UMSU organized a rally on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building to call for a reduction to the cost of international student healthcare.
Over 50 students, both international and domestic, attended the event at noon Sept. 4, the first day of classes at the U of M.
The cost increase was announced in June after the U of M board of governors approved an amended contract increasing the full-year rate for international healthcare from $606 to $864. The increase came less than a year after the province cut universal healthcare coverage for international students.
The amended contract was a direct result of the provincial government’s decision to hike the non-resident healthcare surcharge from 75 per cent to 200 per cent.
The surcharge increase means that when an international student requires a procedure, the insurer will incur an additional charge of 200 per cent.
The U of M announced it would cover international student healthcare premiums for the 2018-19 year, but this fall international students will begin paying the full, increased price.
At the board of governor’s meeting where the amended contract was approved, UMSU voiced opposition to the increase, and has since held letter-writing and poster-making events in preparation for its Sept. 4 Health Has No Borders rally.
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said he hopes the event proves to not be just a rally, but a movement.
“I’ve said this before, there’s no issue that I hear more of from in my Instagram messages, Facebook messages, texts, emails, than from international students worried and scared that their costs are rising at an astronomical rate that they did not expect and they cannot afford,” he said.
“Healthcare is a fundamental human right, and for international students to have that ripped away from them, and to have costs now that are higher than anywhere else in this entire country is backwards.
“It’s regressive economically, and it’s an attack on these students.”
“The fight doesn’t end on Sept. 10,” he said, referring to this week’s provincial election.
UMSU international student representative Victoria Nwabuisi said she believes Manitobans would factor international student healthcare into their provincial voting if they were aware of the issue.
“We’re here today because going into the election on Sept. 10 we want Manitobans to be sensitized about some of the issues that are very core issues that are affecting international students in this community,” she said.
“I know that Manitobans in the community, they are very good-natured, and I believe that if only they knew some of the things that we are dealing with, they would be more considerate, or factor that in when they are going in to put their votes because at the very forefront of their mind they know that they’re responsible for whichever government goes into power.”
Fardeen Zardeef, an international student currently in his second year of studying economics in the faculty of arts, attended the rally.
“I’m here today because it’s ridiculous that we have to pay for healthcare,” he said. “We’re already paying way more than an average student here.”
“When I came to Manitoba it was because education was cheaper. If something happens to me I have to pay way more now, and that’s ridiculous — why do I have to pay more? It’s a right.”
UMGSA president Carl Neumann also attended the rally to support international students’ struggle.
“We’re just 100 per cent committed to restoring basic healthcare for international students,” he said. “Healthcare is a right that everyone should enjoy, if people are welcome to be here as students in the province then they ought to have access to basic healthcare.”
Neumann was critical of the current government’s lack of action on the issue.
“They won’t even hear our ideas,” he said. “It’s really disappointing that they won’t even listen to us or have a meeting with us, so this is our way of voicing our concerns and our priorities and so, here we are today, and we’re very glad that the other parties are listening and taking action on that.”
Eric Gagnon, a Canadian-born UMGSA councillor, was also in attendance.
“Why am I here today? Because I’m a grad student,” he said.
“Grad students, we’re all on the same team, we’re one big family, we all help each other out. I’m not an international student but I have tons of friends who are international students, both grad and undergrad as well.”
“When you’re treating some of the most vulnerable people in your society like that, I don’t see the justice in that.”