GRAND FORKS, N. D. — Allyson Bento is two hours from home.
As a graduate student attending University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, the Winnipegger could cross the border and visit her family and friends, but she’s hesitant.
What happens if the Canada-U.S. border closes down completely while she’s home? Is it even worth it when there’s a two-week quarantine period on either side?
"I think I have more of a fear of not being able to come back into the (United States)," said Bento, who is pursuing a post-graduate degree in communications. "From my experience, I always want to be very, very safe. I don’t want to end up in a situation where I can’t get back into the United States. Because now, not only are all my belongings here, my schooling is here, but I have animals like I have my therapy dog and a cat and a boyfriend."
"It wouldn’t just be something that I would have to consider myself but for the people that I live with and care for," she said.
Bento hasn’t been home since March. It’s the longest she’s been away from home and her mother — whom she says is her best friend.
"So, it’s tough."
Bento is one of hundreds of Canadian students at UND and one of thousands across the country who are studying in the United States and weighing their options in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 18 as the first wave of the global pandemic began to hit Canada and the United States. Since then, the closure has been extended twice. It is now closed until at least Aug. 21 — just days before college students across the U.S. are set to start classes.
"We’re going to keep working closely with our American neighbours to keep people safe on both sides of the border," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month when the border closure extension was announced.
While education is considered essential travel, Amy Senger, assistant director of UND’s International Center, said some students enrolled in the summer semester, which was only offered online at UND, had some trouble trying to cross the border. She noted that there were "several denials" for students.
That likely shouldn’t be a problem in the fall, though, Senger noted, as UND will have some in-person classes.
While students will be able to cross the border to attend classes, their parents will not be able to come with them, as that would be considered visitor travel.
And when students do cross the border, they are required to quarantine for two weeks, which means Canadian students will have to plan ahead for when they want to arrive in Grand Forks.
If the closure continues, that means family members won’t be able to help students move in and get settled in their new homes or be able to hop in the car and visit Grand Forks for the day.
Bento was able to see her mother briefly in March when the two were able to meet at the border so Bento could pick up her dog, Milo, who had been staying with her mother while she was on a trip before COVID-19 struck.
"It was probably the most emotional moment of my life," she said. Bento and her mother were able to talk to security, who allowed the two to exchange a brief hug before her mother had to go back to the other side of the border.
It was a relief to have her dog back, Bento said as he helps her through anxiety and was especially helpful during the initial quarantine.
Bento knows it’s to keep people safe though.
"Everyone, hopefully is doing it for the safety of their loved ones," she said.
In Manitoba, there have been fewer cases in comparison to North Dakota. As of Monday, there were 74 active cases of COVID-19 in the province and 319 individuals have recovered from the virus. Seven have died. Manitoba, which has a population of about 1.3 million people, has performed more than 84,967 tests since early February.
As of Monday, North Dakota had more than 1,000 active cases. Of the 5,986 total positive cases since mid-March, 4,829 individuals have recovered. The state has reported 99 deaths.
Beyond direct concerns about the border and COVID-19, there are also other stressors for international students, like Bento.
A recently reversed immigration ruling that would have forced international students on certain visas to return to their home countries if classes went entirely online this fall was also a spot of concern for Bento. While she’s trying to remain optimistic, she knows the possibility of a change is always there.
— Grand Forks Herald