International students unable to enter Canada, universities disappointed

·4 min read

As the start of the academic year approaches for universities across Canada, international students must make hard decisions regarding their education.

The Federal Order in Council for Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada outlines travel restrictions for non-Canadian citizens. The order was due to expire on July 31, but was extended to Aug. 31 with no added exemptions, meaning international students still cannot come into the country.

St. Thomas University student Madeline Berry was hopeful she'd be able to start her third year of university on campus but has been told 'No' by multiple border agents.

"I called the border and hearing that I might be considered a discretionary traveller forced me to look at my other options."

A senior spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency said in an emailed statement international students have to prove they need to be in the country to complete their studies.

Submitted by Hannah John
Submitted by Hannah John

"The foreign national must clearly demonstrate and substantiate why they need to be in Canada to carry out the educational activity in order to be considered as coming to Canada for a non-discretionary purpose," said Rebecca Purdy.

If students can attend classes entirely online, it's likely their travel will be seen as optional.

Lack of resources

Berry said working from home will be an adjustment.

"I'm unable to go to any study spaces where I am. I'm really going to be doing school from my room."

Photo: CBC News
Photo: CBC News

For students further away from Canada, the restrictions present different challenges. Hannah John lives in Kerala, India and said when she left campus in the spring she didn't take all her belongings with her.

"My friends are there, my books are there, everything is there because I didn't take all my things with me when I left. Half my life is in Canada."

She said she was worried about having to attend classes from a different time-zone but St. Thomas University has set up asynchronous learning so students can watch virtual lectures and do their coursework at a time that best suits them.

"That's something we dealt with right away to make sure that wouldn't be a barrier for our students," said Jeffrey Carleton, a spokesperson for St. Thomas.


The University of New Brunswick is following a similar method to ensure international students aren't at a disadvantage.

Still, officials at UNB and STU are disappointed international students can't enter Canada.

Carleton said the university has been providing international students with letters to bring with them when trying to cross the border. It explains that, even though all classes can be completed online, the campus is open and providing resources for students.

"We have all sorts of academic opportunities that we're arranging on a course by course basis," he said. "Study halls will be open, residences will be open, campus will be open and there'll be lots of classroom activities."

The letter also explains that students in Fredericton will have access to in-person counselling services, career development and other support services.

The numbers

Last year the Association of Atlantic Universities reported that over 19,000 international students attended Atlantic universities.

St. Thomas university has 202 international students currently enrolled and Carleton estimates this decision will impact between 30 to 40 students. The university has 1,850 students in total.

UNB's vice president of academic said about 10 per cent of their students are from abroad, but about 80 per cent of them stayed in Canada over the summer.

"All our students are essential," said George MacLean.

UNB's senior communications manager said the university is unable to provide specific numbers around international and non-international students because there is still a lot of uncertainty, but current enrolment numbers are consistent with last year. UNB has about 10,000 students.

"Total enrolment numbers are not finalized until early October and patterns this year are not easily comparable to previous years due to the impact of the global pandemic," said spokesperson Heather Campbell.

Berry said her mind is made up about staying in Maine, at least for the coming semester, but John said once flights between India and Canada become available she wants to try to enter Canada.

She's worried that working from home could impact her grades and said she needs to keep her GPA up to maintain her scholarship.

"It's not a choice for me to be like 'oh yeah, it's okay this semester.' I have to work very hard for my grades but this makes it even harder. I have to make sure that I can handle both and live a healthy lifestyle in the middle of a pandemic."