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Campaigns raise concerns of  foreign students’ welfare

Throughout the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) candidate campaigns, there has been one common theme—international student issues.

“Each one of the executives, if they get elected they want to address this accordingly to their own responsibilities,” said Victor Hatai, candidate for university affairs commissioner.

Hatai is himself an international student, and said that one of the biggest issues he’d like to tackle is international graduate students not gaining enough job experience in Canada.

“There’s a big problem in terms of career development,” he said. “Many graduate programs for example they don’t have the co-op program, so taking the perspective from an international student and he comes or she comes here—in Canada they lack what they call the Canadian job experience.”

Hatai said employment in Canada would make a significant difference for their career development if they chose to stay in Canada, like he and many of his colleagues are hoping to do.

Lindsey Thomson, the current GSAÉD external commissioner who is running for re-election, has addressed several problems she says international students face in her platform, such as healthcare.

While Canadian students are eligible for Ontario Health Insurance Plan, international students must apply through the International Office for University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP). This is not the case in all provinces, such as British Columbia, where international students are eligible for the provincial government-run Medical Service Plan.

“It doesn’t meet the needs of our students and it’s not providing them with the access and quality of care,” said Thomson of the UHIP.

She also addressed the issue of student fees. Canadian student fee increases in Ontario are currently capped at three per cent, while international fees have no increase regulations.

“As an international student they’re not able to predict from year to year how much planning in advance they’re going to be doing financially,” said Thomson.

Irene Xia Zhou, head mentor at the university’s International Office, says students are often uninformed about all the fees they will pay because the information on the website can be confusing, and advises prospective international students to contact the office in order to better prepare them.

“A lot of the students probably felt that they were mislead because they didn’t really reach out to us and they didn’t really know how to navigate the fees pages at the university because they are quite complex,” she said.

Tuition fees for international students at U of O masters level entering in 2015-2016 can be as high as $13,482.17 per term for some programs, like the MBA in English, putting the combined total for fall and winter terms at $26,964.34. This doesn’t include the incidental fees or take into account that many masters programs carry into the summer term, which would add on another $13,482.17.

“I think that anyone should be allowed to come to university regardless of their country of origin, and should be allowed the same rights and opportunities as students who are already here,” said Thomson.

There are also signs of change at the federal level. Immigration Minister John McCallum announced on March 14 that the government intends to ease the path to permanent residency for international post-secondary students in Canada, describing them as “the cream of the crop in terms of potential future Canadians.”

McCallum says international students have been short-changed by the Express Entry system, a computerized system that streamlines permanent residency for skilled workers while effectively excluding those from higher education.