This is how hard it is for international students to get jobs in Canada

working in Canada
While Ritika Saraswat, an international graduate, landed her role as a Business Analyst at Deloitte, other international students aren’t as lucky. Here's what she doing to change the status quo. Source: AFP

Getting a job and working in Canada as an international student is not as easy as it seems. 

Most recently, Brijesh Mishra, an Indian native, is facing five charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for issuing fraudulent university letters of acceptance to Indian students and other immigration-related criminal offences, Reuters reports. 

Multiple Canadian media sources have also highlighted the ignored plight of Punjabi students who arrive in the country, facing scams, fraud, exploitation and more.

It’s an issue close to Pune-born Ritika Saraswat’s heart, who developed a passion for social causes even when she was a kinesiology student at the University of British Columbia.

She’s the founder of Re-Defined, a non-profit catered to empowering people from marginalised communities, specifically communities which are black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC).

Since graduating, she’s working as a Business Analyst at Deloitte, which has been very supportive of her social work.

Other international students aren’t as lucky.

Why are international graduates struggling to find jobs in Canada

The non-profit founder believes there are three barriers that prevent international students from landing jobs in Canada.

1. Lack of Canadian experience

One significant challenge often faced by international students to Canada is the requirement for “Canadian experience,” which can sometimes serve as an unjust barrier to entry into the job market. 

Many highly skilled individuals arrive with valuable international experience, yet their qualifications are often overlooked only because they’ve never worked in Canada before.

This not only hinders their initial job search but also results in a setback of several years in their careers. 

2. Lack of awareness of what it’s like to work in Canada

Many arrive with misconceptions, assuming the job search process is similar to their home countries. 

“The North American job market operates differently, emphasising transferable skills and soft skills like communication and leadership,” Saraswat says.

In many Asian and African countries, the focus often lies on academic qualifications rather than these crucial skills.

Without this knowledge, international students don’t know how to craft resumes to highlight the right skills that Canadian employers are looking for. This also puts them at a disadvantage as they can’t work on this to ask for a promotion or higher salary. 

working in Canada

One of the first jobs that Saraswat had as an international student was working as a pizza server. Source: Ritika Saraswat/LinkedIn

3. Unsure of what skills to develop

Students often need help not only in identifying the skills they lack to work in Canada but also in how to develop them.

Some arrive with a lack of emphasis on experiential learning from their home countries.

Saraswat believes encouraging them to engage with Canadian non-profit organisations remotely can be immensely beneficial. This allows them to gain both Canadian experience and the soft skills necessary for success. 

By the time they arrive, they’ll have a network, relevant experience, cultural insights, and the ability to collaborate effectively.

working in Canada

Since she started her role at Deloitte, the kinesiology graduate has received the Regional Community Changemaker Award for the Atlantic. Source: Ritika Saraswat/LinkedIn

How one kinesiology graduate is helping international students and graduates navigate the process of working in Canada

It is a tall order to tackle a big issue as a full-time working adult.

But as the saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”, which is what happened to Saraswat after graduating from UBC.

“With Re-Defined, we have impacted more than 30,000 people globally and 10,000 students across Canada,” says the founder.

“Instead of two cities, we are [now] based in four cities in Canada and we have a team of about 25 people here.”

Her biggest challenge? Being authentic with the intent of her non-profit as it grows outside of Canada.

“As a global organisation with teams in four different countries, it can be hard to ensure equal impact across the initiatives we run in different regions,” she shares as her team has expanded to countries like Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, and India.

“We, are in many ways, sometimes dependent on those non-profits to actually go execute the groundwork, even though we may be collaborating with them to develop the content for some of these workshops.”

To help international students overcome the challenges of working in Canada, Saraswat and her non-profit has created a three-pronged approach that focuses on mentorship, education, and networking.

working in Canada

Mentorship and community-building are two ways this non-profit founder is helping international students on their journey to working in Canada. Source: AFP

1. Mentorship

Most mentorship programmes only cater to students who arrive in Canada, but Saraswat felt a need to clarify their expectations even before they stepped foot into the country.

That’s where Re-Defined’s “Empowering Future of Canada” buddy programme comes into the picture.

“We connect with students outside of Canada, who are planning to come to Canada within the next six months to a year,” she explains.

“We connect them with students in Canada who are studying at uni or colleges they plan to go to who come from the same cultural background and speak the same language.”

