really believes that Canada has an obligation to fund or support the studies of every student who wishes to come here. Those who can pay the full cost of their tuition (without the usual subsidies for domestic students) and also cover their living expenses are welcome to do so – but the idea that society owes people the chance to pursue post-secondary education just doesn’t apply to international students. The very few merit-based scholarships that are available are purely selfish in nature. The hope is that Canada will retain the best and the brightest.

Now in terms of what the economy may be like at this time – I really can’t speculate. People ask me this sort of thing all the time and I never know what to say. Anyone is as capable of reading the news as I am, and thanks to the Internet even international students can read the local news about Toronto if they care to. Supposedly the recession is over, in terms of the financial markets, but that hasn’t relieved the job market yet. Even so, all this macro-level stuff still doesn’t mean much to one individual. Employment for any particular person will still come down to skills, work experience, the very specific job market in the relevant field(s), and so on. So I really don’t know.

I’ve known Canadian students who left the country for schools elsewhere, mainly to pursue professional degrees. In any such case careful research is critical. Something can sound awfully good from half a world away but it may not be as fantastic when you get there. And that sort of situation can be awfully hard to extract yourself from, once you’ve already taken the leap. The same applies to Canada. I encourage international students to do their research very carefully. Foreign study is a very expensive proposition, and one you should be sure about.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.

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