International student worry about pandemic as decisions loom on travel to Canada

Zohra Shahbuddin is weighing whether to enrol this fall or put off coming to Canada until next year

VANCOUVER — Zohra Shahbuddin says she was thrilled when she received a letter of admission in April from the university of her choice in Canada.

She’s been admitted to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver for a master of publishing degree but is having sleepless nights worrying because of COVID-19.

Like other international students, Shahbuddin faces uncertainty as universities switch to online classes. She also has financial concerns, worries about a work permit and has fears about her health.

She is weighing whether to enrol this fall or put off coming to Canada from Pakistan until next year.

“It’s been almost two months now and I’ve been thinking about it everyday and still cannot make a decision,” she said in a phone interview.

International students contribute $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supported nearly 170,000 jobs in 2018, said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Caron said in a statement the government is accommodating students who complete their studies outside Canada between September and Dec. 31 by not deducting that time from the length of their post-graduation work permit.

International students will also be allowed to work more than the maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session, provided they are working in an essential service, such as “health care, critical infrastructure, or the supply of food or other critical goods,” she said.

Shahbuddin said she’ll make her decision by June. If she gets her visa processed, she said she is OK with online classes as long as it does not affect her work permit.

Matthew Ramsey, a spokesman at the University of British Columbia, said it will primarily be offering online classes in the fall so students can participate from around the world.

The university will not know enrolment numbers until September because most students who are offered and accept admission sometimes opt out for a variety of reasons, he said.

Ijaz Ashraf is from Pakistan and has been accepted at Concordia University to do a master’s degree in industrial engineering. He said he will likely defer enrolment because he’s not satisfied with online classes and wants to experience campus life.

“I really want to explore the diversity of students in Montreal and I really want to be present in the university and communicate with teachers,” he said.

Tuition costs are the same for online classes, which he said is “not suitable.”

International graduate students at Concordia University pay much more per year for 45 credits compared with domestic students.

Ashraf also said he’s worried about the large number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec.

“I am thinking about all the factors. I am consulting with my family.”

Mutee Ur Rehman, who’s been admitted to York University in Toronto for a PhD in electrical engineering, said he is worried about doing the laboratory component of his program over the internet.

“Also, since I am a PhD student, my interaction with my supervisor and my group members is very important,” he said. “A campus atmosphere is a stimulus and motivates you.”

Time zones will also be a potential problem online, he said.

“I cannot sleep during the day and keep awake at night to take two classes. That’s very impractical.”

He said the pandemic changed everything for him.

“It ruined my plans and I’m in an uncertain situation.”

Rajdeep Dodia, who has been admitted to a graduate certificate course at George Brown College in Toronto, is also leaning towards deferring to next year.

He said he is concerned about paying $16,000 for online classes, then finding a job in a pandemic-depressed economy.

He also has problems with internet connectivity in India.

“The internet is good right now. It’s 7:30 a.m.,” he said in an interview on FaceTime.

“After some time, the strength will go away. I won’t even be able to send a message on Facebook.”

David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said he’s heard many of the same concerns and his group has been working with the Canadian Federation of Students.

Both groups have suggested tuition waivers or cuts funded through the government.

He said there’s an added concern for students in some countries where the course material may be censored.

“It does potentially put those students at risk, logging into that course,” he said.

International students make up a significant portion of student populations, he said, and it’s in the interest of the schools to find solutions to ensure they get a quality education.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read