Peterborough Green UP
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Illustrations by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

No Way In For International Students

Written by
Varun Biddanda
and
and
November 8, 2021

It’s no secret how dependent Canada has been on its international student community, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Marco Mendicino, the incumbent Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada (IRCC), has made it clear several times that the onus is on international students to fill the gaps in the post-pandemic Canadian labour market. To commemorate the introduction of a fast-track pathway to residency for foreign students this May, Mendicino said the following; “International students are ideal candidates for permanent residency, and we don’t just want them to study here; we want them to stay here.” Canadian post-secondary institutions seem to share this sentiment too. As a result of the tuition freeze on domestic tuition, universities have become increasingly reliant on international students to pay the bills since they pay about four times as much as the average domestic student. In 2021, the revenue from international students alone amounts to $5.1 billion, which is nearly the same amount of money awarded to post-secondary institutions from provincial grants.

No Way In For International Students
Illustrations by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

Both the IRCC and Canadian universities want international students to stay in the country. But are they doing enough to ensure that they enter the country in the first place? 

Due to quarantine measures, entry into Canada is not guaranteed for students, even with the appropriate travel documents - students must also show proof that they need to enter the country to study, which requires knowledge of the additional steps necessary to ensure that they are not stopped by a border services officer. Students are also expected to book medical examinations and arrange their own accommodations for quarantine prior to setting off for Canada. This process is compounded if their journey involves layovers or stopovers, as students must also organise COVID testing and a place to stay at each leg of their journey. Coordinating travel is an arduous and expensive process for incoming and returning students alike, and mistakes could be severely costly.

The responsibility has fallen on universities to ascertain that their students make it across the borders safely. According to Paul Longhurst, the Global Engagement Manager for Trent International (TI), Trent University has been doing its part to accommodate the various and complicated needs of the international student community during these times by assisting students in planning a safe arrival into Canada. His team at TI have coordinated safe arrival plans for over 1400 students, held numerous webinars to assist students in planning their entry to Canada, and have published newsletters that provide students with updated immigration information. 

“Federal regulations regarding who is eligible to enter Canada and under which contexts continue to change. Trent International has been, and continues to be, the institutional experts in this regard.  We have been in regular communication with the federal and provincial governments to ensure that we were able to safely welcome as many international students to our campuses as possible,” says Longhurst, regarding the efficacy of the TI program. 

“We were one of the first designated learning institutions in the country to have our COVID Readiness Plan approved, which allowed us to begin to support students in planning their entry to Canada. It is essential that we have the most up-to-date information available so that we can provide the best guidance to our students.” Longhurst boasts that TI holds an average response time of 24 hours for inquiries and three days for quarantine plans. 

Some international students, however, do not share the same opinion as Paul. Shishir, an international student from India enrolled in the Biology program, feels that Trent’s assistance to foreign students can be improved in many ways, starting with communication. “It was at the end of April that I tried to get in touch with them...but nobody got back to me until May 25th.” 

Shishir needed to attend in-person classes for summer, but faced difficulties leaving India as a result of the Indian travel ban imposed by the U.S. and Canada due to high COVID-19 caseloads. Receiving World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna in his part of the country was nearly impossible due to the local government emphasizing the usage of  the locally produced Covaxin. Thus, he had to reach out to TI to get help charting out a complex transit route that would allow an unvaccinated traveller to enter the country safely. 

“It was ridiculous. I tried calling them, emailing them, leaving voice notes… but I got no response.” TI holds appointments and virtual drop-in hours for Trent students to ask urgent questions, but these were of no help to Shishir either. “I had to attend five to six drop-in sessions until I finally got a reply.” When told that some international students find TI to be unresponsive at times, Longhurst had the following to say:

As individual circumstances can vary greatly, it can take a few days to research and respond accurately to some inquiries. We always try to prioritize truly urgent concerns, but yes, periodically a response to an email may take longer than we desire.

