MPs endorse looser work rules for foreign students after heated debate

On April 25 the Latvian parliament endorsed, in the first and non-final reading, amendments that would allow foreign students to work 40 hours as opposed to the current 20 hours a week.

The amendments to the Immigration Law, pushed by members of the right-of-center KPV LV party, were supported with 55 votes 'for' and 35 'against'. 

Its authors argue that many students work well over the 20-hour workweek allowed under law and that upping the limit would encourage businesses to pay full legal wages.

The bill faced scrutiny by the conservative National Alliance party, with MP Jānis Dombrava saying that a number of Latvian universities are in fact focused on foreign students to "sell" student visas.

"Quality universities object against these visas. The State Security Service notes that they pose significant threat. Just recently, the Estonian security service likewise expressed a similar evaluation as concerns [foreign] students. At their country of origin, the [foreign] students are informed not about studies but rather about a way into Schengen and the job market," he said

But deputies from KPV LV as well as self-styled social democrats Harmony argued that there's demographic pressure in Latvia and that under the current regulations Latvia may be losing access to talent.

In 2017, LTV's Forbidden Methods show discovered that many foreign students work upwards of 40 hours a week, while employers don't pay them official wages. The show found that, for example, the Tokyo City company employs many students from Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, India and many other countries.

The show also concluded that there's little control of guest workers and the hours they work as the institutions that have access to such data don't cooperate.

Pointedly, KPV LV deputee Linda Liepiņa – one of the MPs who introduced the bill in parliament – appeared on the same episode of the show, admitting that her Wok to Walk company employs students from Uzbekistan. 

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