The House of Commons in Canada has fast-tracked and passed a series of student-focused Covid-19 support measures that will allow eligible post-secondary students to claim $1,250 a month from May to August to mitigate the impact of losing summer jobs. However, international students will not be able to avail of the funding.
While earlier support measures such as the CERB were open to international students, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit will only be available to Canadian citizens, including Canadian students returning from studying abroad.
The government has also said it will create 76,000 jobs in front-line sectors, will extend scholarships, grants, and fellowships, and is launching a grant that will offer students money towards their tuition fees if they volunteer in a sector needing assistance.
“Although this benefit is welcome news, by limiting the benefit to only Canadians and permanent residents, it fails to recognize the contributions that international students make to Canada and its post-secondary education system,” said Cape Breton University president David Dingwall, who is calling for the government to offer more support to international students.
“Like Canadian students, international students are facing hardship due to Covid-19. Many rely on employment during the summer months to help support their education and gain experience to reach their career goals, an option that is now in jeopardy.
“Opening the CESB to international students will send a strong message, ensuring Canada remains a top educational destination for international learners,” Dingwall added.
The measures come after the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities – a national coalition of student unions representing some 250,000 students – called for the Canadian government to extend the support measures available after a survey they conducted revealed students were “falling through the cracks” and ineligible for many programs.
Financial support was made available to both domestic and international students earlier in April if they had been laid-off due to the pandemic and had earned $5,000 in the 12 months before.
However, a survey of over 3,000 students at 64 different post-secondary institutions across Canada found that almost three out of four were worried about meeting financial obligations such as rent, groceries, and other bills, and 79% were concerned about paying for tuition come autumn.
“It is no surprise that international students are being left out, as always,” said Wesam Abdelhamid Mohamed, an international student representative for the Canadian Federation of Students.
“Everyone in Canada is experiencing challenges and uncertainties related to Covid-19, and international students are no exception.
“Many of us have lost jobs, we have limited access to supports, and we are away from our families. International students contribute billions of dollars to Canada’s economy and should be included in these emergency relief measures.”
Most students are struggling to find and hold onto summer jobs, he added.
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 canceled, 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.
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