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Tough to visit home and long waits for permits for international students at Yukon University

Yukon University may see fewer international students than normal this fall, because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large part of the university's student body is made up of international students

'There are students who actually decided to go back this summer, to their place, like hometowns and stuff abroad, and now they are obviously struggling to come back,' said Andrea Bacchetta, an international student at Yukon University. (Submitted by Andrea Bacchetta)

Andrea Bacchetta had hoped to spend a couple of weeks back home in Italy this summer, before continuing his studies at Yukon University in Whitehorse.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to re-think.

"Even though potentially I could have gotten into Italy, the problem would have been coming back, and being allowed to," he said.

"And then with like the two-week isolation period, I would have missed quite a big window of time that I would have used for work."

Bacchetta decided to just stay in Whitehorse — a tough decision, because he misses his family and the food back home. But he feels he did the right thing.

"There are students who actually decided to go back this summer, to their place, like hometowns and stuff abroad, and now they are obviously struggling to come back," he said.

International students are a big part of the Yukon University student body. Typically there are about 130 enrolled each year, most of them from India and Japan.

But Yoshie Kumagae, manager of international education with the university, is expecting fewer this year — because of the pandemic. She says many prospective students who are currently abroad are still waiting for their study permits to be granted by Ottawa.

"[The] study permit approval process has been very slow due to COVID-19, and many applicants have not received [a] decision," she said.

"Current regulation from the federal government will not allow these new students to enter Canada."

Yukon University's Ayamdigut campus in Whitehorse. Typically there are about 130 international students enrolled each year, most of them from India and Japan. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Kumagae says there are many other international students, like Bacchetta, already in Yukon. Those students are continuing their education and are unaffected by travel restrictions — so long as they stay in Yukon.

Other international students are already in Canada, having studied in other jurisdictions. Many will need to isolate when they come to Yukon unless they come from B.C. or the other territories.

Antonio Nemenzo is from the Phillipines and has been studying at Niagara College in Ontario. He's planning to begin a business administration course at Yukon University this fall.

Nemenzo said he wanted to study in Yukon because his sister lives and works there. He says being isolated far from home during the pandemic was difficult, and so he decided it made sense to be closer to some family.

When he gets to Yukon later this month, he'll have to isolate himself for two weeks. Kumagae said there are plans in the works to help Nemenzo and others do that.

"We are working with the Yukon government on the self isolation plan for international students. So we'll be asking students to stay at the designated accommodation when they come to the Yukon," she said.

Nemenzo has no problem with that. He says he's excited to come to Yukon and is grateful to be in Canada right now.

Most of his courses will be conducted online at least for the first semester, he says. He's less excited about that aspect.

"Most likely it's going to be like self-learning again," he said.

Antonio Nemenzo is excited to come to Yukon to study, but not as excited to be doing a lot of his business administration course work online. 'I'm much more looking forward to being in class, seeing my classmates, having that feel in the classroom,' he said. (Submitted by Antonio Nemenzo)

"I feel like it's a bit unfair that the tuition fee is still the same. But whatever it may be, as long as you get the proper education you need.

"I'm much more looking forward to being in class, seeing my classmates, having that feel in the classroom."

Kumagae says even though there may be fewer this year, she's happy that many international students will still be able to study in Yukon.

The pandemic will mean a different experience for them, though, if there are fewer social events.

"International students are usually very keen to participate in activities and events on campus, and they're generally very interested in meeting people, learning Canadian culture, history, language," she said.

"At the same time, they bring and teach us their culture as well. So it's a very important part of the institution."

With files from Dave White

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