‘It’s financially draining’: International students in Wales hit by covid travel restrictions
International students say that they are disproportionately affected by new travel restrictions, with Welsh universities’ covid hardship funds not covering the increased cost of travelling home for the holidays.
Many international students who have been planning on visiting their families during the Christmas season say they will have to shoulder the increasing costs of quarantining and PCR tests.
Kazi Intishar, 26, an international student from Bangladesh at the University of South Wales, said: “I feel like the university should be more helpful in terms of finance.
“I am worried about seeing my family back in Bangladesh. I am afraid due to restrictions I might have to do a quarantine at a hotel which is very expensive.”
Rufina Kalayanova, 21, an international student at Bangor University who is hoping to return to Bulgaria, said: “It’s financially draining, especially for people who just want to see their family.
“I’ll have to spend double the amount of what I was planning to spend. That is money from a person who is earning minimum wage.”
Some Welsh universities such as Bangor and Swansea have introduced coronavirus hardship funds over the course of the pandemic to assist students.
In most cases, however, these hardship funds would not reimburse international students for the whole expense of testing and quarantine, and costs are expected to rise as a result of the new measures. Travellers to the UK must now quarantine and take a PCR test from a private test provider on the second day after their arrival.
iNews found that nearly a quarter of government-approved testing providers are charging £100 or more for PCR tests for people arriving in the UK.
The University of South Wales is committed to reimbursing costs for international students in specific cases, a spokesperson said.
They will cover costs for quarantining and testing for students from red list countries who are arriving to study at the University of South Wales for the first time.
A spokesperson for Cardiff MET University said that community “wellbeing” has been central to their covid response, but did not offer comment on hardships affecting international students.
A spokesperson of Bangor University said they will continue to offer “help and guidance” to international students coming to the north of Wales and those who have been unable to return home.
Bangor University has started two funds — a general covid fund and a technical support fund — but has made no announcement on tailored support for students affected by new measures.
A spokesperson from Swansea University Students’ Union said they want to ensure that students are supported, and were working to “ease the financial burden to students wherever possible”.
Julie Allen, a Director for the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said: “Travel restrictions may make decisions more difficult, but we know that students and their families also want to be sure that everyone is safe.
“The main thing that the government and universities can do is have very clear communication with students about any changes to the rules and how this impacts them.”
Kara Leenachunangkool, 20, a student at Swansea University from Thailand, said she was reluctant to travel home due to a “depressing” hotel quarantine requirement and the added costs of PCR tests.
She would like her university to communicate better about travel restrictions and whether her classes will be online or in-person. “Last year they told us almost last minute so it’s hard for us to prepare everything,” she said.
Some students contacted for this article said they worry that their destination country will be placed on the red list when they are away for Christmas, leaving them unable to return.
Authorities have confirmed 4,713 cases of the Omicron variant in the UK, of which 30 were found in Wales, but the real figure is expected to be much higher. Experts warn that Omicron could overtake Delta in a matter of weeks.
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