The Liberal government is lifting the limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work off-campus each week in an effort to address Canada's labour shortage.
The pilot project will run from Nov. 15, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2023, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Friday.
International students in Canada who are authorized to work off-campus under the terms of their study permits previously were limited to 20 hours of paid work outside their studies for each week class was in session. These students could work full-time during scheduled breaks.
"I don't expect that every international student is going to suddenly start working full-time hours," Fraser said. "It's going to give them the flexibility to do so and it's going to help employers tap into a new pool of labour."
Fraser estimated around 500,000 students would be eligible for the program.
WATCH | International students permitted to work more than 20 hours a week:
Student, labour groups welcome 'first step'
Advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said in a press release Friday it has been organizing against the 20-hour work limit since international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu was arrested for working too many hours outside school in 2019 and eventually removed from the country under what CBSA calls an "exclusion order," which banned him from returning for one year.
"Today's announcement isn't about labour shortage. It's about labour mobility," the alliance's organizer Sarom Rho said in a statement.
Christian Fotang, chair of the board of directors for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, told CBC News the change is a welcome "first step."
"Groceries are going up. Textbooks are going up. And especially for international students, their tuition has been skyrocketing more than their domestic counterparts," Fotang said.
"Increasing these work hours allows them to earn more while they're studying and also provides them the opportunity to gain more work experience."
Fotang said he would like to see more changes beyond the temporary pilot program. He called on Ottawa to reduce barriers for international students seeking social insurance numbers and to recognize educational extracurricular work experience under the federal government's express entry program.
Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan said in an email statement the Liberal announcement is "common sense," adding the Conservative Party called for the 20-hour cap to be lifted earlier this year.
"Today's announcement by no means will solve Canada's labour shortage crisis," Hallan said. "This government needs to clear the Liberal-made backlog, let newcomers contribute to Canada's economy and get the affordability crisis under control."
Vacancies up, unemployment down
Job vacancies reached a record high in the first quarter of 2022, according to Statistics Canada. The health-care, social assistance, construction and manufacturing sectors were hit especially hard.
Rising vacancies combined with a shrinking supply of unemployed workers is posing hiring challenges for many businesses.
The labour shortage is being driven in part by Canadians aged 55 and older exiting the workforce faster than young people can replace them, economists told CBC.
In the mandate letter sent by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Fraser late last year, Trudeau called on the minister to "build on existing pilot programs to further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities."
Fraser also announced the introduction of an automatic approval process for students seeking study permit extensions. Any applications that are denied will be reviewed by a human agent.