A program that brings international students to study in New Brunswick's public schools is facing a major drop in numbers during the pandemic.
Atlantic Education International normally recruits more than 600 students from ages 11 to 18 to come study for a semester or several years at anglophone schools. But with travel restrictions limiting entry to Canada, that number is expected to fall to about 90 this fall.
The federal government only allows entry to international students who received their study permits prior to March 18, under an order in council.
"It's essentially a seventh [of] what we're used to seeing, so it's a pretty significant drop in numbers — financially as well," said Megan Stymiest, the director of policy, finance and legal counsel.
As a provincial government-owned company, Atlantic Education International operates under the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was created in 1997 to market and sell educational programs abroad, including the New Brunswick International Student Program.
The company also sells the New Brunswick school curriculum to private schools in China.
International high school students are a big source of revenue for the province. In 2018-19, the program generated about $10.4 million for the New Brunswick economy, including stipends paid to host families.
Students come from 22 countries around the world. Those who study for a full school year pay about $20,000 for tuition, housing, health insurance and other fees.
After covering Atlantic Education International's operating expenses, revenue flows to New Brunswick public schools and districts. Stymiest could not say what portion ultimately goes to schools.
Families house the international students during their studies, but most will not meet until after 14 days of self-isolation. While many students from last semester stayed in the province to avoid travel restrictions, most recent arrivals will complete their quarantine at motels, hotels and other commercial accommodations.
Students have recently arrived from Vietnam, China, South Korea and Italy. Under public health requirements, they are transported directly to their isolation accommodations and will be tested on the 10th day in quarantine.
Stymiest said that finding hosts has not been a challenge during the pandemic.
"The host family piece of our program is really the pillar of what we do," she said. "And having all of these families in every corner of the province that are really committed and really dedicated to the students is what sets us apart from all of the other programs across Canada."
High schools students will be spending every other day at home doing online learning. It's a change the program is making sure hosts are prepared for — but the reduced classroom time hasn't deterred people from coming.
The program has grown exponentially the past few years. This past school year, more than 800 international students were in the province over both semesters.
"In the beginning, students would come usually for one semester, and it was just for an experience," Symiest said. "But in recent years we've seen students coming for full years and sometimes coming for Grade 11 and 12."
Some similar programs across Canada were forced to entirely close during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're hopeful that perhaps we may see some more students second semester," she said.
"I think we'll bounce back quite quickly provided that travel restrictions dissipate and families are willing to send their children."