As if moving to a new country and starting university program weren’t stressful enough, the unknowns of pandemic schooling have left some international students wondering if and when they will be able to study on Manitoba soil this year.

Complete with a rowdy frosh week, intramural sports and lecture halls besieged with fresh students, Sangyun Kim had always imagined his first year of university would reflect clichéd depictions of North American campus life.

The incoming new student from South Korea has had to adjust his expectations.

“I just want this coronavirus situation to be slowed down as soon as possible so that I can make many friends and enjoy the campus life in Manitoba; that’s just all the things I wish and all I hoped for,” said Kim, a prospective business student at the University of Manitoba, during a telephone call Friday from Seoul.

With nearly six weeks remaining until the school year starts, Kim is putting finishing touches to his study permit application in the hopes that he will be able to move into a residence on the Winnipeg campus as early as October.

If the federal government of Canada doesn’t approve his request, the twenty-two (22)-year-old will be stuck in a different time zone, fourteen (14) hours ahead of both his instructors and classmates.

New guidelines released from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are not in his favour. An update issued this week shows international students whose visas were approved after Canada’s lockdown may not be allowed entry into the country until travel restrictions loosen.

Even international students with a valid study permit or who had received a letter of introduction before March 18 may be denied entry if their reason for travelling is considered “discretionary.” Foreign students will have to prove their in-person presence is necessary for their program, and if accepted by border officials, self-isolate for fourteen (14) days once they arrive.

The Université de Saint-Boniface has provided fresh students with two options this fall: do distance learning or defer admission.

“This first option is not recommended because distance learning is done in a face-to-face manner; meaning that students may be ‘in class’ very late at night,” spokeswoman Dominique Philibert said in an email Friday, adding the French university does not expect many fresh students to begin their studies in September.

Provincewide, schools are anticipating revenue losses related to a drop in international students. Universities Canada estimates one-quarter of post-secondary institution revenue comes from foreign students, who pay higher fees than their Canadian counterparts. Campus meal, parking and residence revenues will also take a hit.

Last year, sixty-five (65) per cent of the students in U of M’s residences were an international student. To date, nearly half of the students who have reserved on-campus housing for the fall are international students, and never left campus.

Public health protocols mean schools also have to shrink their residence capacity and only offer single-dwelling units. The University of Manitoba is offering fewer than half of its usual beds this fall.

At Brandon University, where international students normally fill twenty-five (25) per cent of campus housing spots every year, residence manager Derek Booth said staff has been showing concerns about a decline in housing arrangements connected to international travel restrictions.

On Friday, Booth said residences are expected to be opened to eligible students in the first week of September, with staggered check-in schedules, social distancing markers and new occupancy limits in common areas.

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