When Rahul Joshi was a student in the culinary management program at Selkirk College’s Tenth Street Campus, he lived with seven other students in a two-bedroom apartment in Nelson.
Joshi was an international student from India, as were all his room-mates. For the duration of their studies in 2018-19, they lived in these crowded conditions because otherwise they could not afford housing.
“We were sharing the same kitchen, sharing the same bathroom,” Joshi says. “That was not a really good experience. No personal space, nothing.”
Joshi graduated from the program in 2019 and has since worked as a chef at Finley’s Bar and Grill in Nelson.
Until this month, the federal government only allowed international students to work 20 hours per week while attending school, leaving many of them with not enough money to pay even the most basic expenses.
But that rule has just changed. The federal government has decided that international students will now be permitted to work full time as of Nov. 15. The policy change is temporary though, and only runs through the end of 2023.
Until this change, many students were left penny-pinching, asking their parents back home for money, or working under the table.
“It was a big problem for us,” says Harman Deep Singh, currently a culinary student from India who also works part time at Finley’s. “It is very difficult for us to make sure that we have all our finances covered. This is a very big step that will help us in our studies.”
The culinary management program is for students from other countries who have already a credential in cooking or hospitality in their home country.
Joshi and Singh say that many international students in the program have earned extra hours (beyond the 20-hour limit) by working under the table, receiving cash payment, often at a lower wage rate.
“It is a difficult position to be in,” says Joshi, “because when they’re taking money from under the table, it is a threat to them if they get caught. They are going to get deported back to (their home country).”
When the change takes effect on Nov. 15, this problem should disappear because students can work 40 hours.
Asked how feasible it is to work and go to school, both full time, Singh and Joshi say it’s possible, but some students’ grades suffer.
“They don’t have any time for personal life,” says Joshi. “All they’re doing is working and studying. That’s it.”
Singh says that depends on individual students’ situations. This school term he can work lots of hours, he says, because his schooling is mostly practicum work in the kitchen at Selkirk College with occasional quizzes.
He says the new rule will give students more flexibility.
Tanya Finley, the employer of both Singh and Joshi, supports the change, adding that her main concern is fairness for the students.
“In this industry, we see a lot of international students (who are) having to work in unfair conditions,” she said. “The international students that we have working for us, I’m extremely proud of. They are what I see as authentic, hardworking Canadians.”
The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce meanwhile likes the decision because it will help alleviate the shortage of workers in Nelson, particularly in food and beverage workplaces.
Executive director Tom Thomson says the chamber has been advocating for this change.
“We are certainly in favour of the move,” he said. “It will be excellent for the students and also help with the labour shortage in Nelson.”