April 26, 2018

Time for Fairness for International Students

International students are seen as a growing and important part of Canada’s economy and this can be seen through through the massive recruitment of international students into colleges and universities across the country. While this portrays Canada as a very welcoming place, International students are treated as cash cows and are not provided with adequate support when they get here.

The International Students Constituency collectively pushed to have a Fairness For International Students campaign that gives international students a platform to discuss and advocate for their issues. On March 26-30, the Canadian Federation of Students held its first Fairness for International Students Week, which included the release of a video of international students sharing their experiences, the circulation of a survey on international student services in colleges and universities and lobbying federal representatives on issues international students face across the country. As the International Student Commissioner, I had the privilege of being in Ottawa for the week to meet with some Members of Parliament and discuss all of our lobby document demands. The demands included ending unfair differential fees, public health care coverage for all international student and ensuring clearer pathways to permanent residency.

Differential fees are the extra fees charged to international students by university and college administrations to make up for lost funding from the federal government. These fees also vary because there’s no cap on how much international students can be charged. In terms of healthcare, 6 provinces already provide public health care for international students and the remaining 4 offer exclusive and expensive private insurance. This means that students have to pay out-of-pocket for what is not covered by private health insurance.

In terms of clearer pathways to permanent residency, there is currently no streamlined means to applying for permanent residency and this gets confusing. All the time spent in Canada should be counted towards a student’s permanent residency application, not just half the time. In addition, the Canada Summer Jobs Program only provides opportunities to domestic students, leaving out international students who could also benefit from valuable work experience.

The biggest myth we have to bust? Folks often think that international students do not deserve the same services as domestic students, since we don’t pay taxes. International students pay taxes, just like everyone else. Why, then, are we not entitled to the same rights and services provided to all other students?

To end off the week, I was invited to speak on a panel hosted by the provincial component of the CFS in Newfoundland and Labrador (CFSNL) on international student organizing. We had conversations surrounding fees for international students in Newfoundland, deconstructing myths about international students, the cutting of public health care coverage for international students in Manitoba, and solidarity with other social justice movements across the country.

While launching this campaign and having a lobby week for international students is a step in the right direction, we are nowhere near where we need to be. As both domestic and international students, we should all come together to fight for free education for ALL students and advocate for a healthcare act that extends universal healthcare to international students.

The Fairness for International Students campaign means that international students will not be left on the sidelines anymore, as we now have a platform to organize and build up a strong international student movement, and we will not back down until we achieve fairness for international students. #FFIS


Mary Asekome

International Students Commissioner