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Confusing work rule change in Canada: What international students should know

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A work rule change in Canada meant to help international students affected by the COVID-19 has led to confusion instead.

According to CBC News, universities in Quebec provided the wrong guidance to international students about the number of hours they are allowed to work when the government changed the rules. This reportedly misled international students due to “confusing and contradictory language in a government document”.

Before the pandemic, international students are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week. In April, the government changed the rules to let students work more than 20 hours a week, but only if they were employed in essential service sectors.

Under the impression that their student visa status would be affected, some international students opted to reduce their work hours. Recently, some were told by universities and employers that they were no longer allowed to work for more than 20 hours a week.

What’s going on? Here’s what we know so far:

Who can work for more than 20 hours?

If international students hold jobs in certain essential sectors, they are allowed to work for more than 20 hours a week.

Canada’s essential service sectors have been defined as the following:

  • Energy and utilities
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Food
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Government

For more in-depth information about each sector, international students in Canada can check out the government’s guide to determine if the work rule change applies to their job.

How long will this work rule change be in effect?

CBC News reported that the confusion over the work rule started in Quebec when businesses started to reopen.

Universities and employers assumed that the rule change was no longer in effect, as many services were no longer deemed essential.

International students were told by employers that they were no longer allowed to work more than 20 hours a week.

A news release on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) page, however, states that the work rule change is in effect until Aug. 31, 2020, and no other official guidance has been released stating otherwise.

Some students in Quebec were told they were no longer allowed to work more than 20 hours, despite the rule being in effect until Aug 31. Source: Daniel Slim/AFP

What to do if you’re told you can’t work

There is still confusion over this work rule change in Canada for international students, due to a particular paragraph in the government document.

If you’re being told you can’t work, hang tight and wait for official guidance to clear up the current confusion surrounding the work rule change.

The following paragraph is reportedly the source of the confusion:

“If you are looking to determine if a specific job or service is deemed essential, please review the list of essential businesses/services/functions published by your province or territory.

“Your provincial or territorial government, not the federal government, has the authority to make these determinations.”

As Quebec no longer considers any business as essential, Vanier College sent international students an e-mail on June 26 stating that they no longer can work more than 20 hours per week.

Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for IRCC, told CBC News in an email that employers should be consulting the federal list, despite the confusing paragraph telling them otherwise.

“It is the appropriate guide for a federal measure, rather than using specific lists that differ from province to province and change frequently. This list is the list by which essential services under this temporary policy is defined.”

Vanier College is remaining cautious about the rule. Rowena Selby, a spokesperson for Vanier College, told CBC News, “We have so far received no information from them that this has indeed been clarified.”

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