Canada backtracks on travel ban exemption for international students

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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, these rules have now changed, with the Canadian government now saying that students who had a study permit prior to March 18 will only be exempt from the travel restrictions if they travel for a ‘non-discretionary or non-optional’ purpose.

“All foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada must be coming to Canada for a purpose of travel that is non-optional or non-discretionary,” Rebecca Purdy, senior spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in a media interview.

“Seeking entry for the purpose of studying in Canada would generally be considered discretionary/optional unless there is a requirement for the student to be in Canada,” she said.

Crucially, this will mean that students who can study online in their home country are likely to be refused entry.

The changes have caused great concern amongst international students, who say that studying in their home country is not a feasible option because of time differences and because online study does not provide good value for money.

“There is a vast time difference between Canada and India,” said Mohammad Danish, a student who is planning on studying at Centennial College in Toronto.

“You have to wake up late at night to attend these classes… Many students are facing problems. Health-wise it is not feasible to stay up all night and study and then sleep all day.

“IRCC has told [students] that they are exempted from travelling but they are not being allowed into the country, not being allowed to board planes.”

Akshay Bhardwaj, another Indian student, explained that many students travel to Canada and chose to study abroad because they live in rural places 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 as to whether a student will be allowed into Canada will be made by border services officers and not the IRCC, but guidelines that outline exactly what constitutes non-discretionary or non-optional travel have been published on the Canadian government’s website.

Border force will consider if students are already established in Canada and returning to their current residence and if their school is re-opening and they’ll be able to start classes after their quarantine period is complete.

Officials will also consider if a student’s program requires them to study in-person (such as the need for laboratories or workshops), if their program isn’t being delivered online or if they are unable to study online from their home country (including issues with bandwidth).

They will also consider if a student’s program is being delayed or cancelled, or if they have deferred enrolment to a future date.

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 prioritising 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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