COVID-19 & International Students

The life of the international student is complex and potentially difficult, even under normal circumstances. Consider the steps it takes to apply for and secure a student visa, plus organizing housing and work, building friendships, learning a new language . . . To be sure, taking on an international education is not for the faint-hearted.

However, in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are additional stressors for international students to consider. While some students receive work permits to work off-campus, many international students rely solely on their on-campus earnings—including that from research assistantships, teaching assistantships, employment in the Student Union, etc.—to get by. But, what happens when a pandemic shuts down educational institutions of all levels across North America?

Student working life

According to the government of Canada, “on-campus work” is defined by its physical presence on campus, and student workers whose work is related to teaching or research can take place off-campus. For students whose work is not related to teaching or research, campus closures might mean the end of their employment. And, unless a student has received an off-campus work permit, the possibility of securing employment elsewhere is unrealistic.

The loss income can compound the stress created by concerns about physical and mental health, worries about loved ones at home, and the emotional toll created by social distancing and isolation.

The good news

The bright side of Canada’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the government has taken steps to protect international students.

For one, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has lifted the 20-hour per week limit for working international students, provided that students are working in essential services.

In addition, the Canadian government has made the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) available to international students who meet the eligibility criteria which all applicants must meet.

Student visa changes

Another major area of concern for international students is the on-campus classes required to qualify for a student visa. If classes are diverted online in the fall—as a majority of Canadian institutions have done already—there could be significant implications for international students, especially in relation to applications for post-graduation work permits.

IRCC has released amended guidelines for international students. For the fall of 2020, international students who complete online coursework abroad will be able to count this coursework in their application for post-graduate work permits. In addition, IRCC will be offering priority processing for student visas which have been submitted online, in order to provide international students with more flexibility to study in Canada or in their home countries.

For more information about what the Canadian government is doing to support international students during the COVID-19 crisis, please visit the IRCC website.

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