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U of T among universities given green light to welcome international students to Canada

Flags hang outside of Victoria College's Burwash Residence in 2018 (photo by Diana Tyszko)

More international students enrolled at the University of Toronto will now be able to enter Canada after changes to COVID-19 travel restrictions that took effect Tuesday.

U of T is among the Canadian universities on a list of designated learning institutions that have been deemed to have a rigorous COVID-19 readiness plan in place for foreign students’ arrival.

The change in study permit restrictions applies to all international students, regardless of where they are coming from or when their study permit was approved.

“International students are an integral part of the University of Toronto community and their presence greatly enhances the experience of all students and faculty,” said U of T President Meric Gertler.

“We appreciate that all three levels of government have worked with universities to find a comprehensive solution to bring these students into the country safely at this challenging time.”

While hundreds of international students enrolled at U of T have already safely arrived in Canada, those who did not have a study permit issued prior to March 18, when border restrictions were first enacted, have so far been forced to study from abroad. International students represent a quarter of U of T’s student population.

Like all international travellers to Canada, every student travelling to campus from abroad will need to quarantine for 14 days. Each school on the federal government’s approved list was required to submit their quarantine plans to their provincial or territorial government for approval.

U of T has implemented a detailed plan to help international students safely enter the country and quarantine once they get here. That includes helping students develop a quarantine plan, picking students up at the airport and providing space to quarantine on campus, if available, or at downtown hotels, where students receive meals and daily check-ins from health and wellness staff. Students will also be tested for COVID-19 in accordance with health guidelines.

There are even welcome kits stocked with such items as snacks, detergent, fabric face masks and digital thermometers.

“The U of T quarantine plan has been characterized by some as the gold standard and I think it really is,” said Joseph Wong, U of T’s interim vice-president, international. “So much meticulous detail has gone into the planning for the arrival of students – everything from what goes into their welcome basket to ensuring safe transportation from the airport.”

Wong added that, even while in quarantine, students are invited to take part in virtual curricular and co-curricular activities so they feel connected to the campus community.

“It really is quite an amazing feat. And, of course, all of this is free of charge, which again is a reflection of U of T’s commitment to its international students.”

Shashwat Aggarwal, a third-year Trinity College cognitive science and economics student from the New Delhi area was among those who returned to U of T in mid-August. He welcomed the government’s changes to study permit regulations and said being back in Toronto, closer to fellow students and professors, made it easier to pursue his studies. “Asynchronous classes can be helpful for people in other time zones, but with office hours and tutorials you have to attend synchronously it get can be tough,” he said.

By contrast, Aggarwal said he found it tough to strike a work-life balance when he was studying from back home in India earlier in the year. In addition, he said being back in Toronto has allowed him to take up his duties as student college head and help organize online events to help enrich other students’ experience.

As for the quarantine process, Aggarwal said he felt supported at every step.

“They thought of everything on how to keep students comfortable and providing us with a supply kit, and daily check-ins from health and wellness and nurses,” he said.

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