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Frequently Asked Questions About Hiring International Students for Co-operative Education

Some students participating in the Cooperative Education (Co-op) program are international students. International students differ from other newcomers to Canada, such as permanent residents or new Canadians, in that international students are studying in Canada on a study permit.

Below are frequently asked questions about international students that might help you in your hiring process.

Yes, the Government of Canada allows international students to work as a part of their program under the following conditions:

  • they have a valid study permit;
  • working is a key part of their study program in Canada;
  • they have a letter from their school that confirms all students in their program need to complete work placements to get their degree; and
  • their co-op or internship is 50 per cent or less of the total program of study. (Canada, 2017)

Students and programs that meet these conditions apply for a special work permit, specific to the Co-op program. This work permit allows international students to work off campus as part of their program. 

Saskatchewan Polytechnic helps to ensure that international students participating in our Co-op programs have work permits by providing the necessary documentation and keeping track of the students’ legal status. Most international students have their work permits prior to beginning their job search. We will not allow international students to apply for Co-op positions unless they either have a valid work permit or we believe that there is sufficient processing time remaining prior to the start of the work term. If an international student has not yet secured a work permit, a notation will be made on their transcript. We only allow international students to submit applications if they have either received their work permit or there is sufficient time remaining prior to the projected start date of the work term. The Government of Canada posts the processing times for work permits on its website.
 

There are no special legal obligations that are different from hiring a domestic Co-op student. We take efforts to ensure that international students have valid work permits, as mentioned above in the second question.

The Co-op work permit allows international students to work full time as long as they meet the conditions outlined above in the first question. Of course, all of the typical labour laws apply to international students. 

 

All students bring their own unique skills, abilities and personalities to their workplace; however, there are some special characteristics of international students that you may find beneficial to your organization.

International students are, typically, multilingual and often have a high level of cultural awareness. International students increase the diversity in your workplace and often bring a fresh perspective to problems. Businesses seeking to enter or expand into international markets or who are increasingly noticing their client base is composed of newcomers to Canada often benefit from international students. International students can offer a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication and may even be able to provide valuable international contacts. Finally, international students often come with a wealth of previous education and experience that could prove valuable to your organization. 

Students at Sask Polytech must meet our English Language Proficiency (ELP) requirements prior to being accepted. Our ELP requirements are the highest among polytechnics in Canada. Requirements ensure students have an English speaking ability that meets a standard necessary for success at Sask Polytech. While all of our students do meet a minimum standard of ELP, some students may speak with an accent and like domestic students, may have differing communication and writing skills.  

It’s quite reasonable to wonder how hiring someone from a different culture, perhaps with a different first language, might affect your work environment. Although society is becoming increasingly diverse and many organizations are realizing that diversity as a hiring strategy makes business sense, managers wonder how someone from a different culture may fit in with their organization’s staff and customers.

Here are a few things to consider, with respect to culture:

  1. First, consider that every individual is different. As with any new hire, it’s advisable to conduct a thorough selection process that works to find the best candidate for your position. Although some personal traits and characteristics may be informed by culture, every individual has their own unique skillset and personality.
  2. When it comes to language, students have varying English abilities. It’s important to realize that listening to someone with an accent different from our own takes a bit of practice. This is even true with people from other parts of the English speaking world. When considering a candidate’s language ability, ask how important is that to their success in the role? Some employers overstate the necessity to communicate in their job. Certainly if the position requires one to give presentations, conduct sales calls or speak on the phone frequently, there is a different communication standard required than if one is simply required to work alone and report to only one individual supervisor.
  3. There are some situations, such as in the case of religious obligations, where people may require reasonable accommodation. We typically find that these accommodations are minimally disruptive and, of course, the duty to accommodate applies to all employees, not just international students.

In the vast majority of cases, employers report hiring international students to be a positive experience. Hiring an international student is a simple way to have a profound cross-cultural experience.

Not only does participating in the Co-op program benefit international students by providing them with Canadian work experience, it also allows individuals within the organization the opportunity to learn about other cultures and expand their own understanding. 

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