A country with two official languages – English and French – Languages Canada is working closely with the government to update regulations on access to work for some language learners.
“There is a willingness.” [in government] to look at the changes,” Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta told The PIE. While the changes are expected to take nine months to implement, Languages Canada is in talks with IRCC officials to proceed.
Currently, language students enrolled in an English or French as a second language program are not eligible to work off-campus in Canada while they are studying.
Changing the existing regulations would allow some language students access to work to the benefit of Canada, students and members of Languages Canada, Peralta emphasized.
“We want to provide language students with a complete and full offer”
“It’s not about opening the floodgates for people to come and learn the language and have access to work,” he said. “It’s about meeting the needs of Canada and supporting students appropriately.
“We are in talks with the minister’s office and with senior officials at IRCC. And I think there’s a willingness to look at change for a lot of reasons, and they have our reasons behind it.”
The changes would give the language sector parity with other segments of the country’s wider education market, he continued.
“But the main reason is that we want to provide language students with a complete and full offer and we want to contribute to the growth and development of Canada.
“Language teaching is context-driven. The reason people travel to learn a language is – to live with a Canadian family or work and so on – that’s where the final steps in language learning take place. This is not just a financial problem. It is also an educational and pedagogical problem that we are fighting for,” he said.
However, any changes to the rule would need to be well thought out and ensure benefits for students, schools and Canada as a whole. The immigration part is an area where the language sector could play a significant role, suggested Peralta.
“We need half a million immigrants every year,” he said, and language skills are one point of complaint for employers.
As such, a “much more focused, integrated and cooperative approach” between Canada’s language sector and other sectors is where Languages Canada expects to gain ground.
“Sometimes [foreign workers] are not properly integrated. They are a vulnerable population, just like students, so we want to do it the right way,” he said.
One pilot the organization is running is with Tourism HR Canada, a sector that needs 10,000 workers and an organization that presented at the recent Languages Canada conference.
“We are putting together a proposal [for government] to go out and find candidates for a program that fits their very specific profiles,” he said, placing integration at the heart of the initiative.
“Language, society, culture, transportation, banking, social media, all these aspects that Languages Canada members do best and are so important to the success of the people who come here.
“So they would go through their language and integration program and then go on to work in hotels and other tourism and hospitality businesses that need them around the country. It’s everywhere from Victoria to Halifax. The point is to keep it going, the regulations have to change.”
This opportunity arose during the pandemic when all hotel rooms in Nova Scotia were sold out as a result of the “Safe Corridor Study”.
“The hotel associations were very grateful and began to pay attention. And so we saw a lot of similarities between the two sectors,” he continued, pointing to the seasonal nature of the sectors and the associated mobility.
While Canada’s visa backlog is “mostly resolved,” delays last year hurt Languages Canada members, Peralta added.
“We think the context has changed and the time is right to ask the Cabinet for an amendment”
Because student visas were prioritized over tourist visas – students on tourist visas make up around half of the enrollment – the number of students was 20% lower than expected, he explained.
While the regulatory change has not yet been announced or launched, Languages Canada noted that the initial signals are “very positive”.
Others in the sector said that once work and study rights are in place, “they will be a real game changer for language schools in Canada.”
Languages Canada has been pushing for change for several years, but suggested the government is now more receptive. Last year, the government revealed the temporary lifting of work caps for other cohorts of students until 31 December 2023.
“Over the course of the next year we’ll be able to learn some lessons and be able to determine if this is the kind of thing we can look at over the long term,” Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at the time.
“We think the context has changed and it’s the right time to go back to the cabinet and ask for a change in the regulations,” Peralta added.
“For providers, this means expanding the offer, both quantitatively and qualitatively, of course. But beyond that, it means being an integral part of Canada’s conversation about immigration, jobs, education and tourism.