‘Asking for more’

International students respond to employment policy change

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

EduCanada’s pre-departure guide for prospective international students describes Canada as “a progressive, warm and welcoming nation.” Canada often relies on its reputation as a multicultural haven to attract foreign students. But Manitoba’s changing legislation has some international students wondering if they’re really valued by the province.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, these international students contributed approximately $5.1 billion, accounting for roughly 12.2 per cent of total university earnings per year.

Christine Quiah is an international students’ co-director for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association. She struggles with the common assumption that international students are inherently wealthy. For Quiah, the ability to study in another country is not dependent on wealth but sacrifice.

“Our parents literally give up their savings, take multiple loans ... because that’s how education is prioritized,” she says.

Studies show that international undergraduate students will pay 429 per cent more in tuition fees than domestic students. While Quiah’s parents cover the cost of her schooling, she is left to pay for housing, transportation, food and other fixed expenses. She says she couldn’t ask for more from her parents, who have already given her so much.

“It’s like getting this amount from our parents and then asking for more for a life, for living in a foreign country.”

Quiah’s situation mirrors that of many international students, who have studied their whole lives to attend university in Canada. These students, who may feel ashamed asking for more money, also deal with the same rising costs of living as locals. To make ends meet, many international students must work as much as possible.

Previously, international students were only permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours a week. However, this limit will be temporarily removed on Nov. 15 as part of the federal government’s attempt to address the current labour shortage. This change will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2023. There was previously no limit to the hours international students could work during university breaks.

Quiah says most international students will work more than 20 hours, “because of our living situation(s), out of necessity. But in that manner, will our mental health be fine? Will our physical health be fine? Will our studies be fine?”

Tomiris Kaliyeva is the other international students’ co-director. She currently works as a customer-service manager at Mobile Tech Lab. At the start of the term, Kaliyeva was forced to reduce her hours to meet the current government mandates for international students.

“I had to reduce my work hours to 20 per week. I was under the risk of a demotion, which would in turn result in a decrease of my salary that I worked so hard for,” she says.

In 2018, amendments to the Health Services Insurances Act meant that international students were no longer included under universal health coverage. This forced international students to live with the restrictions of the private healthcare offered by their institution.

At Kaliyeva’s workplace, anyone who works fewer than 24 hours a week fails to qualify for the company health plan. This meant that, in the summer, Kaliyeva had no access to any form of healthcare coverage.

The limited coverage offered by the university often forces students to pay out of pocket for medical emergencies. “I personally had to spend $1,500 on wisdom-teeth removal this September, just because they were impacted and hurt so bad, (and) I couldn’t go to school or work,” Quiah says.

The removal of the 20-hour limit means Kaliyeva now has access to opportunities she was previously denied. “Now that the cap is removed, I will be able to keep my manager position and Blue Cross coverage. There’s even a possibility of another promotion.”

Both directors feel that the provincial government has failed to meet the needs of international students, largely due to the absence of public healthcare.

“I think healthcare is a human right, which must be provided to everyone regardless of where they come from,” Kaliyeva says.

Published in Volume 77, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 10, 2022)

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