International students studying in Canada are now eligible to work more hours off campus as the country continues to grapple with labour shortages, according to the country’s immigration minister.
Starting Nov. 15, a previous limit of 20 hours per week that eligible students enrolled in full-time studies were allowed to work off campus will no longer apply, Sean Fraser said during a news briefing in Ottawa Friday.
The temporary measures will remain in place until the end of 2023, he said.
“Through this change, the cap has been lifted. There’s not an upper limit,” Fraser told reporters at a coffee shop near the University of Ottawa campus.
This will help sustain Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic growth and provide a boost to employers in sectors that are particularly facing severe labour shortages, Fraser said.
In addition, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is also rolling out a new pilot program to help automate the processing of applications to extend study permits.
However, no applications will be automatically rejected under this program, Fraser said, adding only immigration officers can do that.
“This pilot is actually going to free up our officers to focus their efforts on more complex applications and continue to help reduce immigration backlogs.”
The announcement comes as visa delays have affected thousands of international students, with many in limbo before the start of the academic year.
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More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration applications to come to Canada continue to face processing delays.
However, the IRCC is projecting wait times will reduce in the coming months.
While travel restrictions – that are now lifted – and other constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as updating aging technology, have caused long delays, a record number of applications and the war in Ukraine this year have added to the inventory backlog, according to the government.
By the end of August this year, the IRCC had processed more than 452,000 study permit applications, which Fraser said is an all-time record.
“It’s clear that we’re speeding up this processing, but we know that we can do even better as more international students set their sights on Canada as a top destination,” he said.
To address the massive backlogs, the IRCC announced a hiring spree in August to bring 1,250 new employees on board by the end of the fall.
The federal government also announced in August that foreign nationals whose work permit expired or will expire between Sept. 20, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022 can continue to work in Canada for an additional 18 months.
To increase transparency, Fraser had earlier announced that the department will also provide monthly updates on the number of applications in-process, completed and those that have exceeded the service standard time.
The decision to extend work hours for international students was welcomed by advocates, who have been calling on the federal government to scrap the rule.
“Removing the limit on hours of work while studying gives migrant student workers the power to leave bad jobs, speak up against exploitation and mistreatment, and freedom and flexibility to make decisions about their work,” said Sarom Rho, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“It’s a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done for migrant student workers, particularly those who have been excluded, this change must be made permanent,” she said in a statement Friday.