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 applies this guidance to assess 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. 

A spokesperson from Universities Canada told The PIE that international students continue to be “very welcome on Canadian university campuses”, though the organisation understands that students are currently facing barriers to entering Canada. 

“We appreciate this is an incredibly disruptive and uncertain time for all students; however, universities are prioritising the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and their larger communities at this time, and they are working to determine the best and safest path forward,” they said. 

“I will have to suffer a huge economic loss. I will lose my dream life”

One particular concern for Indian students is that they will not be eligible for post-study work if they are not able to enter the country. 

Canada’s PSW rules require a student to have been on campus for at least 50% of their course. However, for those doing one-year programs, time is running out. 

Dinesh Kumar who was due to study at Centennial College Canada in Toronto said he had his study permit approved before March 18 and was stopped from boarding an Air India flight in June. 

“My 50% study will be completed [August 20, 2020]. I have to come to Canada before the beginning of the final semester which will begin in September,” he said. 

“If I fail to reach Canada before the beginning of the final semester I will lose my eligibility for the post-graduation work permit program.

“I will have to suffer a huge economic loss. I will lose my dream life,” he added. 

The PIE asked the IRCC for comment on student concerns but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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