New Brunswick

Chinese students barred from middle school after father's work permit expires

A Chinese family living in Fredericton has been forced by the government of Canada to return to Beijing. But the family is afraid to go back because of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

Family is forced to return home to China, but government says they can stay until coronavirus subsides

Since January, Jerry Fu, 11, hasn't been allowed to return to Nashwaaksis Middle School because his father's work permit expired. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Surrounded by tubes of bright coloured paint and large images of Chinese ink art that hang on the wall, Jerry Fu jots down equations in his math workbook.

He's not allowed to go school.

Jerry, 11, and his five-year-old sister, Sophia, have been studying at the CC Art Gallery in downtown Fredericton for the past 21 days, while his dad tries to get an extension to his Canadian work permit.

"I can teach them [but] they need their own friends," said their father, Yougun Fu, who also goes by Lex. 

Lex moved his family to Fredericton in July 2018, where he worked in online marketing for the gallery.

Inside a Fredericton art gallery, Jerry learns math, science and some English from his father, Lex Fu. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

He first visited Fredericton during a family vacation to Canada in 2013. After spending 10 days in New Brunswick's capital city, he knew it would one day become his home. 

"I like a city like Fredericton."

He applied for an extension to his work permit last April. In July, Lex was told his application was unsuccessful — the same month the work permit officially expired.  

Lex reapplied again in August.

Lex was ordered to leave Canada in January. But because of China's coronavirus outbreak, his time in Canada has been extended until at least the end of February. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

In the meantime, he was told by the federal government that he could no longer work for the local art gallery.

He has been volunteering — without pay — instead.

Coronavirus keeps family in Canada

Five months later, Lex and his family were ordered to leave the country. 

The Fu family booked a flight home to Beijing in January. But the coronavirus outbreak prompted him to cancel the tickets.  

"I'm afraid to go back to China at this time," Lex said. 

He wants to go back to school.- Lex Fu, Jerry's dad

On Dec. 31, a "cluster" of cases of pneumonia was reported in Wuhan, China — a city about 1,152 kilometres south of Beijing.

But the cause has been confirmed as a new coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans, which is known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.

Since then, more than 1,100 people in China have died from the virus.

"I don't want to put them in that situation."

The Grade 6 student has been working on equations in his workbook, but he would much rather return to school where he can see his friends. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Right now, Beijingers are hunkered down inside their homes. Schools and universities are closed indefinitely.

Because of this, Lex asked Canada's federal government if he could have an extension. 

They agreed. 

But his two children weren't allowed back to school. 

"They need an environment, where they will feel happier and free. Many kids don't like to learn from their parents."

Learning math with art

The family will be staying in Fredericton until the end of February. Lex is hopeful they can stay until spring, if they're lucky.   

"We're trying our best to apply for a new work permit," he said. "I don't know who I should talk to."

Until then, he has been trying to teach his son subjects like science, math and reading in English to keep his mind active.

Jerry isn't sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but he's been spending a lot of time programing on a lap top at the gallery — just like his dad. 

While he volunteers at the CC Art Gallery, Lex tries to keep his son busy with assignments. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Sometimes the Grade 6 student visits the library at his former school at Nashwaaksis Middle School where he gets to see some of his teachers and classmates. His dad also lets him go sliding with friends in the evening.

Jerry said he misses his friends and doesn't particularly enjoy doing math workbooks with his father.

"He wants to go back to school," Lex said.

Judy Cole, a spokesperson for the Anglophone West school district, wouldn't discuss the two individual cases because of privacy laws.

Some of the math books Jerry has been working on since he was forced to leave school earlier this year. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

But she did say the district is required to adhere to immigration policies outlined in the federal government guidelines at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

"We can say we do our best to welcome international students into our school community and we work with families to make that happen," she said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

Béatrice Fénelon, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said foreign workers whose legal status in Canada will soon end, but cannot travel to mainland China because of travel restrictions, can apply for an extension if they're eligible.

Meanwhile, people whose legal status in Canada has expired, can also restore their status or apply for a temporary resident permit.

"If eligible, visitors who have already been granted an extension to stay in Canada for more than six months ... can re-apply for a further extension," she said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

She uses the example of visitors unable to travel to mainland China because of travel restrictions.

An uncertain future 

Lex has always wanted his children to go to school in Canada. He wanted them to receive a good education but also have the freedom to play when school's out. 

"They like the feeling of school in Canada," he said. "They feel … relaxed."

Although he doesn't mind bringing his kids to the art gallery, he's worried about the months ahead.

"I don't want them to just keep playing games."

Lex's wife, Tracy Chang, stays at home. And he does have some money saved to hold them over for the next few months.  

"It's a little hard," he said. "If we cannot stay we will go back to China as soon as possible."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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