As Ontario hovers between different restriction levels and COVID-19 cases reach their highest count since January, entering the country remains a fraught process. March announcements that several Canadian universities — including York — plan on reopening in the fall came just after Canada expanded its entry restrictions to include a mandatory three-day hotel stay.
For international students, these two pieces of news leave them caught in the middle. While excited to return to school, many remain concerned about the costs and other worries surrounding the pandemic.
“I feel like it was really sudden and completely unfair for international students, or even international employees. Being forced to go abroad and study because universities worldwide are confused about when they’ll have in-person classes was tough enough,” says a Canadian graduate student at Manchester Metropolitan University who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Then add in the factor of being forced to come home before the hotel quarantine started in order to save $2,000 — which we don’t have thanks to international student fees — was way too hectic.”
The new restrictions came into effect on February 22 and they require incoming travellers to pay for the hotel out of pocket. York International has posted instructions for its own international students on its website, stating that “York has made arrangements with government-authorized hotels and local hotels for quarantine arrangements.”
The university’s quarantine plan is in coordination with either Fairfield Inn and Suites, the Hampton Inn and Suites, or the Crowne Plaza.
They mention that the costs for two weeks of quarantine accommodation at one of these hotels is approximately $1,200.
International students abroad who couldn’t afford the extra costs had to act quickly to avoid being stranded in a foreign country.
“I literally bought a whole new one-way ticket for February 21, about 24 hours before my flight — around $1,000,” says the anonymous student.
Mohammad Hasan, a third-year computer science specialist at the University of Toronto currently living in the United Arab Emirates, says the hotel costs are a concern, but not a dealbreaker: “I personally wouldn’t consider it something that would turn me away from coming back to Canada, but it does still play a factor in where I quarantine and live.”
Beyond the hotel stay, international students enrolled at Canadian universities are experiencing other difficulties as a result of nebulous lockdown guidelines and regulatory concerns.
“I was actually about to go back in January but then Ontario went into lockdown so that didn’t work out well,” says Hasan.
“As an international student, you need a temporary work permit to do co-op, and unfortunately, they don’t let you apply from abroad, even though the application is all online. Since I couldn’t go to Canada due to the lockdown, I couldn’t apply for the work permit and now I can’t do co-op.”
Deciding between staying in Canada versus remaining in a different country can seem like a no-win situation. This applies to both Canadian students studying abroad and international students studying in Canada.
The student who wishes to remain anonymous says it feels like there is “absolutely no support from the government for international students dealing with the uncertainties of the pandemic.”
They say financial support from the Canadian government for Canadians pursuing graduate studies abroad is minimal, and interest rates for loans are high. Meanwhile, their university remains in touch with international students mainly via email. “I feel like they acknowledge that we are suffering, but don’t do anything about it.”
If university campuses open up and he can come back, Hasan says he’ll be “ecstatic.” Given that he hopes to graduate in the fall, he doesn’t want to graduate on Zoom.
Hasan says that studying while living in a different country has been so much more difficult, and it takes a physical toll. “The time zone difference has been killing me. Especially being a computer science specialist, I go days without sleeping — I wish I was exaggerating.
“It sucks seeing your whole family go to sleep, wake up, then sleep again — all before you’ve slept even once.”