canada borders open
How easy is it for international students to cross Canadian borders? Source: Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP

Travel restrictions are slowly relaxing in certain countries with visitors from low-risk countries allowed to enter. Borders in Canada, however, are still not fully open for international students.

Travelling to Canada used to be a fuss-free affair for Americans, as all they needed to do in the past was produce their driving license to cross the border. In this current pandemic, that’s no longer the case. Canada is keeping its borders tightly closed to American students along with other visitors, to prevent future clusters of infections from imported cases.

If you’re an international student — from a low-risk or high-risk country — planning to enter Canada, here’s what you should know:

Student visas may be delayed

Visa processing is taking longer than usual due to restrictions caused by the pandemic. According to Politico, visas that used to be processed within weeks are now taking months to secure.

For Americans, applying for Canadian student permits used to be a breeze, as they could apply online or in-person at the Canadian port of entry when crossing the border. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), US citizens who show up at the border and can prove they’re travelling for a non-discretionary reason may be permitted to enter Canada, even if they’ve yet to secure a valid permit.

According to Politico, some American students are still reportedly being blocked from entering Canada. The takeaway from this is international students from the US risk being turned away if their physical presence in Canada is deemed not essential. Despite campuses and residence halls being open, international students may not be granted student visas if they’re taking a fully-online course.

canada borders open

Passengers walk to the Air Canada check-in counter at Toronto Pearson International Airport on April 1, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. Source: Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP

Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson Jacqueline Callin told Politico, “There are many factors that come into play when an officer is allowing a traveler to enter the country. It is important to note that the final determination is made by a border services officer on a case-by-case basis at the port of entry with the information presented upon time of entry to Canada.”

It’s taking longer to process student visas online too — the turnaround is currently 19 to 20 weeks. Before the pandemic, it used to take up to a month. Deena Wang, manager of international recruitment at the University of Windsor in Ontario, told Politico that the IRCC has clarified that processing study visas are a priority. She said, “It took some time to speed up, but the government aims to process the majority of the applications before the program starts next month.”

If you live in China, India, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, or Vietnam, you may receive your student visa faster through Student Direct Stream. According to the IRCC, “Depending on where you live, you may be able to get your study permit faster through the Student Direct Stream (SDS). We try to process most SDS applications within 20 calendar days. However, some applications may take longer.” To get your student permit processed faster, you should give your biometrics as soon as possible and meet all the eligibility requirements.

Commuting to Canadian colleges and universities still not possible

All visitors and returning Canadians are required to quarantine for 14 days when entering Canada, and there are no exceptions for international students. As the borders in Canada are not fully open yet, this makes commuting for class (as many US citizens do) impossible. The rule works both ways, as Canadian students in the US are also not allowed to cross the borders into Canada for educational purposes.

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