Eased travel restrictions a relief for many international students

UBC international students will be able to cross the border more easily, after the federal government included the university on a recently-released list of designated learning institutions, approved to reopen to international students currently not in Canada.

International Student Advising has been helping students and parents navigate the ever-changing rules and regulations that have been put in place since the pandemic began, from online guides to entertaining case-specific inquiries.

“We are finding many students are expressing relief that they have the freedom to travel to Canada,” said Michelle Suderman, director of UBC International Student Development, in an interview on what the new regulations mean for students.

“This change means that international students wanting to come to Canada now have very similar travel restrictions or opportunities to come as they did before COVID.”

Those similar restrictions include possessing a valid study permit or a letter proving this approval, with the new addition of your university or college being on the list of designated learning institutions who have been approved for their COVID-19 readiness plan — of which UBC is one.

For fourth-year applied animal biology student Sofia Rodriguez, uncertainty about entry to Canada back in September kept her home in Mexico, but she now plans to return during the break.

“Now that travel for UBC students has been deemed essential, I feel less stressed about being able to go back.”

Even though term two is online, many students want to come back to campus — evidenced by the number of first years living in residence being set to double in the new year.

“I think the motives [behind coming back] are as unique as our students are,” said Suderman, with reasons ranging from logistical issues like leases and other commitments to the more personal.

“For continuing students at UBC, in many cases they have a well established social network, a sense of place, connection and belonging at the university on the campus in Vancouver and the Okanagan and so in some ways this is coming back to a home.”

Rodriguez said she wants to come back to campus for the routine and because of the time difference.

“Honestly I didn’t realize that I needed a routine … until COVID hit,” she said, “I want to go back mainly so there is not a time difference. Most times it’s okay but I have some classes that end at 10 p.m. my time and I’m usually pretty beat and unable to absorb any information.”

Despite the openness of the rules now, some students are still not able to fly to Canada quite yet.

Biometric data collection is needed to complete study permit applications, Suderman explained. This is done in the second stage of the process, by visa application centres. Those centres were forced to close under COVID-19 regulations, which caused a huge backlog in study permit applications. The vast majority of this backlog is in India, whose centres are now being reopened across the country.

Suderman said advising is trying to ensure international students are succeeding in online school, no matter their location.

“We want all of our students, including our international students, to thrive in their time at UBC but it’s hard to thrive if you’re taking exams at 3:30 in the morning.”