COVID 19 has been devastating. For everyone. Even more so for international students. As universities and colleges are forced to lockdown, many residences shut down too. As libraries are closed, classes suspended and roads deserted, international students are feeling secluded more than ever before.
For them, living away from family was always difficult. Once they landed in Canada on student visas, they went on to fend for themselves. Seeking jobs, finding shared and affordable housing, dealing with day to day chores such as cooking and cleaning and trying to cope with an education system that is new to them. The COVID-19 lockdown has made their situation even worse. Laid off from their part-time jobs, struggling to manage with little money that they have, unable to meet friends and living in forced isolation has put them in a precarious position. Add to this their fear about their own health as well as their parents and close ones back home. Who they cannot see or meet.
COVID-19 is not only a health issue for these students. It is a financial and psychological issue that keeps them constantly worrying about what the future holds for them. The fact that this is the first time most of them would have come away from their families, trying to live alone and have had no experience of dealing with any kind of crisis, makes their situation worse.
An international student too pays rent; she was making fairly decent wages to support herself, by working part-time. Will the government extend rent relief support to an international student? Or some compensation for lost wages? Some support to sustain during the crisis?
Canada has been at the forefront of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. It has done a very commendable job in providing support to these populations. From taking precautionary measures of monitoring and closing the borders, to trying to ensure the safety of its residents and providing financial support to them, there is a slew of measures that the government has implemented. It has provided rent relief, emergency response benefits and many more. It has beefed up its support system for the vulnerable. There is extensive support being planned and implemented to ensure the safety and security of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. In these critical times, it is important that the government puts its best foot forward to take care of its citizens and permanent residents. But it is also important to be inclusive. To take care of its temporary residents. Such as international students.
What protection and relief measures can international students expect from the federal government as conditions surrounding the pandemic change?
Support from universities and colleges
A handful of universities have let international students continue in residence and offered support. However, there are students who live outside the campus, and they need support to manage rent, grocery etc. They need a support network now and immediately after the crisis has ended.
Petitioning the government on behalf of international students
At the forefront of agencies trying to support the cause of international students is The Migrant Rights Network. It has identified four key demands for action by the Federal government. The network has launched a Petition: to ask the government to provide COVID-19 support to international students.
As it says on its site, “Thousands of migrant students have spoken out about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting us. We have lost work or income, we are struggling to pay bills and high tuition fees, we have limited access to health care, we are concerned for our futures in Canada, and we have been separated from our families by border closures.