Katia Moskvitch

“Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.” Frank Zappa.

Monday, March 27, 2006

UWO international students might be able to work off-campus

- By Katia Moskvitch - (Written in June 2005)

Kate Stepanova, an international fourth-year Honours student in Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, points at a waitress at a Thai restaurant in London.

“I’m almost sure she is a student working here illegally,” she says. “Many international students at UWO are unable to find work on campus. They are forced to find illegal jobs off-campus and get paid under-the-table.”

Stepanova came to London from a northern Russian city Yakutsk. Her parents pay her tuition, which amounts to around $14,000 per year. They also pay for her apartment in London.

She would like to be able to pay at least some of her living expenses to help them, Stepanova said, but is unable to do so. She tried finding a job on campus, but was never hired.

In Ontario, international students are not allowed to work off-campus, and there are not many positions on campus where they can apply.

The situation, however, is about to change.

A reform called Citizenship and Immigration Canada Off-Campus Work Initiative (OCWI) was announced this spring by the Canadian government. When implemented, it will allow international students to work off-campus during their full-time university studies, said Scott Courtis, Executive Director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be as soon as September,” said Courtis. “It is one of our priorities to implement the initiative as promptly as possible.”

Rose Aquino, International Student Advisor at UWO, said that Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick already signed the necessary bilateral agreements for the new regulation to be put in place.

“Right now, we’re waiting for the Ontario government and for the federal government to sign an agreement and work out what the regulations will be, and once that’s set, students will know whether they qualify, will apply for a work permit and will be able to work off-campus,” said Aquino.

Off-campus work is not the only issue the UWO officials are concerned with when it comes to helping students from abroad finance their studies. This past winter, the university had enough funding to launch the International Student Work Opportunities Program (I.S.W.O.P.), which permitted 15 students to find jobs on campus, said Aquino.

“We have had an idea about this program for a few years, but the funding wasn’t there. Finally, miraculously, the funding came through, and we’re very excited,” added Aquino, and pointed out that the International Students’ Services had some positive feedback from those students who were hired through I.S.W.O.P.

Glen Tigert, Director of Student Financial Services and Student Records at UWO, said that the university is currently trying to get more funding for international students. The federal government does not provide Canadian universities with money destined for students from abroad. At UWO, the main sources of funding are the university’s institutional funds and private donations.

More funding means more international students will be hired through I.S.W.O.P., said Tigert. In order to pay salary the students who work on campus, UWO has to have money, and that money depends on the amount of funding.

“It is an area of focus at Western, and I am confident that we will have more money available for international students in coming years,” said Tigert.

Fifteen students, hired by I.S.W.O.P. in the winter semester, out of approximately 2,400 international students that come to UWO every year does not sound like a lot, said Teddy Ouyang, a Canadian permanent resident originally from China.

“But it is better than nothing,” she added.

Ouyang is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Science program and works at Weldon Library during the summer.

“I sent an email to the supervisor who asked me to come in for a very brief interview, and I got the job. But for international students it is a lot harder to get a job on campus or anywhere”, said Ouyang.

“I am happy it (the situation) is going to change,” added Ouyang, and mentioned that she was especially happy international students would soon be allowed to work off-campus.

“My friends are Chinese students, and they work illegally in Chinese restaurants. That’s the only way they can get jobs, and they get paid something like five dollars an hour,” said Ouyang.

“They are afraid let other people know where they work, because they can get sent back to China, and I’m sure they will be happy to know that they will be allowed to get legal jobs off-campus,” she added.

Daphne Zhang, an international student from China in her third year of Administration and Commercial Studies at UWO, never worked in Canada. She said she was excited to find out about a possibility of getting an off-campus job in the near future.

“I want to find any job,” said Zhang. “I want to get work experience, it is very important,” she added.