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The Right Honourable Prime Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives, some more severely than others. Your government has taken measures to provide essential support to domestic students and we welcome the announcement of Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). However, above and beyond the shortcomings of the CESB identified by student groups, in excluding international students living, studying and contributing in Canada, this announcement leaves a substantial body of students behind.
The COVID-19 crisis is unsettling and disturbing for all of us. It has also deeply impacted the lives of over 600,000 international students in Canada, most of whom are graduate students. One of the first emergency measures, and rightly so, was to restrict air travel and institute airport lockdowns. International students who remained in Canada have been inordinately affected relative to domestic students by these measures, left vulnerable to the economic crisis cut off from family and support systems in their home countries.
These students also depend on summer employment to pay for summer tuition, groceries, rent and other necessities. With an estimated 4.5 million people laid off and non-essential services shut down, employment opportunities for international students are close to non-existent. They already face an economic burden with higher tuition fees than domestic students, strict restrictions on employment, additional summer tuition and now a severe lack of job opportunities. With the on-going crisis, these students have lost their means of income and are struggling to sustain themselves. This is an economic crisis, a social crisis and a mental health crisis, especially for those who are away from familiar environments and their families. International students are not covered under any relief measure that provides for their basic needs at this point.
The CESB announcement for students who are not able to find summer employment is extremely limited in its scope and impact. It ignores the needs of international students who face severe economic challenges in these challenging times for the same reason as domestic students. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also announced that the government is lifting the 20 hour restriction on work as a relief measure for international students — provided they work in an essential services such as health care, critical infrastructure or the supply of food or other critical goods. This is disappointing and discriminatory against international students, upon whom these restrictions were placed for the reason that they are not the labour force, and are here for educational purposes. The assumption that the crisis has somehow removed that priority for students, who often come for better access to education and do not come from affluent backgrounds, is misplaced and adds to the vulnerability and ill-treatment of international students.
In addition, and despite the lack of resources such as child care support, institutional support, infrastructure such as libraries, labs and study spaces, major national universities have refused to waive summer tuition for international students who rely on these resources to perform academically. The cost of living combined with the unprecedented burden on students without family support and the loss of job opportunities is unbearable for many.
International students need the attention of your government, and we ask you to not leave them behind in your progress to end the impacts of the pandemic.
This pandemic has revealed many social inequalities, and this is our chance to not let the people who are the future down. Your government needs to step up and set a global example of what Canada represents.
We urge the government to take cognizance of the grave situation of international students in Canada and call for:
1. An increase in public funding specifically for the duration of the upcoming academic semester to provide educational subsidy and assist universities in creating a safe and secure environment for international graduate students;
2. The extension of scholarships, grants, and other forms of funding opportunities for international students.
3. Most urgently, the inclusion of international students under the CESB and other relief measures that the government will undertake to combat the pandemic and its impact.
Thank you for putting relief measures in place, we strongly urge you to not leave the vulnerable behind.
- Courage (Ottawa)
- International Development Graduate Student Association of the University of Ottawa
- The End FGM/C Canada Network
- Phalandia Mondésir, Canadian Association for Medical Radiation Technologists
- Jermaine Jacobs, Equality Fund
- Dima Amad, Executive Director, The Arab Community Centre Toronto
- Giselle Portnier, Independent journalist and filmmaker
- Maryan Abdikadir
- Shivangi Misra, Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)
- Klara Hillmann
- Cyndia Mondésir, Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)
- Adrian Murray
- Frederic Langlois, PhD
- Laura Shantz, PhD
- Cameron Roberts, PhD
- Guyleigh Johnson, Writer
- Kenjina Princivil, Montfort Hospital
- Mélissa Simard
- Gabriela Sigouin
- Matthew Lipton, Algonquin College student
- James Hutt
- The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
- The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth
- The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion