Canada’s House of Commons has speed up the process and passed a series of student-focused Covid-19 support measures that will allow eligible tertiary students to claim $1,250 a month from May to August to cushion the impact of losing summer jobs. However, thousands of international students will not be able to avail of the funding.
While earlier Covid-19 support measures such as the CERB were open to foreign students, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit will only be open to Canadian citizens, including Canadian students coming from studying abroad.
The federal government has also said it will establish 76,000 jobs in front-line sectors, will extend grants, scholarships, and fellowships, and is about launching a grant that will offer students money towards their tuition fees if they choose to work in a sector needing assistance.
“Although this benefit is delightful news, by limiting the benefits to only Canadians and permanent residents, it fails to recognize the contributions that international students make to Canada’s economy and its post-secondary education system,” said Cape Breton University president David Dingwal, who is calling for the federal government to offer more support to international students.
“Like Canadian students, international students are facing difficulties due to coronavirus. Many rely on employment during the summer months may help support their education and obtain the necessary experience to achieve their career goals, an option that is now in jeopardy.
“Opening the CESB to foreign students will send a strong message, ensuring Canada remains a major educational destination for international students,” Dingwal added.
The measure come after the Undergraduate of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities – a national coalition of student unions representing some 250,000 students – called for the federal government of Canada to extend the Covid-19 support measures available after a survey they carried out revealed students were “falling through the cracks” and not eligible for many programs.
Financial support was made available to both local and international students earlier in April if they had been laid-off due to the coronavirus pandemic and had earned $5,000 in the twelve (12) months before.
However, a survey of over 3,000 students at sixty-four (64) different tertiary institutions across Canada found that almost three out of four were worried about meeting financial obligations such as groceries, rent, and other bills, and Seventy-nine (79) per cent were concerned about paying for tuition come autumn.
“It is no surprise that foreign students are being left out, as always,” said Wesam AbdElhammid Mohamed, international students president for the Canadian Federation of Students.
“Everyone in Canada is experiencing coronavirus related challenges and uncertainties, and international students are no exception.
“Alot of us have lost jobs, we have little or no access to supports, and we are living away from our families. International students contribute billions of dollars to Canada’s economy and should be included in these emergency support measures.”
Most students are struggling to find and hold onto summer jobs, he stated.
The UCRU survey found – which found 73% of students worried about summer rent and utility bill payments – also said as many as 23% of students had already had their summer contract delayed or cancelled, while a further 21% are worried this will happen and 37% are still looking for jobs.
The government has announced some changes that will allow international students to work more than 20 hours a week during term time “provided they are working in an essential service or function”.
“Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making important contributions as frontline workers in health care and other essential service sectors,” said Marco E.L. Mendicino, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.
“We know and value their efforts and sacrifices to keep Canadians healthy and ensure the delivery of critical goods and services.”
However, various student representative bodies have called for much more to be done.
Canada’s Migrant Rights Network has set up a petition calling for more Covid-19 support for international students, and for the concerns and priorities of migrant students to be properly addressed.
“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,” it wrote.
“The government’s response to this public health crisis so far has not included us.”
According to CBIE, as of December 2019, there were 642,480 international students in Canada, a 13% increase over 2018.