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Canadian language schools push for government support for “Study Safe Corridor”

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Canada’s language schools hope to attract 40,000 new students through March 2021
  • To do so, Languages Canada says the sector needs more government support, especially regarding visa policies
  • The association has created a new proposal designed at bringing international students into Canada in compliance with strict COVID-19 safety protocols and supported by airline, hotel, and insurance provider partnerships

In a normal year, Canada’s English and French language programmes attract 150,000 foreign students, generate billions of dollars of exports, and prepare many students for study at Canadian colleges and universities. The vital industry sector also plays a major role in supporting Canada’s immigration goals, ensuring that new immigrants have the language proficiency needed to succeed in the Canadian economy.

But the COVID-19 crisis has deeply affected the language training sector, and in an effort to avert “total devastation,” Languages Canada is proposing bold new action and asking for government to strongly support their plan for a “Study Safe Corridor”. The initiative aims to bring 40,000 new language students to Canada by March 2021 in compliance with current government COVID-19 risk prevention policies.

Immediate action required

A survey Languages Canada conducted in June among its 200+ members found that 75% said they would be forced to permanently close in the next six months, with more expected to follow in 2021, in the absence of immediate government action. So far, the impact of government policy aimed at helping the international education sector has mostly focused on students enrolled at universities and colleges, with no targeted supports for the language sector.

“We’re not just falling through the cracks – this is the Grand Canyon,” says Gonzalo Peralta, executive director of Languages Canada. “And now even as international education is already beginning to take off again in other parts of the world, Canadian policy won’t allow us to work responsibly to save the sector.”

Languages Canada is asking the government to provide conditional visas to qualified international students – including language school students – and declare then “essential travellers” so these students can come into Canada through the “Study Safe Corridor.”

Focus on safety

Languages Canada’s “Study Safe Corridor” proposal is intended to “save Canada’s international education sector through innovation, in a way that ensures Canadians and international students are safe.”

“The Study Safe Corridor is an adaptation to survive and thrive in this new post-pandemic context. Even more will follow in 2021.”

At the core of the proposal is a commitment to working with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to ensure that language students come into Canada in a way that complies with COVID-19 risk prevention measures.

Along with partnerships with airlines, hotels, and government, the “Study Safe Corridor” would have Languages Canada and its member schools take on the responsibility of making all the arrangements for students’ mandatory quarantine period.

Detailing the plan

The “Study Safe Corridor” hinges on a number of elements intended to both attract international students and help them adhere to Canadian safety requirements around COVID-19. Languages Canada proposes to:

Tweak the overseas branding of studying in Canada to emphasise what students need to do to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, which of course reciprocally benefits them in keeping them at lower risk of developing the virus while in Canada.

Ask the government to provide a subsidy to partially cover the cost of students’ flights and quarantine to send a welcoming message to prospective language students and to ensure them that they will be supported in the new safety protocols entailed by COVID-19.

Prepare documents for both Languages Canada member schools and students detailing how to comply with COVID-19 safety measures from arrival in the country onwards, including the downloading of a mobile tracing app called ArriveCAN.

Make all arrangements for students’ mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada.

Partner with Air Canada to charter flights exclusively for international students coming to Canada, with priority given to visa-holding students accepted into LC member programmes. The idea here is to allow for a greater degree of monitoring and control over students coming into Canada than would be possible if all students came in on commercial flights.

Quarantine students in hotels identified by the Hotel Association of Canada as maintaining best practices and operating procedures for self-isolation. Such hotels have been identified in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver Calgary, Victoria, Winnipeg, and Halifax. All have been “reequipped to provide a full-service quarantine package to students, including safe transport from the airport to the hotel and monitoring services to ensure students do not leave their room.”

Ensure that Languages Canada member schools operate according to the association’s COVID-19 Guidelines for Operation of Private Language Schools. These guidelines cover physical distancing, hygiene, sanitation, and monitoring measures.

Safety as competitive advantage

Cath D’Amico, international director at Canada’s Trent University, commented on the dire need for government support in terms of both visa policy and commitment to the “Study Safe Corridor” proposal:

“Without federal commitment, support, and decisive action, the entire language education sector could be decimated, which will have a domino effect on higher education, as students turn to countries where they can complete all of their studies seamlessly.”

A related statement from Languages Canada adds that, if approved, the Study Safe Corridor would inject CDN$533 million of export revenue to the country by 31 March 2021, benefitting not only the language education sector but also the airline and hotel sectors, Canadian homestays, and tourism and hospitality operators.
 
“This initial cohort of 40,000 students is the oxygen that an entire ecosystem sorely needs,” adds Mr Peralta. “Without it, hundreds of language programmes will shut down, Canadian universities and colleges will suffer because language learning often represents the first step taken by students who then go on to attend university here and even become citizens, our airline and tourism sectors will lose an important source of revenue, thousands of Canadian families that depend on these students for income will face economic hardship, and even long-term immigration objectives for Canada will suffer. We need a new way forward, a way that is safe for students and Canadians, but a way forward.”

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