Pursuing high standard education in Canada has always been the dream of many Filipino students. But the economic and societal breakdown brought about by COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives and dreams of these Filipinos and 640,000 international students across Canada.

The international students’ community is regarded as a vital facet of the Canadian society and economy, contributing more than $20 billion to the country’s GDP and bolstering more than 150,000 jobs in various industries.

While the global pandemic continues to make a significant impact on international students, higher education institutions are working together with the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ensure they keep on prioritizing safety and providing support to these students who are dealing with the pandemic while living thousands of miles away from home.

Online Classes

To comply with the safety measures enforced by Alberta Health, most schools continued to offer classes though online platforms instead of the face-to-face classroom delivery, adopting more amenable learning hours to help students adjust with the new set-up.

Classes and discussions are being delivered live or recorded virtually and all requirements are submitted online. Most institutions have also decided to be more flexible in terms of grading and payment options.

While different schools have different grading systems, most of them gave students the option to choose between a letter grade and a categorical grade. Others have changed their systems from letter and number grades to credit or non-credit.

In terms of financial support, international students are qualified to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Emergency aid and support were also put in place to benefit students in dire need.

“We are thankful with the considerations made because that way we can plan our finances ahead and plan the time we should dedicate for learning, as well as for working,” says Kate, who arrived in Calgary last fall and works part-time in the food and retail industry.

While international students are prohibited from working more than 20 hours per week while class is in session, those who are working in industries classified as priority sectors like Kate’s will be allowed to work more hours until August 31, 2020.

Kate is taking a program in human health and services, working part-time as an associate, and taking care of her four-year old daughter. Despite the uncertainties, she remains strong and positive that she can thrive in these challenging times.

“The school was very proactive in their approach to COVID-19. They acted on the government restrictions soonest they could and kept all the students updated. The international center also provided us with resources on how we can effectively cope-up with the changing situation,” discloses Krisanta.

Krisanta is studying general management, while taking care of her seven-year old son. While thankful that her family remains safe, she can’t help but also worry about her loved ones back in the Philippines. A former work colleague has passed away because of COVID-19.

Despite these worries, Krisanta continues her studies online, perseveres by actively looking for other available opportunities—all in the pursuit of a better future for her family.

Canadian Dreams

All colleges and universities in Calgary has decided to switch to an online learning format until the Fall Semester in compliance to the Health Ministry’s strict measures to flatten the curve. IRCC clarifies that taking online courses will not affect eligibility for Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP).  

According to a statement released by the institution: “PGWPP eligibility will not be affected for international students whose fall 2020 courses will be online due to COVID-19. This is in line with guidance provided to students already studying in Canada or whose program had a spring or summer start date.”

At the same time, potential students from the Philippines who were granted a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, are allowed to travel to Canada. Abel Pagaling of student placement service provider Canada Advantage, underlines that Filipino students have the option to still go to Canada and have a 14-day quarantine plan or begin their classes even while still in the Philippines.

The IRCC disclosed that if they are not able to travel to Canada sooner due to reasons related to COVID-19, they may start their classes through distance learning and complete half of their program in their home country.

“Pursuing education abroad has become more challenging and these are indeed, difficult times. But we Filipinos are known for our resiliency,” says Abel. “By following health recommendations, we don’t have to be disheartened and let the pandemic get in the way of reaching our dreams,” adds Abel.