The city of Fredericton is home to thousands of internationals from all over the world. The level of immigration has been increasing over time, with immigrants currently accounting for 11 per cent of the total population according to the Fredericton Immigration Strategy page.
However, these numbers are affected by the current coronavirus pandemic, which began in Fredericton in mid-March 2020. The province of New Brunswick declared a state of emergency on Mar. 19, causing thousands of establishments to close, as well as schools and entertainment settings. In addition, the amount of air travel began to decrease as many countries were closing their borders to prevent the spread of the virus.
Due to the closure of borders, many new internationals have not been able to enter the city, and those who did had to risk their lives by exposing themselves when travelling. This reduction of immigrants has dramatically impacted Fredericton, from local businesses to the students’ union at universities.
Sarah McAdam, market coordinator for the Cultural Market, believes the pandemic has a 100 per cent negative impact on new Canadians coming to her business.
“I haven’t had any new international vendors coming in since the pandemic started last year,” McAdam says. “It’s just too risky for people to do that (setting up a new business).”
The Cultural Market offers a unique shopping experience with a wide selection of goods and services, including international food from several countries. According to McAdam, the market provides products from more than six countries, most being in Asia. Having a great variety of countries is hugely important for this business since having as much inclusion as possible is the main goal.
McAdam is chasing other vendors from other places around the world because she wants the tasty food to be available for customer consumption. In addition, the market fosters a space for new immigrants to develop their businesses, selling traditional products and food they grew up eating.
“We have had people asking us for different food that we don’t have. (…) I recognize right now not a lot of people wanted to set up a business during a pandemic,” McAdam says, “but we have been fighting really hard to get more diversity.”
The pandemic not only affected the amount of new vendors to the store, but also the fluctuation of customers. McAdam says Cultural Market sales aren’t what they were initially because most people are working from home. The market is positioned to serve around 17,000 people over lunchtime, including a delivery option with such apps as Kangaroo, Skip The Dishes and DoorDash.
Nevertheless, due to most workplaces and schools being closed, the majority of former market customers are currently working from home or doing online schooling.
“They aren’t coming to the store for lunch and they aren’t picking up supper on their way home,” McAdam says.
The reduction of internationals coming to Fredericton also affects local schools. St. Thomas University considers its large international student community to be an essential part of the school’s development. According to Carrie Monteith-Levesque, International Students Coordinator at STU, more than 11 per cent of the student body is made up of international students. There are students from more than 42 different countries, including the United States, Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, Spain, Japan, and more.
“International students are active on campus, sharing their culture, ideas and experiences inside and outside of the classroom,” Monteith-Levesque says, “taking on significant leadership roles within the university community and beyond.”
However, many international first-year students were not able to come to Fredericton in the fall of 2020 because of the travel restrictions. Most of them are staying in their home countries since classes are still remote, following the government’s mandate. The pandemic also affected different traditional events of the institution, such as the International Food Festival, the Changing of International Wall of Flags, and the International Coffee House, which had to be cancelled.
But not everything is negative. St. Thomas University managed to create a quarantine program for students who did manage to move to Fredericton when travel restrictions were not so strict. This program led the university to be on the list of Designated Learning Institutions with an approved COVID19 Readiness Plan.
According to Monteith-Levesque, students must self-isolate for 14 days in accordance with N.B. Public Health regulations. In addition, they have to present beforehand a self-isolation plan that will be approved by the university. Later on, they will receive a Letter of Acknowledgement, which can be shown to Canada Border Services when entering Canada.
“Students are contacted by the university staff throughout their self-isolation period to monitor health and wellness,” Monteith-Levesque says. “Around day 10 of isolation, they have to be tested and must receive a negative test result before leaving self-isolation.”
Even with these regulations, some first-year international students have not been able to travel to Fredericton to pursue their dreams of studying abroad. Armando Mejia, 20, is a first-year international student from Honduras at St. Thomas University who couldn’t travel to Canada because of the pandemic.
According to Mejia, it’s extremely disappointing having to stay in Honduras when the plan was to explore a new city and meet new people.
“I’m a curious person and I try to be outgoing,” Mejia says, “so I really like to get to know new things.”
The virus also ruined his plans of getting his first summer internship. He couldn’t get his work permit since he wasn’t in Fredericton, because one of the requirements of the job was to be in the city. In addition, not being able to get to know the university in person is a disadvantage, since one of the reasons why he chose it was because of its diversity and the welcoming staff and students.
“I’m always hoping for the closest thing,” Mejia says,” so for me, my hope (of travelling to Fredericton) is September.”