Pandemic Immobility: The Impact of the Covid-19 Lockdown on International Students in Portugal
The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a profound impact on all the social, economic and political life of practically all societies. To help contain the virus and limit pressures on national health care systems, spatial mobility has also been severely affected. Motivated by the rapid spread of Covid-19, countries around the world closed their borders, airlines cancelled their flights and people have been told to stay at home by their governments, limiting human circulation in a manner unprecedented in the post-war period. As a border-crossing and now a border-closing related phenomenon, the global flow of international students has been severely disrupted by social isolation measures put in place without consideration of the consequences for mobility-dependent individuals, a predicament that invites research and analysis. Looking at the Portuguese case, this situation not only reflects the challenges raised by the pandemic in regard to how institutions dependent upon mobility function, but also existing inequalities between the Global North and the Global South, and the socio-economic differentials that have shaped individual experiences of the lockdown: what has become for a many forced displacement from sending countries or an involuntary return home. Some people are evidently better equipped or better situated to cope with the sudden immobility than others. Special attention in our work is given to the impact of lockdown on the quotidian routines of international students, taking into account the new, and existing, challenges they now face, as well as the effectiveness of the response made by host institutions. Empirical evidence is drawn from 30 interviews conducted with international students who were attending Portuguese universities during the lockdown, providing us with illustrations of their capacity to cope with what we have termed ‘pandemic immobility’.