Here, new international students will be aware of the realities of studying and working in Canada, as well as gain practical advice on things like opening a bank account.

2. Education

Re-Defined offers tutors for international students. These tutors train them to become more employable in the eyes of the Canadian job market.

“We want them to not only realise the importance of academia but also support them in various ways, such as overcoming the language barrier or social education — whether in terms of your rights, employment, housing, or financial literacy,” says Saraswat.

This includes soft skills, such as leadership, public speaking, and design thinking, that are valuable for any international student to make them stand out.

She adds: “We also try to supplement these kinds of programmes and initiatives like our workshops with fellowship programmes.” Through this, students can work with communities in and out of Canada.

Beyond this, speed networking events help students apply what they’ve learned in a practical setting. 

working in Canada

Re-Defined’s Internatinal Student Meetup is a great way to network with professionals, peers and mentors. Source: Ritika Saraswat/LinkedIn

3. Networking

Originally from Pune, Saraswat grew up in a conventional Indian family where she was conditioned to pursue three careers: medicine, engineering and law.

“Out of those three, I gravitated towards pursuing medicine since I liked biology,” she told Study International in a previous interview.

She arrived in Canada after finishing 12th grade, knowing no one or that she could connect with people in unis even before stepping foot in the country.

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t feel lonely,” she laughed as the former pizza server reflected on her international student journey.

Across four cities in Canada, Re-Defined now has groups that connect students with other peers from across the country.

“We also have individual groups for each city. Students are free to participate in our local programmes, report any relevant incident, or simply reach out for personalised support, including resources for job hunting.”

With this, Saraswat hopes new international students can connect with peers they can rely on and trust as they embark on this new chapter in their lives.

working in Canada

Canada is one of the most welcoming countries for international students. Source: AFP

The A to Z of working in Canada as an international student

1. Before graduation

Students can choose to work on-campus, off-campus, or opt for a co-op or internship placement. They’re competitive, but if you can land one, they bring great insight into what the professional world is like.

On Oct. 7, 2022, Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced that international students can now work more than 20 hours per week, CIC News reported

This temporary measure ending Dec. 31, 2023 allows students to work more than 20 hours per week off campus during the semester if:

  • You are a study permit holder and are studying at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) full-time (or part-time during your final academic session) OR
  • Have been approved for a study permit but haven’t arrived in Canada yet

During scheduled breaks such as winter and summer holidays in the school year, students are allowed to work full-time.

You are also free to work overtime or work two part-time jobs that add up to a higher than usual number of hours. 

On that note, there is no set number of hours per week that counts as “full-time” work.

If you get a part-time job on campus, you don’t need a work permit (as long as you’re enrolled in the uni).

Here are five of the best off-campus jobs for international students:

  • Server or bartender (Average 13 per hour)
  • Sales assistant (Average CA$14 per hour)
  • Barista (Average CA$14 per hour)
  • Dog walker (Average CA$15 per hour)
  • Tutor (Average CA$16 per hour) 

Remember that only full-time students both before and after the break are allowed to work full-time. You can’t work during a break that comes before you start your very first school semester.

working in Canada

A post-graduation work permit will allow you to stay and work in Canada after graduation. Source: AFP

2. After graduation

To stay and work in Canada once you’ve graduated, you’ll need to apply for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP) if you have graduated from a designated learning institution (DLI) in Canada.

The PGWP allows you to temporarily stay in Canada to work, but to apply for a Canadian work permit, you will first need to meet certain criteria to work in Canada.

  • You were holder of a valid study permit at the time of the PGWP application
  • You were a full-time student enrolled at a DLI in a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional training programme
  • You were authorised to work off-campus without a work permit
  • You did not exceed the allowable hours of work

You can apply for a PGWP from inside Canada or from another country, as long as you’re eligible. You have up to 180 days (around six months) to apply for a PGWP after you get your:

  • Degree or diploma
  • Transcript
  • Official letter from your school

If your study permit expires before you get your marks, you will have two options:

  • Apply for a visitor record to stay in Canada longer
  • Leave Canada and apply for your PGWP

 The processing time will take approximately 141 days for online and 19 days for offline applications. Do note that processing times will vary, based on:

  • The type of application submitted
  • Volume of applications received
  • How easily they can verify information
  • How well and how quickly you respond to any requests or concerns
  • Whether the application is complete