Nfld. & Labrador

Migrants could help solve N.L.'s population woes. But first, they need health care, say advocates

Anti-racism advocates say expanding access to health coverage could help keep immigrants in Newfoundland and Labrador — a province with a declining population and one of the worst immigrant retention rates in the country.

Preventive care cheaper in the long run, says Health Accord N.L.

Eduardo Araujo is the co-lead of advocacy and campaigns for the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Anti-racism advocates say expanding access to health coverage could help keep immigrants in Newfoundland and Labrador — a province looking for solutions to its population decline.

Newfoundland and Labrador's population is aging, and deaths have outnumbered births since 2016. The government has looked to immigration as a way to help grow that population; the province plans to welcome 5,100 immigrants into the province per year by 2026. .

Eduardo Araujo, co-lead of advocacy and campaigns for the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, said while the government is looking to immigrants as a solution to population and economic woes, some migrants are struggling to access health care.

"[The government] are completely oblivious to our situation, our struggles," Araujo said in an interview with CBC News. "We just feel underappreciated."

In order to qualify for the province's Medical Care Program, migrants in Newfoundland and Labrador must meet specific criteria — like obtaining a work contract or study permit for a minimum of one year. There are some exceptions — for example, the provincial government recently announced it would expand coverage to anyone relocating to Newfoundland and Labrador under the federal Ukrainian visa.

Sobia Shaikh is co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Sobia Shaikh, ARC-N.L. co-chair, wants to see that health-care coverage expanded to all migrants.

"It's getting more and more expensive and we know that there's a crisis there. It's an easy policy," she said in an interview with CBC News.

MCP rules feel arbitrary: MUN student

ARC-N.L. sent a letter to Health Minister John Haggie and Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne, asking the government to expand MCP coverage to all immigrants. The government had yet to respond as of Friday, Shaikh said.

But last week, Haggie talked to reporters about the letter and said he wasn't aware of systemic gaps. He said the province is in line with other jurisdictions in terms of health care for immigrants.

Shaikh said she wasn't surprised when the health minister said he wasn't aware of systemic issues.

"When you develop policies that don't include people with lived experience and you make policy changes without including those people … you're not going to be aware of those gaps," she said.

Ahmed Hassanin is a Memorial University graduate student. (James Grudić/CBC )

Ahmed Hassanin, a Memorial University graduate student, doesn't have MCP coverage because he finishes school in less than a year. 

Hassanin said MCP rules can feel arbitrary. During his first week in Newfoundland and Labrador, he said, he paid $222 when he visited the emergency room for an injured ankle because his MCP coverage didn't begin until two days later.

Hassanin was able to pay for the visit, but he noted not all students are that lucky.

Preventive health care

Shaikh said the need for health care goes beyond international students. Some immigrants work for years to sponsor a family member on a visitor's visa, she said, but if the family member gets sick first, the worker could be left with thousands of dollars in medical bills.

The Health Accord N.L., the decade-long plan for the health-care system, repeatedly emphasizes that preventive care is cheaper than emergency care. Shaikh said treating migrants for health conditions earlier could actually reduce stress on the health-care system.

"Through years of being in a precarious, unstable situation, their health diminishes over time," Shaikh said. "By the time they become permanent residents of this province … their health has suffered and actually reduced because they're not able to get preventive care."

"It's going to cost less money, actually, for people to be healthy."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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