Canada’s border policy leaves international students abroad during COVID-19

Published On March 24, 2020 | By Zee Zaman | International, News
Canada announced a travel ban in the middle of March for all non-essential flights to stop the spread of COVID-19. (David Preston/Upsplash)
Zainab Zaman

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took extreme measures on March 16 when he declared a temporary travel ban on non-essential flights in order to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

This news left many international students uncertain of whether or not they are exempt from this ban, and if they will be allowed back into Canada once they leave or if they have already returned home.

Many students are left in isolation in a different country far from their homeland. Canada is the world’s third main destination for international students, nearly 642,480 students are having to decide to go home to their families during a world-wide pandemic and risk not coming back, or distancing themselves in a foreign country with no source of income.

According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada people who may be exempt from the travel ban include:  

  1. Seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers
  2. International students who had a valid study permit or were approved for a study permit before the restrictions
  3. Approved permanent resident applicants before the bans were in place

After classes were cancelled at Humber College, Vaibhav Ved was not surprised that flights would soon shut down given the global coronavirus pandemic. Ved decided to stay in his basement apartment in Etobicoke rather than expose himself to the virus and getting stuck in a transfer flight. 

Regardless of the travel ban and not being able to go to India Ved, who is in paralegal studies, would have preferred to be back home but is still holding on to the hope of things going back to normal. 

 “Looking at the conditions, if I do get infected there is no one to look after me, which is why it’s better for me to be with my parents,” Ved said. 

Ved is one of many students stuck in Canada. Several post-secondary institutions ordered students on Wednesday to move out of their dorms to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

“My main struggle right now is not being able to work, because I would rely on my job for rent, groceries and expenses, the government should provide help with rent,” Ved said. 

Last week, Sooyun Jang and 6,500 other International students at Humber were notified via email that all campus classes would be cancelled and transferred online. 

After reading the email, Jang a second-year multimedia design student at Humber was hesitant to leave Canada to be with her family in South Korea. 

Jang lives in a one bedroom apartment, She was very excited while waiting for her mother who was planning to visit her in April before the travel ban was announced.

“I’m a bit frustrated with everything going on, but I didn’t think the virus would spread this fast,” she added. “I thought I would see my mum, but the border shutdown and the situation keeps getting harder,” Jang said. 

Jang is spending her time playing video games, cooking traditional meals and reading online lessons. 

Ved has been avoiding the virus and staying at home alone, he asks his landlords to get him his groceries and video chats with his family back home. 

“If the situation doesn’t improve and the virus spreads, I would rather be with my family in India,” Ved said. 

Most international students fear the thought of moving to Canada during summer courses.

Gautham Kolluri, who works directly with clients as the manager of education counselling for CIP Study Abroad says he is offering his students weekly food donations to their door during this time.

He is also asking the government to help through tuition refunds during this time.

“It’s difficult for international students to lock up and go home, we should work with the community to support our students,” Kolluri said.

Kolluri also offers hope for future students who are moving to Canada and are expected to follow the rules of self-distancing for 14 days when entering Canada. “If future students don’t have friends or relatives, we offer them hotel bookings or furnished apartments, and we use virtual technology when communicating.”

Noah Mukhtar was among the lucky bunch that made it on time for some of the last flights out before the travel ban took place.

Mukhtar who was almost done completing his Master in Analytics at McGill says Quebec was among the first provinces to implement the quarantine rules.

“The city of Quebec and my school took action quickly before the COVID-19 spread and they were very proactive,” Mukhtar said.

According to CTV news, in Quebec zero deaths were reported on the coronavirus, and 17 patients were infected at the time.

“Once there were a few cases, the city declared a two-week shutdown, it was on March 13, I remember it because it was a day after my birthday,” Mukhtar said.

Mukhtar who has been in Canada longer than five years says a part of him felt like he needed to go back to his country and the other piece of him thought that he should stay.  

“There was much confusion on whether or not I should stay or leave and if I’m leaving will I be able to come back,” he said.

The option of having to finish his studies remotely encouraged his decision to go back to The Kingdom of Bahrain.  

“My plan is to finish my classes online and hopefully come back and stay in Canada,” Mukhtar said.

Fuelled by a fear of flights getting delayed and ultimately cancelled helped with Mukhtar’s decision.

“I didn’t want to miss my chance of not being able to go back, I had to get on the first flight back home.”

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