Canadian Immigration Policy Changes Ripple through the Foodservice-and-Hospitality Industry

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By Roseline Victoria Vijayakumar

The ever-evolving landscape of Canadian immigration policies has left a palpable impact on the foodservice-and-hospitality industry that’s still grappling with severe labour shortages. The industry faces another potential blow with the federal government’s decision to double the required proof of funds for international students. On the other hand, the government has extended the 20-hour per week work limit for students until April 30, 2024. The time-bound extension has sparked discussions about the broader implications of the mandate on the sector.

“Moving the hours of work for international students to 40 hours per week has helped many businesses maintain operations and helped students’ income,” says Tony Elenis, president & CEO, Ontario Restaurant Hotel Motel Association (ORHMA). “It’s critical that the April 2024 extension becomes permanent and not reduced back to the 20-hour week rule. The number of hours to work should be kept optional. There are students who need more time to study. Many students need extra income to be able to meet affordability challenges over and above financial support given to them from their family.”

International students often rely on part-time jobs to cover not only tuition expenses but also the increasing cost of living. The current requirement states that prospective students must show a minimum of $10,000 in their bank accounts to supplement living expenses. However, in 2024 this amount will be raised to $20,635, in addition to the tuition paid by international students. This considerable hike will have a drastic impact on students’ financial stability, and the extended work limit can offer some relief for students who rely on part-time work to support themselves.

“Increasing the student fees will decrease the [number] of students coming to Canada and will impact hospitality businesses two ways: less students enrolling in hospitality schools, which means less students entering the industry, and less students attending classes, which leads to less [students] working hospitality jobs,” says Elenis.

However,the temporary extension on the weekly work limit has been a sigh of relief for many students and the foodservice-and-hospitality industry as it depends heavily on international students as a reliable workforce.

“As students, we try to keep up with financial responsibilities such as tuition fees, rent and grocery, but a 20-hour work week makes it difficult for us to meet basic needs,” says Lewanna Fernandes, Professional Writing and Communications student at Humber College. “I significantly benefited from the 40-hour work limit. I was able to use the opportunity to develop a strong worth ethic while maintaining a strong academic front. It gave me a sense of independence to be able to finance my stay in Canada and fend for myself in many ways.”

“We see the extension of the waiver on the 20-hour work week limit on off-campus work for international students positively,” says Maximilien Roy, VP Federal & Quebec, Restaurants Canada. “This will help international students’ increase their income and their overall financial situations while helping the foodservice industry, which is negatively impacted by labour shortages. We’re encouraged by Minister Marc Miller’s openness to lifting the 20-hour threshold permanently and will continue to advocate for positive measures for the foodservice industry.”

The foodservice industry is the fourth-largest private-sector employer in Canada with one in five Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 currently employed in restaurants, according to Restaurants Canada. The increased financial requirement poses a challenge but presents an opportunity for the industry to re-evaluate their strategies, provide flexible work hours and financial support programs to attract and retain international student employees.

“The foodservice industry has the highest number of job vacancies in the private-sector. With [more than] 97,000 job vacancies currently, it represents one out of every six private-sector job vacancies in Canada,” says Roy. “As one of the country’s largest employment sectors, it’s imperative that labour market and workforce strategies prioritize the needs of small business, family-owned and national franchise establishments across Canada.”

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