SFU’s attempt to help international students with the CARES program falls flat

The university needs to do more for students navigating travel restrictions

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International students need more support as they travel for in-person classes. PHOTO: ConvertKit / Unspash

By Tamanna T., Staff Writer

SFU has a prominent international student community which continues to expand despite the ongoing pandemic. Students from different countries, who have either been recently admitted or are returning after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, have been struggling to deal with travel restrictions and course requirements. 

By launching their CARES (COVID Assistance and Remote Engagement Support) program, SFU is trying to offer a helping hand for students’ self-isolation and accommodation requirements. But the program does not do enough — especially for those who are grappling with how to come back to the country now that classes are in-person again. The program provides limited financial assistance to international students, overlooks the emotional toll travelling and isolating takes, and has unclear requirements.

The CARES package offers certain benefits to SFU and FIC (Fraser International College) students who need to self-isolate after returning to Canada, like preparing an isolation stay for the student and offering financial aid up to $500. 

However, this may not be the cheapest option out there. The total cost of travelling from countries like India can be up to $4,000 per one-way ticket. Due to flight bans, Indian students are having to undergo third-country travel, which adds to the cost. Getting tested multiple times on top of that only adds to the exorbitant price of coming to study at SFU. 

The hotels offered by CARES also limit capacity for the cheapest packages, and are unavailable from August 1931, close to the start of the Fall 2021 semester. Other hotels in the program range from $120$125.35 per night — the cost of food on top of that means an expensive and draining situation for an international student. The accommodation is available for either 11 or 14 days, and the $500 subsidy is only offered to international students who “have exhausted all other resources, and have demonstrated financial need.” It is unclear how they would fulfill this requirement.

There is a substantial need for a separate bursary because $500 simply does not assist the students coming from lower-income backgrounds. This amount barely makes a dent in the total amount that students have to spend, which can be upwards of $7,000. Additionally, the website does not explain whether students who were able to make their own plans for isolation are eligible for the $500 subsidy, causing more confusion and uncertainty. 

While it seems like SFU and FIC attempted to help students get accommodation to transition back to Canadian student life, they missed out on the opportunity to offer help that would genuinely ease financial burden and stress. It’s great to try and help international students —  who are often stereotyped for being wealthy —  but there is more work to be done to assist those who don’t come from comfortable ways of living. 

SFU should increase the subsidies for international students, and they should also be available to all students travelling from other countries regardless of their choice to use the CARES package, as long as they can offer proof of travel. The CARES program may appear helpful, yet it segregates those international students with compromised financial backgrounds — especially those who barely have enough funds to book a flight to Canada at a time when flights are outrageously expensive. By only giving options that fit the well-off international students, the program falls short of doing what it claims to do helping all international students return safely.