Finding a job as a student can be overwhelming on top of classes and adjusting to life at university, but for international students in Canada, that process can be a bit more difficult.
Between tuition fees and the high cost of living in Canada, finding work is crucial if you don’t want to rely on student loans and financial aid alone.
The Canadian study permit does allow foreign students to work while in the country, though there are some conditions — like how many hours you can work per week and the type of post-secondary institution you must be enrolled at to be eligible.
As of late last year, the 20-hour-per-week cap on off-campus jobs was temporarily lifted, meaning that international students permitted to work in Canada won't face restrictions concerning off-campus working hours.
Announced by Immigration Minister Sean Fraser as a way to support Canada's current labour shortage, these measures will stay in place until the end of 2023.
It's welcome news for current and future international students, who have flocked to Canadian shores in increasingly large numbers. Reuters reported over 800,000 international students had active student visas in Canada in 2022, a number that's jumped by over 500,000 in the last 10 years.
While studying abroad is an exciting experience, job hunting under a study permit status can be particularly challenging. I was a journalism student at the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) and found myself confused and even outright discouraged at times when applying for jobs.
After having work experience in both retail and office environments, here are five things I wish I had known while applying for jobs as an international student.
Don't let your immigration status discourage you
I started applying for jobs as soon as I started university. It was a shocker to find that TMU’s job portal has separate positions for international students and domestic students. This results in a limited job market, with less than 20 job listings per semester (compared to almost 120 for domestic students).
This could have been attributed to the past limitations that the study permit placed on the number of hours you’re allowed to legally work. As an international student, you can work on campus even if you don't have a work permit, so long as you're enrolled full-time at a qualifying post-secondary institution.
Understand your study permit
When you arrive in Canada for the first time, you will receive a piece of paper along with your stamped visa. That is your Canadian study permit, but the information this document provides on working hours is limited.
The study permit allows you to apply for work, under three mandatory qualifications:
- You need to be a full-time student at a Canadian college, Canadian university or post-secondary institution
- You need to have a valid Canadian study permit
- You need to have a Social Insurance Number (or SIN)
If you meet all of the requirements, there are two types of work you should know about:
- On-Campus Jobs: You can work as many hours as possible, as long as they are not interfering with your school time.
- Off-Campus Jobs: You could work a maximum of 20 hours a week in the past, but the cap has been temporarily lifted until the end of 2023.
I was working with Cineplex off-campus before the pandemic. Before signing the contract, I let the HR Manager know that I’m an international student, so they would put a note on my profile. This would help them not schedule me over 20 hours every week.
Before you can start working, you need to visit Service Canada for your Social Insurance Number. This process might take a whole day, depending on the line at the location nearest you. You can also apply for your SIN online or by mail.
More information regarding your study permit, working hours and eligibility criteria can be found on the Government of Canada website.
Make use of school services
When you’re in doubt, reach out to your post-secondary school's international student services centre.
During my first year of university, I was hesitant to reach out to TMU’s International Student Support due to the lack of knowledge of the help they could offer me. In my fourth year, they became a lifesaver when they helped me apply for my co-op work permit. They also referred me to the Career and Co-op Centre, which helped build my current CV and cover letters.
Your university’s international student support services and careers guidance will be the best spots to seek help when you have any questions relating to job hunting in Canada.
Even if you just have questions about your study permit and its restrictions, don’t hesitate to book a meeting with the international student service mentors.
Volunteering can be helpful
Do you ever feel discouraged that your portfolio only has volunteer work? Worry not, because that’s how I got my first part-time job at Cineplex.
I spent my first year freelancing for multiple on-campus publications. “Free labour” may sound off-putting at first, but it's a great way to build your CV initially if you’re not desperate for cash.
Whether it’s a student association, a campus club, or an off-campus festival, volunteering is also a great experience to immerse yourself in Canadian culture. It helps build connections that can be crucial for future opportunities and finding work after graduation.
A great incentive and starting point for me was the Volunteer Award for Arts & Culture in Toronto (VAACT). The organization rewards volunteers who participate in three or more festivals listed on their website. From Arts in the Parks and the Harbourfront Centre to Inside Out and the Toronto Fringe Festival, there are plenty of unique ways to get involved in the city, no matter your interests.
Avoid under-the-table jobs
Imagine a scenario when you totally nail that interview, and the manager finally contacts you. However, they say that they will pay you “by experience.” The salary is below minimum wage, and the method of payment is via money orders or cheques. In short, you’re being offered an under-the-table job
These jobs prey on the anxiety of new applicants. Since there is no legal contract present, your labour rights can be violated and your study permit status could even be put in jeopardy. Make sure you feel comfortable and confident in your potential employer before working there.
Good luck job hunting!
This article has been updated since it was originally published on September 8, 2022.