International students at the University of Calgary can now work off campus thanks to a new government initiative, effective June 1.
Previously, international students could only work on campus, but the new work permits resemble those given to international students in the co-op program and allow students to look for their own jobs.
By filling out an application at the International Student Centre that follows the same process as extending study permits and paying a $150 fee, international students can easily attain a work permit.
Permit applicants must meet certain conditions including full-time student status for at least six of the 12 months preceding the application and a GPA of at least 2.0. Also, international students receiving certain Canadian government scholarships are ineligible.
Madelyn Bradley, who is processing applications at the ISC explained that these students are ineligible because they are given money to focus on their studies.
The ISC sees it as a positive step.
"It's been in the works for a year or two," said ISC director Glynn Hunter. "[Off-campus work permits] provide an opportunity for international students and allows them to get an introduction to the labour force."
Hunter said the ISC used emails and information sessions to spread the message to international students.
"We haven't been overwhelmed by requests yet," said Hunter, noting that many interested students have already applied and employers have expressed interest.
International students also see the program as highly positive.
"I think it's great," said South Korean accounting student Young-mee Kim. "Before, we could only work on campus. Jobs are limited. If I can work off campus, I can have more choices."
Kim said that international students must get a job within 90 days after graduation in order to remain within Canada.
"If we can have some experience before graduation, then they might take a look," she said.
The new off-campus work will also help international students pay steep tuition and fees, which are about three times higher than for Canadian students.
"If we just work on campus, we just get minimum wage," said Kim.
The sentiment was repeated by another international student who requested her name be withheld.
"It is really hard for us to pay, but we really want a higher education," said the student, whose financial problems are due to family tragedy, currency conversion and the three-times higher tuition costs.
"For international students, the only thing is to work hard," said the student.
Students and staff agree that the work-permit program is mutually beneficial.
"[It] makes Canada and Calgary a more attractive location for international students" said Hunter.