cesb international students

International students in Canada are not eligible for CESB and are asking for help

International students aren't currently included in the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), but they're hoping to change that — and they have good reason for it.

Each year, Canada welcomes 642,000 international students to study at post-secondary institutions across the country, and it has the third largest international student population in the world.

Aside from Canada's strong quality of education, part of the reason the country is so attractive to international students is because it offers one of the world's most competitive packages, allowing them to work while they study.

The federal government has even recently expanded that package in response to the current pandemic, allowing students to work more than 20 hours a week.

But that new policy only applies to students that are working in an essential service like healthcare or the supply of food.

And with Canada entering a crippling recession and many retail stores, gyms, hair salons and other non-essential businesses closed, the work opportunities have severely diminished — leaving many international students without any source of income.

"I've already gone through my savings," Abashese, an international student in Ontario, said. "I get extreme anxiety episodes just thinking about how I will make it through the COVID-19 crisis."

"Being an international student is hard, but this pandemic has made it a special kind of hell. Social isolating alone, far away from family, struggling for basic essentials, and no support from school or the government."

Some international students may qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) if they're currently unemployed due to COVID-19 and they earned at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application.

But students that only worked part-time during the winter semester and do not reach that financial threshold are left in a tough position.

"I am not eligible for CERB because I work in a restaurant which was not closed and was giving me six to seven hours," said Mansi Sharma, a student in Manitoba. "I don't have more work shifts right now and I have no money for my rent and groceries."

Now, an overwhelming amount of international students are taking to social media to ask the Canadian government to expand the CESB, or else provide healthcare and income support throughout the crisis.

A group of international students have even launched a petition asking for increased government support that has already amassed more than 11,000 signatures.

There are, however, some supports in place for international students; the government has injected enough money into the Canada Summer Jobs program to create up to 70,000 jobs for youths this summer.

Some Canadian universities are also offering bursary schemes; Queen's University, for example, has set aside part of its $2 million bursary specifically for international students in need of funding.

Still, it may not be enough.

"In normal circumstances, I would have a job in the summer and my funding would kick back in when school returns," Ian Tian, a postgraduate student at the University of Toronto, told the National Observer. "Right now, I'm using my savings to pay rent and I don’t know if I'll be able to buy food."

"It's quite a struggle," he said. "I'm very nervous and anxious."

Lead photo by

Queen's University

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