International student health coverage timeline unclear

Commitment to re-introduction of program included in minister’s mandate letter

International student Garv Bhasin says he and other international students would benefit from provincial health insurance.

“There should be some plans,” said Bhasin.

With another academic year coming to a close, the timeline of the reinstation of international students to the provincial health care system remains unclear, despite promises by the Manitoba NDP.

Both Bhasin and fellow international student Nehemiah Kayode have medical needs covered under UMSU’s StudentCare and both agree that they would like to see the re-introduction of the provincial program.

The Manitoba International Student Health Plan currently covers medical needs including access to physicians and hospital services, and costs $1,032 annually. The supplemental UMSU health and dental plan, which costs an additional $373 annually, covers needs including access to psychologists and vaccinations.

During the provincial election period, the Manitoba NDP reiterated its commitment to restoring health care coverage for international students. The commitment was included in Minister of Advanced Education and Training Renée Cable’s mandate letter when she assumed the role in Oct. 2023.

Minister of Health, Seniors and Long-Term Care Uzoma Asagwara and Cable declined requests for an interview. Press secretary Naline Rampersad provided an email statement from both.

“Our government has committed to restoring health coverage for international students,” the statement read. It also affirmed that minster Asagwara is “actively working with [their] colleague minister Cable to address this issue.”

UMSU vice president advocacy Liam Pittman, whose term ends in just over a month, said UMSU has brought up the issue of international student health care “in every meeting at the provincial advocacy level.” However, a timeline for implementation was not confirmed in any of those meetings.

“If I had the stroke of the pen, [international students] would be back on it tomorrow,” he said.

UMSU has asked for the implementation to occur “as quickly as possible.”

UMSU international students’ representative Andrea Nguyen said reinstating the program is something that UMSU continues to work on, but that there has not been “much progress.”

“Honestly, it has been a bit challenging,” she said.

Nguyen said the lower cost of living in Manitoba compared with other areas of Canada draws many international students to study in the province, but that they are unaware of the health care costs compared to other provinces, like Saskatchewan and Alberta, that cover international students under their provincial health care systems.

Nguyen said she is focusing on providing international students with information on how to use their health care plan and other affordability issues affecting international students.

Nguyen and other UMSU board members say they are prioritizing making other aspects of living easier through programs including providing hygiene products through the food bank and making sure that students know about financial aid opportunities.

At the time of publication, the provincial government has yet to make any announcement of health care changes for international students in the province.