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The International Student Wage Gap... And why it is important for you to know about it

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

You have probably already heard about the gender wage gap, which is an issue that even the UN is addressing as you read this. But, have you ever heard about the international student wage gap? That’s definitely an issue that most people haven't heard before and certainly neither the UN nor Canada is addressing it.

What exactly is the international student wage gap?

Well, a recent study by LMI revealed that, in Canada, there seems to be a wage gap between domestic and international students, and this gap sits at around a 20% difference, on average!! They also found that former international students earned 20% percent less than their domestic counterparts in the first year after graduation, and still made a stunning 9% less five years after graduation! So, this sounds like a hard truth to swallow. It seems like not only do international students struggle more financially than domestic students, but they also make less money. The reason behind this financial struggle is that many international students are not allowed to work full-time while studying or, if they are, the workload from their school makes it really hard for them to do so. Does this mean that, almost by default, international students are at a financial disadvantage over their domestic counterparts? Just to put things into perspective, this study discovered that, if an international student has an average entry-level salary in Vancouver of around $42,000 CAD, a domestic student would be offered $50,000 CAD for the same position. *according to Glassdoor.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves and start making assumptions, let's see what another study conducted by Statistics Canada describes as the possible contributing factors to this situation.

  • It suggests that one of the reasons for this gap could be the Canadian Work experience prior to graduation. Of course, international students don’t have any! They just arrived 😂. However, domestic students have been gaining this, should we call it “Canadian experience”🤔?, for years. Anyways, they’ve been accumulating experience probably since they were teenagers, being that in Canada it is part of their culture to start working at that age. A suggestion appears in this study stating that the lack of experience from international students means they haven’t had enough time in Canada to fully familiarize themselves with the Canadian workplace culture, although some students in the Thrivve community do not agree:

“Working in Canada doesn't seem any different from working in any other 21st-century professional working environment. There’s not so much for us to adapt to, so don’t get what all the fuss is about” Juliana, Graphic Designer from Brazil.
  • Another contributing factor is the limitations that international students have due to their status in Canada. This depends on the type of visa they have, but it is surely something that local employers take into consideration. Think of it, it represents less risk for employers to hire, promote, or move around a Canadian student.

  • Lastly, the lack of having a network to support yourself is, of course, another big factor. Most jobs are actually obtained because of networking, rather than from random online applications! So, if someone arrives with 0 connections in this country, that person is going to be at a disadvantage compared to a local student.

Ok, so there’s a gap, now we know it and are aware of it. But, now what?

Well, for starters, we can talk about it. We cannot fix an issue if we don't first acknowledge it. Talk to your classmates, talk to coworkers, let’s have more conversations about this and hopefully we can even the playing field.

We also hope that, with these conversations happening, both recruiters and potential employers will reconsider their policies regarding candidates who have no "Canadian experience." 🙏 It is shocking to think that, in such a globalized world and especially such a multicultural country, the same requirements that allow so many foreigners to immigrate to Canada (that is, to have work experience in their own country) are the same that prevent them from moving forward once they arrive.

Let's change this mindset 💪, let’s spread the word and, hopefully, we can start having a positive impact that could potentially support thousands of international students in the future.

With love, the Thrivve team!

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