International students are not interlopers

International student’s human rights appeal at the Court of Appeal

Students in gowns for graduation. 

International students on work permits in Canada who seek to pursue permanent residency should no longer be treated as interlopers.

By Ena Chadha

International students who come to Canada with the hopes of pursuing meaningful careers are often denied such opportunities based on their citizenship status. Their journeys are marred by struggle due to exorbitant fees, bureaucratic barriers and discrimination—while they are simultaneously expected to be grateful and uncritical that they are permitted to study here. For Muhammad Taimoor Haseeb, this all-too-familiar story has dragged on for over eight years.

Haseeb, a successful Canadian-educated international student working toward securing his permanent residence status in Canada, was denied an ideal job because of his citizenship. More than three years after being awarded $116,000 in damages at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) for being discriminated against by his would-be employer, Imperial Oil Ltd., Haseeb’s story of discrimination was heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal last week.

Haseeb came to Canada from Pakistan in 2009 to study mechanical engineering at McGill University, graduating in December 2014. In the fall of that year, Haseeb applied for an engineering position with Imperial Oil. The firm ranked Haseeb first and offered him a job. Upon learning that Haseeb did not have his permanent residency, Imperial Oil rescinded the job offer asserting that citizenship and/or permanent resident status were preconditions to employment. At that time, Haseeb was on a student visa and expecting to receive a three-year postgraduate work permit. Haseeb anticipated obtaining his permanent residency after the three years. Nevertheless, Imperial Oil refused to employ Haseeb because he was not a permanent resident.

Haseeb, represented by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, brought his human rights case against Imperial Oil. The HRTO found that Haseeb’s lack of Canadian citizenship was a factor in him not being hired for the job that he was initially offered. Imperial Oil applied for judicial review and in June 2021 and the Divisional Court held that the HRTO was unreasonable in extending “citizenship” to protect differential treatment based on permanent residence.

Last week, the Court of Appeal heard the appeal arguments in Haseeb’s case. The Court of Appeal will now need to decide whether the HRTO reasonably found Haseeb was eligible for human rights protection under “citizenship” or whether Haseeb was indirectly discriminated against when Imperial Oil rescinded his job offer. Hopefully, the Court of Appeal will discern that Haseeb’s non-citizenship status was a reason Imperial Oil rejected him and this was unfair treatment on the human rights ground of citizenship.

As the federal government loosens employment restrictions for international students to deal with labour shortages in the wake of the pandemic, it is vital that law and policy makers recognize the tremendous value that international students add to Canada’s cultural and economic well-being. Denying employment to students on the permanent residence pathway should not be justified by a narrow and outdated interpretation of citizenship.

International students on work permits in Canada who seek to pursue permanent residency should no longer be treated as interlopers. It is time to recognize the diverse talents and the qualities of adaptability and resilience that immigrants and international students have as they work to prove their worth in our nation. The Court of Appeal has an opportunity to set things right and halt this age-old story of the labouring, minimally rewarded immigrant who must be grateful for their struggle. The decision to overturn the Divisional Court could have lasting impacts on the protection of rights for immigrants across the country and on the quality of life for newcomers who help make this nation a rich mosaic.

Ena Chadha is the Chair of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.