Most international students are currently barred from entering Canada because of the federal government’s latest travel restrictions. But even students who are able to enter face an additional challenge: finding a place to self-isolate for 14 days, which is required by law as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some students told HuffPost Canada they will stay with friends in Canada; others have rented Airbnbs. But several international students say they are confused about where they are expected to self-isolate, while others worry about the cost and logistics of getting food during isolation.
Canada has 11 federally designated quarantine sites, with about 1,500 rooms, that are used for people entering the country who don’t have a place to isolate themselves, such as if they live with a vulnerable person or don’t have private transportation if they’re symptomatic, according to a spokesperson from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
The government provides transportation to the facility, as well as necessities like food and medicine. The sites are located in 11 different cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg.
WATCH: New arrivals to Canada must present quarantine plans: Freeland. Story continues below.
The PHAC recently released COVID-19 guidance for post-secondary institutions, saying border screening or quarantine officers have the final say on whether a student’s quarantine plan is suitable for entry into Canada.
The guidelines add that post-secondary institutions should consider designating some single-room residences or off-campus housing for isolation purposes.
At the University of British Columbia (UBC), students moving into a shared student housing space are required to first self-isolate in a different space. The university is offering several different types of private accommodation for students both on or off campus, with prices ranging from $966 to $2,086 plus tax. Meals are not included in all of the plans, and the university lists meal and grocery delivery services online.
UBC students with a student housing contract moving into a studio or one-bedroom apartment can apply to move in early and pay early arrival fees.
Some students say isolation guidelines are unclear
Anthonie Fan is planning to do a double major in ethics, society, and law and international relations at the University of Toronto. He’s currently in Shanghai, China.
In an email to HuffPost, Fan said he feels the university hasn’t adequately communicated its guidelines on isolation to incoming international students. He is hoping he can isolate his residence room, but he’s not sure if this will be deemed an acceptable quarantine facility by the university or government.
He said he’s hoping for clear instructions from the federal government and university to incoming students to counter the “haunting” uncertainty they face.
“We are prepared to offer a space either on or off-campus for all students arriving in Canada to quarantine if they do not have a suitable place to do that,” a spokesperson for the University of Toronto told HuffPost.
Students who need to quarantine can arrive at the university early. The university will provide transportation and a space either in residence or off campus, as well as food, daily check-ins, temperature checks, programming and other supports, the spokesperson said.
The university is in discussions with hotels to ensure it has enough space to accommodate arriving international students. The cost to students is being determined and will be shared with students soon, according to the spokesperson.
“Fixed plans and lack of uncertainty would be nice to see ...”
Divas Kapur, who is originally from New Delhi, India, has been studying and working in cybersecurity in the United States on and off for the past seven years. He’s now planning to join the Master of Science in Applied Computing program at the University of Toronto (U of T) in September.
The Canadian government is making an exception for U.S. students to enter the country, but Kapur doesn’t know if this will apply to him.
When he eventually gets to Toronto, he expects to be able to self-isolate at U of T’s Massey College, where he has accepted an offer to live as a junior fellow.
He’s been in constant communication with the college, and says they’ve been flexible and have announced measures to help with safe physical distancing.
If Kapur’s not able to travel here right away, he’s not sure what will happen with his residence offer. Eventually, he said he may have to decide whether to give up his spot in residence, meaning he wouldn’t have a designated place to isolate whenever he’s able to come to Canada.
Friends who don’t have spots in residence are also uncertain as to where they’ll quarantine, he said.
“Fixed plans and lack of uncertainty would be nice to see, whether it’s the government talks to universities and they have some sort of accommodation plan for people, or if it’s just university bodies taking care of their international students whether on campus or off campus,” Kapur said.
“It would be nice to see a definitive [guideline], like, ‘When you come in[to Canada], whenever you do, this is where you’ll be’ … just a solid plan going forward for accommodation would be nice.”
Students are responsible for quarantine plan: lawyer
It’s ultimately a student’s responsibility to find a place to quarantine, said Elizabeth Long, a partner at Long Mangalji LLP who specializes in immigration law. She said there are three elements to a student’s quarantine plan: how they get to their self-isolation spot from the airport, that the apartment or residence has a place where they can isolate separately from others and how they plan to get supplies like food.
“All of these things need to be presented to the [Canada Border Services Agency] officer at the border in order to satisfy them that you have a plan,” Long said.
Students could stay at an Airbnb or hotel, or use food delivery services to get food, so some may not have issues with organizing their 14-day isolation, she said; but more of a concern for most students might be actually getting to Canada in the first place.
Long said she’s heard of students who were turned away at the border because CBSA officers told them that online classes mean they don’t need to physically be in Canada. Officers will decide whether a student’s reason for travel is discretionary or not, based on individual circumstances, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
“International students should consult their designated learning institution before travelling to Canada for information regarding their plans with regards to the quarantine period,” a spokesperson from the IRCC said in a statement to HuffPost.
Long’s advice to students is to be aware of the laws, because policies around travel restrictions are changing quickly.
“Make sure before you get on a plane or buy that ticket, you can reasonably come to Canada,” she said. In this case, she said “reasonably” means students have a physical lab or placement component of their program that can justify their presence here.
Students who complete 50 per cent or more of their program in Canada will still be eligible for a post-graduate work permit, which many international students pursue as part of a path to permanent residency in Canada.