Toronto, March 10, 2022 – Labour, immigration and student advocates joined current and former international students (Migrant Student Workers) today to raise the alarm about challenges faced by the 778,560 migrant student workers in Canada.
“Migrant student workers in and out of school face a crisis, they can’t work more than 20 hours while on study permits even as tuition fees are high; and once they’ve graduated they can’t renew their work permits or get the few jobs that allow them to apply for permanent residency,” says Sarom Rho, organizer at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “The federal government should be making their work permits renewable, removing the 20 hour work limit and ensuring permanent resident status for all, but instead they have cut in half the number of spots available to get permanent residency.”
Post-graduate work permits were made renewable in 2021 but the short-term policy change ended in July 2021 leaving thousands in the lurch.
This includes Minzi, a former international student in Toronto, and member of Migrant Students United who has been in Canada for fourteen years. “It was hard to find a job that qualifies for permanent residency because of the pandemic. I worked as a server for two years just to make ends meet, I was an essential worker who kept working when others didn’t, and now my permit is expiring and I may be forced to leave the country after all these years. Everyday I wake up with crippling anxiety, we are being exploited for economic interest, it’s almost as if we are not allowed to breathe.”
In a surprising move, the federal government slashed the Express Entry (Federal High Skilled) path from 110,500 to 55,900 spots in February for 2022 and 2023. This stream most commonly used by migrant student workers means that tens of thousands will be forced to leave Canada or become undocumented.
Jennifer Scott, President, Gig Workers United organizes app-based gig workers in the GTA, many of whom are migrant student workers. She says, “Gig workers are denied basic employment rights by our uber-rich employers, and to make matters worse, this work experience is not considered good enough to get permanent residency in Canada. Workers need to have the power to speak and protect themselves, but without permanent residency many fear asserting their rights, permanent resident status is necessary for workers to have an equal voice.”
Challenges faced by migrant student workers begin even earlier while they are still in school. Migrant student workers are also calling for removal of the 20 hour work limit.
“International tuition has gone up seven time higher than domestic tuition, even as COVID-19 has meant that families around the world have less money to support their loved ones. Migrant student workers want to work to pay the bills but are limited to 20 hour of work per week,” explained Bipin Kumar, International Students’ Commissioner, Canadian Federation of Students – National. “As a result, many students are either facing immense poverty and stress; or they are working more than 20 hours and then being exploited by bad bosses.”
Savitri Sinanan is a student at George Brown College. She says, “I’ve been doing menial jobs, earning minimum wage with no benefits or paid sick days, being abused, exploited, and disrespected by employers and employees in order to survive and pay these fees. Right now, my heart is like a freezer, I am numb to pain and I question everything. Most of the time I feel confused, frustrated, neglected, unwanted, by just existing. We should get permanent residency, or at least renewable work permits, all our work must be counted, and we should be able to work as many hours as we need to pay our bills – this is the bare minimum.”
Thousands of migrant student workers have already signed a petition directed at Prime Minister Trudeau calling for fairness: https://migrantworkersalliance.org/msufairness/.
- As of December 31, 2020, there were a total of 778,560 study permit holders and post-graduate work permit holders in Canada – making them the largest group of temporary migrants in the country.
- To qualify for permanent residence through this program, migrant student workers must complete at least 1 year of high-waged work.
- This work must be completed before their non-renewable permits expire. Permits vary in length from 8 months to 3 years.
- In 2021, in light of COVID-19, the federal government made these post-graduate work permits renewable, a move that stopped the deportation of 52,000 people but the temporary program has expired. However, with the economy just re-opening, many thousands of others have not been able to complete their requirements.
- International student tuition increased 7.25% in 2020, while domestic student tuition increased by 1.65%.
- Migrant student workers in public institutions face restrictions on their study permits and can only work 20 hours per week off-campus.
- With high tuition fees and limited income, many international students work past the 20 hour limit, forcing them to work under the table, which opens them up to labour exploitation.
- 60% of study permit holders worked and paid taxes according to StatsCan.
Sarom Rho, 416-887-8315, email@example.com, Migrant Students United