Studying in America and Canada  
5.5 Financial Assistance in Canada

The financial assistance approach in Canada is substantially different from that in America; however, the two systems use very similar terminology. You must be careful and not confuse the systems in the two countries.

Unlike America, research assistantships in Canada do not usually carry a tuition waiver. This makes the offer of research assistantship insufficient to sustain oneself financially.

Teaching assistantships in the form discussed earlier typically do not exist in Canada. Unlike America - where teaching assistantship is for fixed remuneration per year for supporting teaching activities - Canadian colleges employ students often through ad hoc employment for supporting their teaching activities. Ad hoc employment for menial jobs - such as a receptionist, re-shelving books in a library and so on - is not available to international students.

Financial assistance opportunities thus available to international students in Canada are restricted to research assistantships and ad hoc employment for supporting teaching activities. Unlike America, these opportunities are considered to be a form of employment in Canada. If and when offered such an opportunity, one must obtain a work permit from Canadian immigration officials, in addition the international student visa. As an international student, one is not authorized to take up any form of employment, be it on-campus or off. And just because one wants a work permit does not mean one can get one.

Remember, as an international student, you are required to demonstrate adequate financing to obtain a student visa. Your financial need is not an excuse for requesting a work permit.

You can apply for and obtain a work permit for one and only one reason: the employment must be an essential and integral part of your studies. Only such employment is "legally acceptable," in that you can obtain a work permit from Canadian immigration officials to work in Canada legally. Your college must make the employment offer through a letter, explicitly stating that the employment is an essential and integral part of your program of studies. The work permit so obtained would restrict your employment to the specifically stated position; the work permit is not a blanket permit for any employment on campus.

Securing legally acceptable employment is fiercely competitive; just because you are eligible does not mean you are guaranteed to get it. Should you be offered such employment, the process of obtaining a work permit is fairly straightforward. The college issues you an offer letter, containing the language acceptable to the immigration officials for a work permit. You go to the Canadian immigration officials with the offer letter to obtain the work permit. The employment offer and the work permit are for one year at a time, subject to renewal for subsequent years.

Neither form of employment - namely, research assistantship and ad hoc employment - is sufficient for the international student to sustain him or her financially; that is, the remuneration through either is much smaller than the total cost of education.

The only solution for survival in Canada, without contributing out-of-pocket money, is to obtain a research assistantship and augment the earnings through ad hoc employment. It is precisely because of this reason that Canadian colleges interpret the restrictions on the work permit liberally, and allow international students with work permits for research assistantship to work on ad hoc jobs as well. For those who do not get research assistantship, financial assistance through ad hoc jobs is thoroughly inadequate.

Only the research assistantship is typically offered with the offer for admission, but to only a select few. You would not know whether you have ad hoc jobs until you have arrived in Canada. Since the research assistantship does not offer you adequate funding for your stay in Canada, you must address the following implications, if you have an offer for research assistantship.

  1. You may be required, by the Canadian consulate officials in India, to show additional out-of-pocket financing to sustain yourself in Canada, before a student visa and work permit are issued to you.
  2. While you may have the offer for research assistantship, you must not assume that you would get ad hoc jobs as well, to offset your expenses; thus, you must be prepared to actually spend additional out-of-pocket money to sustain yourself. Colleges make every effort to offer the ad hoc jobs but the opportunities are limited. The chances of obtaining ad hoc jobs for the first semester are nominal.

You best approach for studies in Canada is to secure a research assistantship, and hope that you can obtain ad hoc jobs to support teaching. The caveats mentioned in the preceding section for America apply equally to Canada. They are so important that we would repeat them here almost verbatim.

If you have not been offered an assistantship, you must be prepared to finance your studies yourself, to the last penny. You must not arrive in Canada on a hope and a prayer. You must have adequate financing, before arrival. Doing anything to the contrary is irrational and foolish. Do not let your emotions and desires get the best of you. The risks are too high and the potential disappointment too great. The money situation will not resolve itself, at least not in most instances. You must prepare for the worst, and hope for the best, as the old saying goes. We can not emphasize this point enough.

We acknowledge that a few students do obtain assistantship upon arrival, and many do secure ad hoc positions. A handful of such stories, however, become mythical, through the legendary rumor mill in India. They take on a life of their own, recycled and distorted through the rumor mill, delivering the message that all you have to do is to arrive in Canada, and the money situation would resolve itself. In most instances, it will not. We have seen too many broken hearts and shattered dreams, or students resorting to illegal means such as obtaining unauthorized employment. You must believe us that money does not, in fact, grow on trees in Canada. We recognize that your hope and desires, reinforced by rumors, may overwhelm our advice, but consider yourself forewarned.

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