Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

I'm new to Canada, and here's why I'm terrified of falling on ice 

Lots of international workers and students are in Newfoundland and Labrador, and their health-care situation is more precarious than citizens assume, writes Santiago Guzmán.

What you should know about health care for international workers and students 

Santiago Guzmán does not want to slip and fall on the ice, as he doesn't yet have health coverage. (Santiago Guzmán)

Picture this: you just finished grocery shopping for the week. Standing in front of the glass door that leads to a crowded parking lot in St. John's, you see a not-so-scary snowstorm coming before you. 

Luckily, you're just a couple of metres away from the bus stop, so it shouldn't be that bad. You don't take the bus regularly because of its lack of efficiency — sometimes it's easier and faster to walk, instead of waiting for an extra half-hour.

This time, the bus is your best bet. Plus, the bus will leave you almost in front of your door. Sounds like a well-thought-out plan.

You're trying to be positive. Although this is not your first winter in Newfoundland and you know how to deal with it, sometimes it's hard to keep yourself positive. Kudos to you.

Now that you've made a plan, you put your groceries on the floor to prepare yourself to face this winter crusade: you pull out your mittens, put your warm hat on, cover your mouth and nose with your bulky scarf.

You walk through the glass door. 

You can feel the immediate change in temperature, and the wind. You start walking slowly, aware of the slippery street, balancing the grocery bags you're carrying. It seems like there is enough salt on the floor to protect you from sliding, and the bus stop is barely 60 metres away.

Slip.

Your right boot swiftly slides on an icy spot that the salt didn't cover. Miraculously, you juggle the grocery bags, as though you were on a tightrope above a hungry shark waiting for its prey to fall.

You find your balance and stand still for a second. That was close!

You let a laugh out, take a deep breath and try all over again.

Slip. Crack. 

An icy sidewalk can be treacherous for all, but the risks are higher for people without health insurance. (Gary Graves/CBC)

Now you're sitting on the barely cleared sidewalk with all your groceries around you. No laughs this time.

Instead, slow tears that freeze as they fall down your face. Your ankle. Despite the cold numbing your body, you can feel pain. Deep, sharp, acute pain. It's broken, you know it.

In the distance, you see the bus arrive. Its passengers get out while some others hop on, and you're still on the ground in pain. No bus, no groceries, no laughs, but a broken ankle and the fear of having to go to the doctor.

No, you're not afraid of needles, and prescriptions — you're afraid to have to pay fully for the medical service in the ER.

The answer I've always encountered is 'you're not eligible.'

You don't have health coverage.

You really don't know why you're crying now, if it's the pain of your broken ankle or of depleting your minimum wage savings to pay the medical bills. 

A brutal reality 

Unfortunately, the previous scenario is the fear of multiple immigrants in Newfoundland and Labrador. In order to be eligible for the provincial Medical Care Plan, you have to be a current resident of the province, and fall under one of these groups: Canadian citizen, permanent resident, international post-secondary student or international worker (with a valid work visa).

It seems simple, but it's not.

I put myself forward as a case study.

I live in Newfoundland and Labrador. According to the Medical Care and Hospital Insurance Act, a resident is a person "who is lawfully entitled to be or to remain in Canada, makes his or her home in the province, and is ordinarily present in the province but does not include a tourist, transient or visitor to the province."

Since I was pursuing my studies here, I envisioned making Newfoundland and Labrador home. 

So, emotionally speaking, I would argue that I was a resident even back then. Of course, my feelings could be debatable compared with the actual number of international students who decide to remain in the province. Therefore, as students, we're only given the credit of a temporary resident, because what will happen after we graduate?

Nonetheless, after graduating, I decided to stay here.

I moved from Corner Brook to St. John's and signed a lease in the house I'm currently renting. I think that's enough for me to become a resident. 

I am not a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident (I have all the intention to become one when I can actually afford it), and I am no longer a post-secondary student — so these are three other categories I don't qualify for. OK, but I do have a valid work permit, so I take it that I'm considered as an international worker.

Well, yes but no. 

Born and raised in Mexico, Guzmán moved to Corner Brook four years ago to study theatre. He now lives and works in St. John's. (Santiago Guzmán)

I have to be employed by a Newfoundland and Labrador-based company for 12 months or longer to be eligible for MCP. I'm a self-employed artist trying to make a living from what I came to study in Newfoundland and Labrador to begin with.

Securing a full-time position in my field can be quite challenging, but that hasn't stopped me from finding continuous work in my field almost since I graduated last May.

However, my contract work won't be considered as full-time employment.

Why is there nothing in place to support the transition of these international graduates from students-to-workers in matters of health care?

Immigration and career consultants have worked hard with me to find a solution. They've helped me look for and connected me with available resources in order for me to get an affordable health care plan.

Have I been lucky? No.

The answer I've always encountered is "you're not eligible."

Like the character in the scenario above, I'm afraid to get injured because I wouldn't be able to pay the medical bills. I blamed myself in the beginning for not looking into this situation earlier. I truly thought that this was only happening to me.

However, as I became more vocal about it, I found that fellow former international students who decided to reside in N.L. have struggled with this issue as well. Why haven't we found a solution? Why is there nothing in place to support the transition of these international graduates from students-to-workers in matters of health care?

Here's a tip: if you're currently an international student, want to stay in this province, and find yourself reading this article, make sure to purchase insurance with your current insurance provider within 30 days of graduating. 

I wish someone had told me, because I walk my days afraid of falling.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Santiago Guzmán is an actor from Mexico City currently living in St. John's, N.L.