Province mulls stripping universal healthcare from international students

Cuts could see international students paying hundreds more per year

The Manitoba government is looking to save money, but it may come at a cost for international students studying in the province.

The provincial government is considering cutting universal Manitoba Healthcare coverage for international students, with the intention of saving the province approximately $3.1 million per year.

While international students would receive coverage through a private plan, they would be required to pay their own premiums, at the cost of approximately $400 per student.

International students at the University of Manitoba pay tuition fees that are more than three-times higher than permanent residents – a full-time University 1 student who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident paid $4,400 in tuition for the 2017-18 academic year, while international students taking the same course load paid $14,800.

While Education Minister Ian Wishart cited the relatively low cost of tuition in Manitoba as a continuing incentive for recruiting international students to study and live in the province, critics consider the possible cuts an additional deterrent for potential students – especially considering the recent passing of Bill 31, which lifted the tuition cap for post-secondary fees.

Dele Ojewole, the interim-chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba and a former international post-secondary student, said the changes are sending a message to those considering coming to Manitoba.

“Over the years, international students have played a very important role in contributing to our economy, from paying thousands of dollars in tuition to paying income and sales taxes equivalent to their Canadian counterpart[s],” he said.

“Instead of encouraging international students to stay in Manitoba and to help grow the economy, the government’s actions are indirectly telling international students that they are only worth the money they have in their pockets.”

UMSU has since released a statement on the issue, saying the union stands “firmly against any tuition fee increases and possible cuts to international student healthcare.”

Chris Otisi, the international student’s representative for UMSU, has called the potential rollbacks a “movement in the wrong direction.”

“International students will now have to pay enormous fees in order to remain [in] good health,” Otisi said.

“Because health is an important aspect [of] good living, international students will have no option but to pay for such services.”

Universal Health Care for international students in Manitoba was brought into effect by the former NDP government in April 2012. The current Progressive Conservative government has since made sweeping changes to post-secondary policy, including unveiling a one per cent decrease in support for universities and colleges and the removal of a tuition rebate should students choose to stay and work in Manitoba following graduation.

Otisi added that the University of Manitoba will undoubtedly be affected negatively if these cuts to international students change from possibility to reality.

“It seems the Manitoba Progressive Conservative government is turning a blind eye to the disadvantages of international students, and this is unacceptable,” he said.

“I encourage all international students at the University of Manitoba to stay updated on this issue and realize its effect on us.”