International students still in limbo as school year approaches

The outside of the brick building of Liverpool Regional High School on a sunny day
Liverpool Regional High School. Photo by Ed Halverson.
Ed Halverson - QCCR - LiverpoolNS | 21-08-2020

As students across Nova Scotia prepare to return to an uncertain school year, most international students still don’t know if they’ll be allowed into the country.

Up to 200 international students from 30 countries spend part or all of the year attending high schools and junior highs in the area.

South Shore Director of the Nova Scotia International Student Program (ISP) Mitch Landry says his team has submitted a plan to Dr. Strang and the Nova Scotia public health department that would have incoming students quarantine at a hotel for 14 days before moving in with their host families.

Landry says there’s been no word yet whether or not their plan will be approved.

“We’ve been asking and we do not have an indication at this time, when those decisions will be made,” says Landry. “We just continue to plan. We continue to be hopeful and optimistic.”

Landry says any student who received a visa before March 18 is eligible to come study in Nova Scotia.

When the pandemic hit the province this spring, 13 international students decided to stay and wait it out.

“We do have some students here and they’ve been here through the summer, they never left the country. Those students will be starting in September,” said Landry.

A spokesperson from the Nova Scotia department of education and early childhood development confirms international students currently residing in the province will be attending classes in the fall. However, they point out that border restrictions are a federal matter and it will be up to Ottawa to decide when and if international students who applied after March 18 will be permitted to come to Nova Scotia.

Several attempts were made to find out from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada what would be required to allow international students into the province but they have not responded.*

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday that post-secondary students arriving in Nova Scotia will have to self isolate for 14 days and be tested three times during that quarantine period.

Education minister Zach Churchill says his department is working with public health to decide if international students will even be permitted into school this year.

Nova Scotia operates the fifth largest international student program in the country behind two in Toronto and two in Vancouver. Landry says that is a testament to the giving nature of Nova Scotians.

“We open our hearts and our homes to these students. Our home-stay families love them like their own children,” said Landry. "These students leave Nova Scotia and have a memory of Nova Scotia for the rest of their lives, hold it as their second home.”

Landry says they’re looking for creative solutions to ensure the program continues. He says the whole reason for the program is to provide an opportunity for Nova Scotian students to interact with people from around the world.

“It’s of course a global world and the goal of our program is to help our own local students see different perspectives and meet people from different parts of the world so that they’re better prepared to function in that world when they go off to university and ultimately in their employment,” said Landry.

Aside from the cultural benefits, ISP students pay tuition, which covers the cost of the program and provides some funding to the schools they attend.

Should the province accept the hotel quarantine plan, Landry says the program would help cover the expense of the rooms so the students would not cost taxpayers a dime.

Landry is hopeful he will hear soon that international students can come back this fall. Less than three weeks remain before schools start on Sept. 8, and international students arriving from abroad will need time to quarantine for 14 days or risk starting at a later date.

*Since this story aired, a representative from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has replied and confirmed the details reported here. They also described efforts to make the process less onerous for international students but did not provide a timeline when students applying after March 18 would be eligible to study in Canada.

Reported by Ed Halverson 
Twitter: @edwardhalverson