On October 20, the federal government announced that international students from several designated learning institutions (DLIs), including U of T, will be allowed to return to Canada if they already have, or have been approved for, a study permit and are returning for the purpose of an ongoing educational program.

To be eligible as a DLI, universities must fulfill certain criteria, such as providing students with a quarantine location.

Travelling to Canada

Before the policy change, international students who had not received a study permit prior to March 18 could not return to Canada, with the exception of international students from the US. Now, students will be allowed to return regardless of their country of residence or the country where their study permit was approved, according to the university. However, students may only return if their reason is deemed “non-discretionary and non-optional.”

A student’s return is considered essential if they have all the required documentation, they attend a DLI, the reason for their return is to study, and their program remains active. Border service officers will consider a variety of factors upon arrival to determine the student’s eligibility, such as their reason for travelling to Canada and whether they can safely quarantine before attending classes.

A student’s family may also come with them to Canada as long as they prove that the reason for their stay is “non-optional.” When entering the country, students must have a valid study permit, an acceptance letter, and proof that they will be able to support themselves and their family for the duration of their stay. Border service officers will make the decision on whether a student is eligible to stay in Canada.

U of T readiness plan

In order to qualify as a DLI, a university must provide students with transportation from the airport; a 14-day quarantine location; and information on how to stay safe, and get food, medication, and health insurance during their quarantine.

U of T’s plan, which begins with helping students form a quarantine plan, fulfills all these obligations. If possible, students will be accommodated on campus. In the event that accommodation on campus is not available, the university will provide students with a downtown hotel room. 

Students will have daily health and wellness checks and will be tested for COVID-19 in accordance with health guidelines. Welcome packs with snacks, detergent, face masks, and digital thermometers are also provided. 

The university will also offer an “at-home” program that allows students to quarantine in their own space. This program will include information on how to quarantine, where students can get food, and how to receive health and wellness checks. During this period, U of T encourages quarantining students to get involved in curricular and co-curricular activities and to use mental health resources as needed.

“We understand that the pandemic brings additional challenges, especially around isolation and loneliness,” a U of T spokesperson wrote in an email to The Varsity. “Students continue to have access online and by phone to the Health and Wellness services at all three campuses, including individual counselling appointments as well as groups.”

The spokesperson added that “international students are an important part of the U of T community, contributing diverse perspectives and experiences; they are part of the world-class education that prepares all students to co-operate and compete internationally.” They also noted that students would benefit from attending online classes and communicating with other students while in the same time zone.

Reaction to U of T’s procedure 

“My overall experience with the university’s COVID-19 and quarantine procedure was great,” Shashwat Aggarwal, a third-year student from New Delhi who returned to Canada in August, wrote to The Varsity. “[It accommodated] for dietary restrictions, ensured that the students got whatever they needed in their rooms, and performed daily health & wellness daily check ins.”

While Aggarwal acknowledged all the hard work professors have done to accommodate students in different time zones, he also wrote that “it is still very difficult to do online schooling from a place that you associate with comfort and peace.” However, he noted that students have different learning styles, and there are pros and cons to returning to Canada.

Aggarwal wrote, “For some students, being able to do school from home is awesome but for some it’s not what they wanted.”