Insight for international students: Taking advantage of work entitlements while studying in Canada


By Arwen Kidd

Working during university is not only a great way to gain valuable job experience in Canada, but also to become more comfortable in your new surroundings – and of course, to help cover some of those bills!

However, first things first: make sure you know what your work entitlements are!

In general, if you are: 1) a full-time international student, 2) registered at an officially authorized university or college, and 3) are in possession of a valid study permit, then you can qualify to legally work in Canada. To find out if your school qualifies, click here for a list of participating institutions under the Canadian government’s Work Permit Program.

Read on to find out what you need to know before you start searching for each of the different types of legally-permitted employment opportunities.

Step 1: Working on campus

Your first opportunity as an international student is to work on campus – which is a great way to get to know your new university or college, and, best of all, you don’t need a separate permit to do it. You can apply for jobs on your school campus from the moment you arrive!

Although some schools put limits on the number of hours that you can work per week, the main idea is that you must keep your grades up. The average wage starts at between $10 and $15 an hour, and most school campuses have a wide variety of positions available. From staffing the desk at the school fitness centre, to working at the university library or campus restaurants, to helping professors conduct in-depth research for their fields, the options are plentiful.

Step 2:  Working off campus

Once you’ve been a full-time student for at least six months, you can apply for an Off Campus Work Permit. This document, which is typically valid for as long as your study permit lasts, allows you to work anywhere in Canada that you wish – so long as you maintain a satisfactory academic standing in your studies.

However, similar to on-campus work guidelines, hours of work are strictly limited under this permit, to a maximum of 20 hours per week during study periods, though full-time employment is possible during school vacations.

Also, in Canada, study during the summer term (May to August) is usually optional, so it’s possible for international students to work very long hours during this entire time period if they wish.

Co-operative work/study (Co-op) and internship programs

For some programs, work experience – either through a co-op or internship program – is mandatory for graduation. However, even if it’s not mandatory, it’s still an excellent option – and one which most Canadian universities and colleges offer.

The University of Victoria (UVic), for example, is home to the country’s third largest co-op program. Started in the 1970s, this program enables students to experience multiple co-op work terms during their academic studies, in jobs related to their degree program.  Jobs that, for some students, can lead to exciting career opportunities after graduation.

Take UVic graduate Cambria Hanson, for example, who spent her final co-op work term as a research and development intern at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – the lab where NASA develops their Mars rovers.

“The experience was phenomenal,” Hanson remembers. “It was twice as interesting as all the other jobs I’ve had combined.”

Like many employers, JPL keeps a constant flow of co-op students on staff – many of whom they consider for future employment, according to Hanson’s JPL supervisor, Kim Aaron: “Hiring co-op students puts us in a much better position to assess potential permanent employees’ skills…. It gives us a real reference point to decide if we want to make them a permanent offer when they graduate.”

Which, in Hanson’s case, is exactly what happened – she was made a full-time job offer with JPL, to commence after graduation. And according to the university, hers is not an unusual success story – as about one-third of co-op graduates are hired by their previous co-op employers after graduating from UVic.

It’s easy to obtain a work permit for such a program. You must be able to provide a letter of support from your institution, and be able to prove that the co-op or internship requirement takes up no more than 50% of your total academic program. Universities and colleges in Canada have offices that supervise the application process to make sure it’s done correctly. To learn more about this type of permit, click here.

Working after graduation

You may be happy to hear that graduating from an eligible Canadian university or college does qualify you to gain valuable work experience in Canada after you complete your studies! Through the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program, you can legally work in Canada for up to three years, depending on how much time you spent on your studies.

For example, if you studied at least two years full-time, you could then qualify for a work permit lasting one to two years – so long as it is less than the total time you spent on your studies. After which point, if you wanted to stay, you could then look into applying for permanent residency and even work your way towards obtaining Canadian citizenship.

For more info on the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program, click here.


To find out more about working in Canada as an international student, be sure to check out Citizen and Immigration Canada’s page on work permits for students, where you can also find information on other related issues such as employment entitlements for spouses of foreign students, application processes for permanent residency, and (something you might want to consider later on), how to qualify for Canadian citizenship after your studies are through.

Have you already made up your mind to apply for an off-campus job, co-op program, or post-graduation employment? Visit the online student guide to start the process!

Arwen Kidd is the Communications Director at the Canadian University Application Centre, which represents member Canadian universities and their select degree programs in order to better serve international students around the world.

Photo credit: 4.30.10 by aprilzosia on Flickr