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Emergency work permits possible for tsunami-affected students

by Archives January 26, 2005

OTTAWA (CUP) — Canada’s immigration department has put international students from tsunami-ravaged regions on notice that they may be eligible for emergency work permits if they normally rely on funding from family back home.

Currently, international students in several provinces, are limited to finding on-campus work. That is, unless they are befallen by destitute circumstances.

Anticipating that many international students in Canada may be in that position after last month’s tsunami devastation in parts of Asia and Africa, the immigration department set up a call centre and circulated a notice to international students to inform them they may qualify for a work permit.

Repeated attempts to reach the immigration department for comment failed. It is not known how many students have applied for the emergency permits so far.

International students who have lost the income they rely on to attend university in Canada must prove they have a known address in one of the devastated regions, and must show how they were financing their education to be eligible.

A Sri Lankan undergraduate student at Carleton University, who wished to remain anonymous, is hoping he will qualify for a permit. The student began his studies in September and has been relying on his family in Sri Lanka to help pay for his education.

With the family business of distributing groceries and textiles in the Tamil-controlled Jaffna region devastated by the loss of the local market, it has been difficult for this student to get by.

There are some relatives established in Canada that have already helped, but he says he can’t burden them further.

He has scratched together his tuition — at more than $7,000 a term, it is double the domestic rate — but it is the day-to-day expenses that have him worried.

“I don’t know how it will work,” he said. “Certain expenses are not planned.”

He is not bitter about having to pay higher tuition. And he says he doesn’t expect to have his education subsidized by the Canadian government the way domestic students do. But he doesn’t understand why international students aren’t allowed to make a few bucks to help cover their own expenses.

Laura Cohen, an international student advisor at Carleton University, is working with this student to apply for the emergency work permit. However, she says she is worried that difficulties in proving their “destitute” circumstances will put help out of reach for many students from the affected regions.

“It’s not quite as generous as immigration is stating it to be,” Cohen said.

There are risks, Cohen says, when international students tell the immigration department they cannot afford to stay in Canada, especially if students are in the early years of their degree.

“You run the risk, for instance, if you are a new student, of immigration saying to you ‘Go home,'” Cohen said.

For this reason Cohen says she doesn’t usually recommend students apply for the emergency permits. In her six years at Carleton, Cohen has known eight students who have been able to get permits.

Cohen is concerned about how quickly the emergency permits for tsunami victims will be issued. While there is a dedicated call centre for tsunami victims, each case is then passed on to the main processing centre for all immigration claims. Cohen worries the emergency applications will be lost in the shuffle of the reams of immigration claims in Canada.

“I’m not confident it will take any less than six weeks. But maybe they will surprise me,” she said.

Cohen says that disaster or not, international students are suffering under the current system that confines them to campus work. They often can’t get the work experience they may need for their field, she says.

“It’s not just about money,” Cohen said. “It’s also about professional experience.”

Some schools in Qu

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