British Columbia

B.C. is taking advantage of international students by doubling their MSP fees, advocate says

International students must pay for mandatory provincial health-care coverage. The B.C. Federation of Students says doubling the monthly fee in 2020 is unfair.

Mandatory health-care coverage rose from $37.50 to $75 on same day it was eliminated for British Columbians

About 130,000 international students study annually at B.C. post-secondary institutions and the mandatory medical insurance premiums they must pay doubled in 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Doubling health insurance fees is the latest example of nickel-and-diming international post-secondary students, who already pay more for their studies than their domestic counterparts, the B.C. Federation of Students said Monday.

Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums increased for international students from $37.50 per month to $75 per month on Jan. 1 — the same date the fees were eliminated for British Columbians.

According to the province, more than 130,000 international students study in B.C. every year. Tanysha Klassen, the chair of the student federation, says the MSP increase will be a hardship for many of them.

Klassen said the common image of the wealthy foreign student living in a brand new apartment and driving a sports car is not an accurate reflection of the whole group.

"There are international students living six people to a room or working jobs under the table ... or their family put together their entire savings to send one kid to school in Canada," said Klassen on The Early Edition on Monday.

'Predatory' private insurance

Klassen said it is a good thing that international students can access the public health-care system in B.C. rather than having to deal with private insurers, some of whom she said can be "predatory." 

But, she said, doubling the fees shows little regard for the economic contributions international students make to the province.

Foreign students can work up to 20 hours a week and pay taxes on this income, as well as on the goods and services they purchase. According to Klassen, the demographic added $2.5 billion to the provincial GDP in 2017.

"The main issue is not this fee," said Klassen. "I think it is a bigger issue of us taking advantage of international students and just using them to balance budgets."

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said B.C. has provided international students with provincial health coverage for almost three decades, while asking them to contribute a reasonable amount to help cover costs.

"It allows them to benefit from our public health-care system, remaining a fair system for everyone — now and into the future," said the statement.

Klassen said there is zero regulation at post-secondary institutions when it comes to tuition costs for international students, which can increase "any amount, at any time, with little or no notice," and in some cases are already six times what local students pay.

Klassen said the MSP fee increase is "the cherry on top" for international students who are often unfairly considered "revenue-generating units" by the province and post-secondary institutions.


  • An earlier version of this story included quotes that mistakenly said international students have contributed $2.5 million to the provincial GDP and B.C. is the only province in Canada where they have access to public health care. In fact, the correct figure is $2.5 billion and B.C. is not the only province in Canada to provide public health-care access to international students.
    Jan 07, 2020 12:42 PM PT

With files from The Early Edition


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