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International students are at a disadvantage in finding CO-OP opportunities at U of O. Image: Georgiana Ghitau/Fulcrum
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Unequal opportunities are rampant in the CO-OP program

Finding work for the summer is usually a cause of stress for university students across programs and faculties. Your summer job can determine a lot about how you’ll be spending your summer, including where you’ll live and what your weekly schedule might look like. 

For students in the U of O’s CO-OP program, this process begins early. This year, students were required to declare their intention to find a placement for Summer 2022 by early January 2022. Taking a look at the University of Ottawa CO-OP website, the interview process takes place during February for a May 1 start date. 

Compared to the other types of jobs students can get in the summer, CO-OP already starts the process early. However, international students at U of O (and other Canadian universities) have it even harder. In a poll via the Fulcrum’s Instagram, 81 per cent of non-Canadian students who voted reported difficulties in finding CO-OP opportunities.

International students are required to keep a valid study permit, in addition to a valid work permit if they are looking to work during their studies. The process of getting a work permit for a CO-OP placement can take between one and three months and must be completed before the placement starts so the student may have a SIN that allows an individual to work in Canada for a designated amount of time. The work permit includes a number of conditions limiting for whom and for how long the student may work. To obtain a permit, the student must also prove that the CO-OP placement is essential to their studies by providing a letter from the university. Undeniably, international students have a far more complicated process when it comes to pursuing summer employment.

Another disadvantage, though it doesn’t apply to all international students but is certainly a disadvantage for some, is the requirement to be fluent in at least one of Canada’s official languages. Many jobs include on their postings that competency in both French and English is an asset when applying. For a student who is from a non-English or non-French speaking country, this would mean they have to be fluent in three (or more) languages to be competitive in the interview process. 

That said, a unique challenge for students studying in the Ottawa-Gatineau region — students of U of O, Carleton University, La Cité, St. Paul University, or Algonquin College — is that international students are unlikely to get placements in the federal government. In 2011, the most recent census results available, Statistics Canada notes that “nearly 1 out of 3 federal employees works in Ottawa-Gatineau”, which also makes up almost 20 per cent of the region’s labour force. As a result, summer employment in Ottawa is unlike any other city in Canada. The U of O CO-OP website states that many students get placements within the federal government, especially students in the arts and social science faculties. 

On the other hand, international students are unlikely to secure a placement with the federal government. This is for two reasons: the requirement for security clearance, which is difficult to obtain for international students, and the fact that the government favours Canadian students. The official website for the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) includes a note that “preference will be given to Canadian citizens who meet the job requirements” in accordance with hiring directives for the federal government.

Therein, it’s apparent that international students are at a disadvantage in finding CO-OP opportunities at U of O. This is undeniable upon examining the disadvantages non-Canadian citizens face in the CO-OP stream, as l individual students face tight timelines in obtaining valid work permits for their placement while being highly disadvantaged in being hired by one of Ottawa’s largest employers, the Canadian government.