International co-op restrictions leave students struggling to find work

The June 1 announcement that Go Global term one and year-long exchanges are cancelled was coupled with the announcement that all university travel in the fall is cancelled.

This means that students in Canada can’t do outbound co-ops — even to countries with a low number of COVID-19 cases.

Although the situation is improving in some places across the world, UBC has to continued to follow government recommendations for the health and safety of its students, as instructed by Global Affairs Canada and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Cheryl Dumaresq, managing director at the Office of the Vice-Provost International, said the office did not make these decisions “lightly” and without considering the impact on students.

“However, we have to continue to ensure the health and safety of our students when they are participating in UBC programs, including co-ops in Canada and abroad,” said Dumaresq.

The cancellation policy left many students confused and upset by the abruptness and lack of resources provided by UBC co-op programs in the early stages of the pandemic.

“When UBC cancelled all international co-ops I knew it would be an impossible task to secure an [international] internship. Additionally, the current co-op role I was at was terminated two weeks before expected. It was part of my plan to seek a summer [international] co-op position,” said Pedro Ramos, a fourth-year arts co-op student.

Co-op complaints

Due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy, searching for a co-op position in Canada has become more competitive due to limited opportunities and abrupt cancellations.

Hidemi Mitani, a fourth-year bachelor of international economics student, has struggled to find a job.

“It’s been rough. I got a couple interviews and aced this interview and felt super confident about it. And a couple weeks later, they notified me that the internship has been cancelled and that I should look at other job opportunities,” said Mitani.

Additionally, since many co-op job portals categorize a student’s job eligibility based on their legal status, many international students aren’t even allowed to apply to jobs, regardless of their location.

“All jobs on the co-op job portal are the same. None are open for international students,” Mitani said.

This policy helps alleviate a range of legal issues involved in finding work placements. Many Canadian companies require students to be in the country to ensure they have WorkSafe coverage, and other students may not have the eligibility to work off campus. With this policy in place, many students are left with no choice but to find job opportunities by themselves.

“If you find your own position yourself, you have no obligation to tell co-op about it. If I were in computer science and I secured a FAANG internship in Silicon Valley, you better believe I’d still be going (if current restrictions allow) regardless of what UBC says,” said one Reddit user addressing UBC’s co-op cancellation policy.

In response to the situation, co-op programs have provided resources to help both UBC co-op students that are unable to complete a work term abroad and international students unable to complete work terms in Canada while residing abroad.

“We are providing accommodations for students who are challenged in seeking a co-op position due to COVID-19 to increase their chances of landing a co-op job. This includes a reduction in the minimum required number of hours a position has to be to count for co-op, from 420 hours to 280 hours,” says Simone Longpré, chair of the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan co-op council.

In terms of financial aid, the Canadian government is providing Employment Insurance (EI), the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit for Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are ineligible for EI or CERB. However, for international students, getting support has been hard. Many companies get more government funding from hiring Canadian students, making it more difficult for international students.

“It is a hard time, no one is denying that. But as international students, we get no support whatsoever,” says Mitani. “We don’t qualify for government benefits and we can’t even get work. It’s so frustrating that we aren’t receiving [financial] help from the university.”