Extend pandemic relief supports to international students

An expect call, one that is unlikely to enjoy widespread political support given other resource demands and that the government has generally been flexible in its response to the situation of international students (e.g., on line courses counting as time in Canada, access to CERB):

COVID-19 has affected us all in one way or another. But there is always beauty behind the chaos.

The beauty is that we have the opportunity to be emotionally closer to each other while being physically distant and to help and think of each other even more than before. This pandemic requires a global effort to return to our normal lives. In the past couple of months, we learned how important it is to cover our faces in public places to avoid the spread of COVID-19. We learned that it is equally important to ensure there’s enough personal protective equipment for everyone to don face coverings, too.

But what does the global pandemic mean for thousands of international students living in Canada?

Canada has a reputation of being an inclusive community, where evidence-based decision is a guiding principle, and where thousands of students dream of starting a new life. International collaboration has always been key in advancing science and technology in Canada, and international students have made contributions.

International students compromise more than 24 per cent of the student body at the University of Toronto. But they are excluded from recent benefits and crisis reliefs.

International students face additional challenges in the time of this global pandemic. Financial uncertainty has always been an issue. They have lost their jobs and have limited access to financial support. The $9-billion investment for students and recent graduates, including the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, announced by the federal government does not include international students.

Additionally, some international students could not return to their home countries because of imposed worldwide travel restrictions. The federal government recently set an exemption from travel restrictions for immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. The immediate family members of international students were excluded from this.

A recent survey from the International Students’ Caucus suggested most international students at U of T consider “financial matters” and “sense of belonging and community” to be among the top mental health concerns they face while studying abroad.

They try to adjust to their new cultural and academic environment and feel privileged to spend the best years of their lives in Canada. But the lack of adequate support for international students at this time could worsen the already concerning mental health situation of this group of students.

The absence of such support would be detrimental to Canadian higher education as well. The operating revenues of Canadian universities such as U of T are strongly tied to students’ enrolment. In the absence of federal support, the incoming international students would see more obstacles to engage with and become part of their new community. This would eventually result in their lower enrolment at Canadian universities.

Maybe it is time for national support where no one is left behind.

Source: Extend pandemic relief supports to international students

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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