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International Students Faces Uncertainty As COVID-19 Threatens Manitoba Study Plans

Marie Paule Ehoussou from the Cote d’Ivoire is out of a job and facing financial uncertainty like many other international students who are going through the pandemic in Manitoba.

“We are asking ourselves,’ Will we be able to continue attending classes next year on fall semester?’ That’s a big question,” said Marie Ehoussou, external vice-president for St. Boniface University students’ union.

“For a lot of international students that I know, the answer may be no. And that’s very sad.”

Ehoussou said she and many other students have stopped working for weeks from part-time jobs. Some are having to use out of their tuition to pay for rent and groceries, she said, and that can’t go on indefinitely.

Annually, foreign students account for millions of dollars in tuition fees to Manitoba’s tertiary schools — they pay three-times what local students do — but the level of that contribution to the domestic economy could be threatened by shuttered campuses, travel restrictions and anticipated budget cuts at universities and colleges.

Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations’ President declared international students face the greatest uncertainty of any campus groups right now.

“I would say the lives of our foreign students are lives of uncertainty and stress, and through no fault of their own,” stated Scott Forbes, who is also a professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg.

As a group, international students are not universally recognised or covered by provincial or federal emergency support programs, said Scott Forbes.

Some international students do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit because they were not working enough before the coronavirus pandemic to meet the CERB requirements, said Iranian master’s student Roham Garmeh.

“This is why many of my friends are not eligible for CERB,” said Roham Garmeh, who is a member of the University of Manitoba Iranian Students Association and about completing his social work degree.

Garmeh paid $12,000 for his first year of tuition; local students in the same program paid $6,000 for their first year, he said.

He was eventually laid-off from his part-time job at a coffee shop in March. His application for income assistance and employment paid out once but was then denied because he had reported receiving funds through a scholarship, he said.

It took some days and hours on the phone with staffs at the Canada Revenue board, but it sounds like he may qualify for the CERB and can expect his first payment soon.

Still, Garmeh’s scholarship runs out in August, and with all the crisis and other challenges, he remains nervous and still uncertainty about his future.

“When you have lots of stress it affects you mentally: when you try and focus to do your proposals, to complete your courses, you find it really difficult.”

Federal And Provincial Government Announces Emergency Fundings

The federal government of Canada and Manitoba have both recently announced emergency funding supports for tertiary institutions and students in recent weeks, some of which are available to some international students.

Manitoba province is adding additional $5 million for the Manitoba Scholarships and Bursary Initiative, to the $10 million it earlier announced in the 2020 budget. International students are qualified to apply for that, though are not guaranteed to be selected.

Some international students are also able to apply for work through the summer jobs scheme the province announced a $120-million investment for this month, declared a provincial spokesperson.

On the part of the federal government, foreign students who were previously approved for a Canada study permit have been exempted from travel restrictions into the country.

Eligibility rules have also been eased for the federal post-graduation work permit program, allowing international students to work more than twenty (20) hours a week during the coronavirus pandemic — but only if they are working in an essential service.