International students face uncertainty as Ontario requests entry ban

·3 min read
Ruben Abraham Varughese is an international student from Kochi, India hoping to come to Ottawa this year.  (Ruben Abraham Varughese - image credit)
Ruben Abraham Varughese is an international student from Kochi, India hoping to come to Ottawa this year. (Ruben Abraham Varughese - image credit)

With flights to and from India and Pakistan on hold due to major COVID-19 outbreaks and Ontario trying to stop international students from entering the province altogether, study permit holders are facing an uncertain future.

"It's the most hurtful news for me," said 22-year-old Ruben Abraham Varughese, who's hoping to study this fall at Algonquin College in Ottawa.

"I've already spent a lot of money on trying to get a good education in Canada. We have already invested so much [in Canada] and after that they tell us international students may be banned? It's very painful."

Last month, the federal government announced that all flights to and from India and Pakistan would be banned for 30 days. However, India's second wave of infections refuses to abate, leaving the door open for an extension of the ban.

Varughese is currently in Kochi, a coastal city in the southern Indian state of Kerala. He plans to come to Ottawa in August, but it's not clear if the travel ban will be lifted by then, or if international students will be exempt once it is.

Shortly after the ban was announced, Ontario asked the federal government to prohibit international students from entering the province altogether. The prime minister said he was open to working "more narrowly" with the Doug Ford government on this request.

Before the travel ban, citizens, permanent residents and those with valid study or work permits were allowed to board direct flights to Canada.

'My money is gone'

According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Ontario is home to nearly half of all international students in Canada.

India alone accounts for more than one-third of all study permit holders in Canada.

"We have to be [considered] essential travellers," said Varughese, who has already spent $30,000 on tuition and other expenses.

"I have to look for a house to rent, put down my deposit, buy things I need to take with me. Say I pay advance to a landlord, and then the government says I can't come. What happens then? My money is gone."

While colleges and universities across the country are hoping to have in-person classes by the fall, students like Varughese may now have to settle for another year of virtual learning.

Shweta Joseph Corriea, pictured, is a graduating student from Algonquin College, currently on a student visa and awaiting her work permit. She planned to travel to her hometown, Mumbai, in May, but had to cancel her plan because of the travel ban.
Shweta Joseph Corriea, pictured, is a graduating student from Algonquin College, currently on a student visa and awaiting her work permit. She planned to travel to her hometown, Mumbai, in May, but had to cancel her plan because of the travel ban.(CBC / Radio-Canada)

No travel home

Meanwhile, recent graduates like Shweta Joseph Corriea are worried they might have lost their last chance for an extended return home.

"I planned to go home for the summer break, but I changed my plans because of the travel ban. I don't know when I will see my family again," said Corriea, who just finished her studies at Algonquin College.

When it comes to COVID-19, Corriea's hometown of Mumbai is one of the hardest-hit cities in the world.

She said she was already missing important family moments — including her sister's wedding and her niece's birth — because she thought it best to stay put in Ottawa during the pandemic. The crushing blow came with the death of her great-aunt last month from COVID-related complications.

"We were very close. She was a nun and just the sweetest. She would bring me toys and treats whenever she visited. I was her favourite," she said.

Now, with the travel ban, she doesn't even have the choice to go home.

"I told my mother to tell me everything, good news or bad," Corriea said. "But I'm scared there will be death or sickness in the family and I won't be there."

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