Updated rules mean that some international students may not be able to travel to Canada despite the government’s previous promise that they would not face any travel restrictions.
Earlier this year, Canada announced that international students would be exempt from a travel ban as long as they had a valid study permit or had been approved for a study permit prior to March 18, 2020.
However, this rule has now changed, with the Canadian government now says that students who have a study permit before March 18 will only be exempt from the travel ban if they are traveling to ‘non-discretionary or non-optional’ objectives.
“All foreign nationals who wish to enter Canada must come to Canada for the purpose of the trip non-optional or non-discretionary,” Rebecca Purdy, a senior spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, told The PIE News.
“Finding an entry for the purpose of studying in Canada will generally be considered discretionary/optional unless there is a requirement for students to be in Canada,” he said.
Crucially, this would mean that students can learn online in their home countries are likely to be refused entry.
The changes have caused major concern among international students, who say that studying in their home country, not a viable option because of the time difference and because of online study does not provide good value for money.
“There is a big difference between Canada and India,” said Mohammad Danish, a student who plans to study at Centennial College in Toronto.
“You have to wake up late at night to attend these classes … Many students face problems. Health-wise it’s not worth it to stay awake all night and study and then sleep all day.
“IRCC has told [the students] that they are liberated from traveling but they are not allowed into the country, are not allowed to board the plane.”
Akshay Bhardwaj, another Indian student, explained that many students traveling to Canada and chose to study abroad because they live in rural areas where internet access is a problem.
“Rural areas in India do not have internet facilities … they often experience power issues,” he said.
The final decision whether a student will be allowed into Canada to be done by border services officers and IRCC, but guidelines that outline exactly what is traveling non-discretionary or non-optional has been published on the website of the Canadian government.
border forces will consider if the student is already established in Canada and returned to their homes at this time and if the school they are re-opening and they will be able to start classes after their quarantine period is completed.
Officials will also consider if the student’s program requires them to learn in those (such as the need for a laboratory or workshop), if their program is not being delivered online or if they are not able to learn online from their home country (including problems with bandwidth).
They will also consider if the program students are being postponed or canceled, or if they have suspended the registration for the foreseeable future.
Cindy McIntyre, assistant director of international relations at Universities Canada told The PIE that international students continue to be “very welcome” on Canadian campuses despite the barriers they face.
“We appreciate this is an incredibly disruptive and uncertain time for all students; however, universities are prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and their larger communities at this time, and they are working to determine the best and safest path forward,” she said.
Canada recently announced measures to support international students beginning a new program online this fall, including fast-tracking study permit processing and introducing a temporary two-stage process for international students who cannot submit all of the required documentation.
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