COVID-19 causes problems for international students in Canada

International students at Durham College who remained here are facing COVID-19 related challenges.

International students who have chosen to wait out the pandemic in Canada are worried about their futures being impacted by COVID-19.

Like all colleges, Durham College (DC) transitioned to online learning following recommendations from health officials in March. Ontario Tech University also moved to an alternate learning format.

When DC closed the campus, that left international students facing a tough decision about whether to return home or remain in Canada.

“I had plans of working this summer instead of going back home, so I thought if I stayed back, and things went back to normal, I could work,” said Abhay Gr, 23, an Interactive Media Design student who made the choice not return home to India.

Like millions of Canadians, Gr has been laid off from his job as a sales representative, as non-essential businesses have been forced to close. He said he fears not being able to make rent payments on time.

According to the Government of Canada, landlords are encouraged to establish fair agreements to keep tenants in their homes, especially those who can’t work because of the pandemic. The government recommends renters apply for COVID-19 emergency assistance.

In some circumstances, aid is also available to international students through Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit, CERB. Under this program, $2,000 a month will be given to eligible workers for up to four months if they have lost their income due to the pandemic. An online application is available to determine eligibility.

During these unprecedented times, international students are also concerned for loved ones back home.

Rilita Theodora, 21, a Communication and Digital Media Studies student at Ontario Tech, says staying in contact with her family through video calling and messaging helps her to cope with being away from her home country, Indonesia.

“Seeing my family sometimes makes me feel at ease, but in this situation, I’m just worried about them and less about me,” said Theodora.

She says she needs to obtain her work permit and then maybe she will think about going back home.

However, many countries have put travel restrictions in place as a preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. Canada’s measures now include denying entry to those who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

As well, many DC international students are worried about challenges new students may face because of the virus.

“I’ve been in Canada for more than two and a half years now. For me, it’s easy existing,” said Kratik Gandhi, 20, a second-year Marketing student at Durham College. “I have friends which I know are staying in Oshawa.”

One of Gandhi’s biggest worries is international students who are living away from home for the first time dealing with the pandemic using limited resources due to business closures.

He says banks and landlords won’t be able to provide enough support to students who have arrived for the summer semester.

However, the college has support available for students whether they remain in Canada or are no longer able to arrive due to COVID-19.

Marianne Marando, associate vice-president of International Education, says the spring first semester has been cancelled because students can no longer board flights or obtain study permits.

She says her office is available to help students who remain in Canada.

“Our international student advisors are available virtually by phone, zoom, or email to answer any questions that they have,” she said. “We also hold informational webinars around issues that pertain specifically to international students to do with study permits, visas, and immigration.”

She encourages students to check in on a regular basis.

“We are their family when they’re here in Canada and we hope that they reach out to us when they need something,” said Marando.

According to Durham College’s website, the college will receive $400,000 from the provincial government, as part of a $25 million overall fund for post-secondary institutions, to be used to help support students’ most pressing needs. Emergency financial aid and emergency food service are just two of the needs that may be met.