President of Local 36 (Grenfell Campus Student Union) and International Constituency Commissioner of the Canadian Federation of Students
Picture this – two students sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbooks, and learning the same material. But one is paying $6,373/year to be there, and other is paying $23,589/year to be there. This is the reality in every single province across Canada, as successive governments have allowed post-secondary institutions to charge exorbitant differential tuition fees for international students.
How has this been allowed to happen? The idea that international students do not pay taxes in Canada is a complete lie. We pay just as much tax as any other Canadian citizen. We pay GST, HST and since the vast majority of us have to work in order to live here, we pay income tax. In addition, we didn’t cost the government anything before we arrived in Canada. Public funds allotted to primary and secondary education were not used for us. We are students willing to spend money in the Canadian economy without the government investing in us prior to attending college or university. Far from being a ‘burden’, international students contribute over $7.7 billion annually in the Canadian economy. According to a government report, international students created 81,000 jobs in the year 2010 alone. It’s time to debunk the myth that international students pay more tuition because they do not contribute to the tax system once and for all. Even permanent residents pay differential fees even though their families have been paying taxes for years. International students are charged differential fees because they have a different nationality. The practice of charging international students 3.7 more than domestic students for the same education is xenophobic.
This is an injustice, but it’s not a secret. Quite the opposite, actually. Year after year, college and university Boards of Governors outline their plans to make money for their institutions on the backs of international students. Just last week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador presented its intentions to use international students as a provincial revenue source in the “Way Forward: Shaping Our Future” presentation.
Discrimination against international students does not end with tuition fees. In several provinces, international students are not covered under ‘universal’ provincial health insurance. Many of us spend years studying here and never see a doctor, and live in fear of getting sick enough to have to go to the hospital. In 2013 and again in 2015, the Government of Canada made it harder for international students to stay in Canada after graduation. Food and retail work, common jobs for students, were delisted as valid Canadian work experience that would count towards a permanent residency application. This means that international students who spent years studying here, working here and building community here would have their status considered in the same category of applicants who have not yet built a life in Canada.
Today, approximately 1 in every 6 students studying post-secondary education in Canada is an international student. Many of us are escaping war, instability and poverty in our home country to pursue the promise of a better life in Canada. We leave behind our families, friends, community, culture and (often) language. We cope with the stress of providing for our families back home, experience racism and xenophobia by our professors and our classmates and struggle to make ends meet. Despite it all, we study hard to be successful in our studies.
I am proud to have called for a National Day of Student Action. On Wednesday November 2nd, international students are going all out to demand justice and universal access to post-secondary education in Canada. I believe in an inclusive Canada, where students from all backgrounds can access college and university education free from financial barriers.