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Study in Canada in times of COVID-19

Study in Canada in times of COVID-19

In continuance with our articles regarding overseas higher education options for students in the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, we now come to Canada, another highly regarded and favoured destination for Indian students. In 2019, Canada remained the country most favoured by international students and almost 140,000 Indian students were issued study permits to study in Canada. This indicated a hike of almost 25% over the number of study permits granted to Indian students in 2018 and for the first time, Indian students became the largest body of international students in Canada, replacing China!

What makes Canada such a favoured choice? In addition to having a robust economy, Canada has invariably been highly student friendly, providing the students with the option of working for three years post their two year MS studies and then also having the possibility of filing for PR status. Importantly, Canada has taken a strong and proactive stand in this crisis scenario created by the COVID 19. Thanks to a robust and dynamic health services system, they have already begun to flatten the curve. This same proactive stance is visible in their attitude towards international students.

Though most student residences across the country have closed down in an effort to protect the student population and flatten the curve, universities have arranged for stranded students to be accommodated in alternate accommodation, and repatriated wherever possible. Some hotels are reserving rooms for those who need to self-isolate. In most cases, the hotel guest must stay inside the room for 14 days without going into the hotel hall, lobby or any public spaces. Food and fresh linens are being left outside the room door. Provinces are even ramping up regulations to prevent landlords from evicting tenants during this time.

Despite all this, students who have applied to Canadian Universities and have received admission, were still unsure about how the scenario would play out, as there were stringent travel restrictions – Canada had shut its borders to all non-essential travel. On March 18th, the Public Safety Minister Bill Blair officially announced that Canada would be keeping its borders open for foreign workers and international students. This included students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect. The Canadian government has taken this step on the basis of their conviction that their entry will be considered essential travel, permitting them to cross land borders as well.

At the same time, the government has ensured that requisite precautions are taken, by certain additional requirements –  in addition to their study permit, international students will still need to obtain valid travel documents in order to enter Canada, such as a Temporary Resident Visa  (TRV) or an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). Those who arrive by air will be checked at the airport to make sure they are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Once they enter Canada, they must obey the quarantine order and isolate themselves for 14 days.

Canadian universities have also geared up for ‘worst case’ scenarios – in the event that international students are not able to travel due to restrictions in their home countries, they have the choice of attending online courses till the situation stabilises, or choose the option of joining the university in Spring. Many universities have cancelled final exams and have altered the grading scheme in light of recent circumstances, and are ready to implement similar grading systems for international students. This, however, differs from institution to institution, so it’s a good idea to check with his/her specific institution for more details about how the crisis will affect his/her joining and his/her academic year. Though most universities and colleges have closed their international centres, but continue to help international students by phone, email and through video conferencing. Many are hosting regular webinars to acquaint the students with their options and advise them on how to optimise their learning in this period.

While Canadian students are being paid 1250 Canadian Dollars per month, international students were left out of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit program, creating a huge imbalance in the system. University students established  a national coalition of student unions representing some 250,000 students and called for the Canadian government to extend the support measures available after a survey they conducted revealed that international students were “falling through the cracks” and were ineligible for the aid described above. This is when universities put their hand up to proactively take care of the beleaguered international students. Financial support was made available to both domestic and international students, earlier in April, if they had been laid-off due to the pandemic and had earned $5,000 in the 12 months before.

Students who have acquired admission to universities/ colleges in Canada need to take a note of the following:

  1. As soon as a student is admitted to a university, he/she should apply online for an initial study permit so that a student is in the queue for processing. After a student applies, he/she may be asked to submit biometrics (photo and fingerprints), which might not be possible to do right now, but this author is confident that Immigration will account for these delays and will process study permits as quickly as possible.
  2. While the Embassy is shut, the current travel restrictions will not prevent his/her study permit application from being processed.
  3. Temporary Residence Visas (TRVs) and Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs).  A studentcan submit online applications for a TRV or eTA inside of Canada as usual.
  4. A student can begin his/her program through distance learning from outside of Canada, even if his/her study permit application has not been processed yet. However, if a student intends to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after he/she completes his/her studies, he/she must have a Letter of Introduction OR a valid Study Permit, before his/her program starts in order to be eligible for PGWP. If a student has one of the above, he/she can complete up to 50% of his/her courses online while outside of Canada if he/she is unable to travel sooner.

If a student does not have one of the above, taking online courses outside Canada may impact the length of his/her PGWP and his/her eligibility for the PGWP. If a student wants to discuss how late he/she can begin his/her studies, postpone his/her start date to another term or defer his/her admission, contact the academic advisor in his/her university to learn about his/her options.

While we prepare to adjust to the challenges of a new world post the COVID 19, we need to account for the direction that the economies in the various countries shall take. While growth may remain stunted for the near future, there is a groundswell of support for the line of thought that propounds the belief that things shall get back to normal in 2021. That being the case, it becomes all the more mandatory for the Indian student to pull up his socks, acquire the knowledge that shall see him sail through the challenges of a new world. With this in mind, Studies in Canada remain a very strong option, one that shall empower a student with the tools needed to survive and do well in the world post 2021.

K. P. Singh

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