Earlier this year, Canada announced that international students would be exempt from a travel ban as long as they had a valid study permit or had been approved for a study permit before March 18, 2020.
“I explained all my situation…but they refused me again for boarding”
However, new rules mean that the Canada Border Services Agency is only letting students into the country if their travel is ‘non-discretionary or non-optional’.
Confusion around these restrictions have led to students being turned away from flights by airlines even though they have bought tickets, have study permits and believed they were allowed to travel.
“When I reached the IGI Airport in Delhi, I was trying to board, but the staff of Air India was not letting me [on the plane],” Ramanpreet Kaur, an international student who has a place at Lambton College in Sarnia, told The PIE.
“They checked all my documents and asked me for the Port of Entry letter, in which my college mentioned that my presence in Canada is essential.
“I was stuck there and arguing with the managers for three hours. I explained all my situation to them and showed all the documents which I had but they refused me again for boarding,” Kaur said.
Kaur said that eight other Indian students were prevented from flying, one of whom was taking a hybrid course at a Canadian university.
A statement on the Canadian government’s website explains that prior to boarding, air carriers are instructed to conduct an assessment of foreign nationals’ ability to travel to Canada based on CBSA guidance for the travel restrictions.
However, the decision to allow entry into Canada will rest with CBSA officers.
“CBSA continues to share and disseminate guidance to air carrier stakeholders, in the context of our role to provide guidance to airlines on persons appropriately documented to seek to fly to Canada,” a spokesperson told The PIE.
The PIE asked Air India exactly how it assesses whether a student is eligible to travel to Canada but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.
CBSA told The PIE that between March 22 and July 22, 235 foreign nationals travelling trans-border by air were denied entry into Canada. It did not say what number were international students.
“We students are facing a lot already whether it’s financially or mentally”
The change in rules around students having to have a ‘non-optional’ reason to enter the country has caused great concern for some Indian students.
“We students are facing a lot already whether it’s financially or mentally,” explained Ruhani Thakur, an Indian student who plans to study at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
“[The Canadian government] should understand the ground problems of Indian students.
If we wanted to study online and in our home country then why have we invested this big amount [of money] in Canada, while we can support our own country rather than supporting Canada for their economy?” she said.
Students who are did not have their study permits approved before March 18, 2020 have also expressed concerns that their learning will be impacted if they are not able to enter the country.
A campaign has been launched on the website change.org, which calls on the Canadian government to open its doors to all international students including those who were approved for a study permit after March 18.
“Not being in Canada may limit our learning experiences for several reasons,” a statement on the petition reads.
“Students may not have access to proper resources in order to begin or continue their education (ie: high-speed Internet, labs, research libraries, censorship of certain information in some countries, etc.),” it says.
The petition also notes that time zone differences may affect the ability of students to actively participate in classes and that research/graduate students may not be able to conduct their research or have access to resources that allow them to conduct said research.
According to the campaign, some students risk losing their funding if they are unable to begin their degree studies in the Fall, and some students feel unsafe in their homes and/or countries. Such places may not be conducive to learning.