Manitoba

International students can't vote but want their voices heard on election day

International students are not allowed to cast a ballot in the provincial election next week but they hope to influence the outcome anyway — by appealing to voters.

High cost of tuition, repealed health coverage among top concerns for foreign students

Victoria Nwabuisi, 22, is from Abuja, Nigeria and is an Asian studies student at the University of Manitoba. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

International students are not allowed to cast a ballot in the provincial election next week but they hope to influence the outcome anyway — by appealing to Manitoba voters.

More than a dozen student unions and clubs across Manitoba are gathering outside the Manitoba Legislature Wednesday to pressure the future provincial government to reinstate international health care coverage.

The Progressive Conservatives ended provincial coverage for international post-secondary students on Sept. 1, 2018. The cut means students must now buy private insurance provided by their schools.

For students like 22-year-old Victoria Nwabuisi, a fourth-year Asian civilization major at the University of Manitoba, that means paying an extra fee of roughly $865 per year. The government estimates the annual savings by cutting health coverage for international students is $3.1 million.

"It's very hard for me to speak on behalf of a government that says they care about international students but then several of their actions do not voice that care, just don't show it," said Nwabuisi from her one-bedroom, basement apartment in Fort Garry.

Like other international students, Nwabuisi pays roughly three times the cost of tuition to attend school compared to domestic students.

Now in her fourth year, her family in Abuja, Nigeria has covered roughly half of her university costs, while Nwabuisi pays the remaining costs working multiple part-time jobs.

Nwabuisi is also an active volunteer and is helping organize Wednesday's rally at the legislature.

"We may not have a vote in this election but I think as members of the community, we have a stake and we deserve to be heard," she said.

Meagan Malcolm, president of the University of Winnipeg Students' Association which is also participating in Wednesday's rally, said the fate of international students is an important issue for all students, including Canadians.

"International students provide a richer campus and educational experience," she said. "The cuts to international students' health care will not be tolerated."

Victoria Nwabuisi lives in a basement apartment in Fort Garry. Her parents cover roughly half of her university expenses, she covers the rest by working multiple part-time jobs throughout the year. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

In 2018 there were 15,105 international students in Manitoba, data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shows. That's up from 12,640 students in 2017 and 10,285 in 2016.

The government does not yet have data for the number of international students in Manitoba for the 2019-2020 school year.

Parties on health coverage

The Progressive Conservatives defended the cut to CBC and said in an email the number of international students continues to rise in Manitoba, despite the lack of public health insurance.

"Many of the decisions we face as a province are a direct consequence of the overspending and poor financial management under the previous NDP government," a Tory campaign spokesperson said in an email to CBC. "Health coverage is available for international students via Manitoba's post-secondary institutions, as it's done elsewhere in Canada."

The Manitoba NDP called the cut to health care coverage "callous" but stopped short at promising to reinstate provincial health care coverage for international students.

"An NDP government would ensure institutions are properly funded and able to continue supporting students so they can get the health care they need when they need it," a campaign spokesperson said. 

The Manitoba Green say they believe cutting health coverage is deterring international students from choosing to study in Manitoba which turns away a valuable income stream for universities and colleges.

Andrea Shalay, the Green candidate for Winnipeg Centre added the cut "undermines our values of protecting the health and well-being of everyone in Manitoba."

The Manitoba Liberals say they are "disappointed" with the repeal of health coverage for international students.

Nwabuisi is still unsure whether she will stay in Winnipeg for graduate school. 

One of the selling features of Manitoba was the health coverage, she said. Now that's gone, she says she's considering moving to a bigger city, like Montreal.

International students are not allowed to cast a ballot in the provincial election next week but they hope to influence the outcome anyway — by appealing to Manitoba voters. 2:16

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.