Shishir’s situation is by no means a unique one - about 34% of international students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions originate from India, and they too were affected by similar travel restrictions. None of the events Shishir went through suggest that TI lacks the means to ensure students make their way through the borders, as even he managed to make his way past the borders in time for summer classes. Rather, it shows how thinly spread TI is with respect to the international community - while there are nearly 1100 full-time international students currently enrolled at Trent, TI only has 4 full-time employees addressing the immigration needs of these students. As Paul mentioned, the needs of students vary greatly between nationalities, and giving individual attention to each one takes time and effort. TI has hired a team of part-time student employees to make up for its small size, but these employees are only effective in addressing simple queries. An expanded team of immigration experts with increased availability throughout the week may bode well for students in the same boat as Shishir.

Shishir’s troubles don’t end with TI’s inaccessibility. “It was in the first week of June that I finally got a flight via Muscat and Frankfurt. I had to go through two different countries to get into Canada…In total, I ended up paying nearly four thousand dollars, including testing and accommodations at each leg of the journey.” Shishir mentions that some smaller institutions, such as Fleming College, offer a certain amount of reimbursement for international students to make up for travel costs, and is surprised that Trent does not do the same. 

“Trent makes itself well-known for the amount of scholarships available,” he said, referring to Trent’s recent announcement celebrating its #1 ranking in scholarships and bursaries throughout Canada according to Maclean’s university rankings. “#1 in scholarships… but not for international students.” With limited funding options and many skilled student jobs being Trent Work Study Program (TWSP) positions (which prevent international students from applying), international students like Shishir must turn to working in unskilled, minimum wage jobs off campus just to make ends meet. “If each international student is paying $27 000, multiplied by a thousand students… that’s a huge amount of revenue! But I don’t know if that revenue is going back to us.” 

Tara, an international student from Nepal enrolled in the media studies program, feels the same way. “Trent markets itself as a place that is geared towards international students, like it’s an awesome place to be! And in a lot of ways, it is. But sometimes, it really isn’t.” She credits the TI-organized orientation program for helping her acclimatize to life in a new country. “When I first came in, I was lost… I was shocked to learn the importance of a SIN number, a very important piece of documentation, or how to find a phone plan. Trent did a very good job with the orientation week [for international students], helping them find the basics and settle down.” 

Her problems arose during her return to campus this fall, when her flight was rescheduled by a few weeks due to the volatile situation with COVID-19 in Nepal at the time. As a result, she missed nearly two weeks of in-person classes while quarantining. Even after she expressed her situation to her professors in detail, hoping to receive some in-class material to make up for her lost classes, or at least additional office hours, nearly all of them turned her away, citing that they weren’t allowed to share lecture material as per university recommendations and that it was her responsibility to try and make up for lectures she wasn’t able to attend by reaching out to other students. 

“I was told that the first few weeks were foundational and that it would be best for me to drop out of the course and enroll in a subsequent semester…but this was a mandatory course,” says Tara. “The whole point of me attending classes is to make friends with other students…where do you expect me to get my notes from if I’m not there? [They aren’t] accommodating for international students… So many of them are still stuck in their home countries, and the flights are so expensive! Are students stuck in their home countries just supposed to change their major, or drop out?”

Cases like Shishir’s and Tara’s outline a problem that post-secondary institutions across the country partake in - they cultivate bloated international student communities to function as cash cows, but they ultimately cannot support these communities adequately. While organisations such as TI try their hardest to maintain a diverse and supportive environment for international students, they cannot ensure their future in Canada, which defeats the purpose of herding them into the country in the first place. Barriers entering the country are a small part of a long list of issues faced by international students, which includes the student housing crisis, steadily increasing tuition fees, and job insecurity. As a result, despite the availability of fast-tracked pathways to permanent residency for international students, only 3 in 10 graduates actually immigrate to Canada after earning their degrees.

If the IRCC’s goal is to make international students stay here, they must work hand in hand with Canadian universities to ensure that students can come in first.

Peterborough Green UP
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Written By
Sponsored
Peterborough Green UP
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 5
Caption text

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
  • adfasdfa
  • asdfasdfasd
  • asfdasdf
  • asdfasdf

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 4

Heading 5
Caption text

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
  • adfasdfa
  • asdfasdfasd
  • asfdasdf
  • asdfasdf