Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many travel restrictions put in place that have affected international students at U of T. Those entering Canada from January 15 onward are asked to show proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID-19 PCR test. Additionally, Canadians are asked to avoid non-essential travel.
With the current restrictions and regulations, many international students face difficulties with their studies due to uncertainty about their ability to travel home for the break or to come back afterward.
The government of Canada originally implemented a ban on incoming travel from 10 African countries: South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, and Egypt. Although the ban was set to expire on January 31, it was lifted on December 18 at 11:59 pm. This happened before the current restrictions placed by the Ontario government, but no further details have been released since it was lifted.
Starting January 15, any person entering Canada must have a negative pre-entry COVID-19 test result and be fully vaccinated. A shortage of COVID-19 tests and cancelled flights have also made it increasingly difficult to travel as the Omicron variant continues to spread. The Varsity has found that international students have been expressing a consistent uncertainty around travel restrictions because of the pandemic.
Luise Hellwig, a representative for U of T’s International Students’ Advocacy Network (ISAN), spoke about these difficulties in an email to The Varsity. “The travel restrictions intensify uncertainty about international students’ ability to go home over the breaks… and under which circumstances they will be able to return to Canada,” she wrote.
Hellwig added that some students make the difficult decision to not return home because quarantine measures in their home countries are strict, which makes the entire process not worth it. Going home for such a short amount of time, given the precautions that must be taken throughout, becomes too challenging.
Hellwig wrote, “This uncertainty and being away from home for a long time can take a toll on academic performance, especially with all the other stressors already present during busy times of the semester such as finals season.”
The travel restrictions have made the overall process of returning to Canada more difficult than usual. These restrictions “increase the prices and impede the availability of flights to Canada in some countries,” according to Hellwig. “Last year, only people vaccinated with [BioNTech], Moderna, [AstraZeneca] or Johnson & Johnson were considered vaccinated travellers while entering Canada, which posed some additional challenges to students from countries that had administered different vaccines.”
Hellwig stated that she had not heard of anyone who was unable to continue their studies due to the restrictions or travel bans, but she wrote that “U of T’s announcements about its pandemic measures always only offer clarity for a short period of time without providing a broad overview of support options available to students should they be unable to return to Canada.”