International student group calls for elimination of monthly provincial health fee

Migrant Student Union at SFU is campaigning to remove the mandatory $75 health fee

The Migrant Student Union at SFU is advocating for the elimination of the international student health fee. (Submitted)

The Migrant Student Union at SFU is advocating for the elimination of the international student health fee. (Submitted)

The Migrant Student United (MSU) at Simon Fraser University is campaigning to eliminate the international student health fee. 

On Jan. 1, 2020, the Medical Services Plan (MSP) was eliminated as the British Columbian government had promised. While enrollment remains mandatory, B.C. residents are no longer charged MSP premiums. 

However, the province updated the payment method for international students to “ensure all international students continue to contribute to, and benefit from, B.C.’s health-care coverage.” On Sept. 1, 2019, all international K-12 and post-secondary students with a study permit had to pay a monthly healthcare fee of $37.50. But on the same day MSP premiums were eliminated for B.C. residents in 2020, the international student health fee increased to $75 per month. 

“It’s a sad thing that’s happening here, because we’re getting so affected by the scene — being away from family and everything, it all adds up to the stress of being unfairly treated,” MSU founder and Simon Fraser University graduate WeiChun Kua says. 

Kua used to be on the board of the SFU student society advocating for international students. In the past year, Kua and other students formed the MSU at SFU. He says this is part of a larger chapter in Vancouver. 

“We’re connected to the Migrants Worker Alliance, who also has a Migrant Students United National chapter…. They are made up of former and current international students,” he says. 

Kua says they are a collective of justice. 

“Students are facing a lot of hardship, not just financial hardship,” he says. 

“For example, if both parents are on study permits, they both have to pay $75 [per month] each. If you have kids on a study permit, they will also have to pay $75 for [each] kid as well. It really affects international student families,” Kua says. 

If the fee is lifted, Kua says it will lighten the burden on international students who are already paying high tuition fees, in addition to rent and food. 

Kua says even the immigration process in Canada is challenging for international students. 

International students are limited to work 20-hours a week at off-campus jobs on a study permit if considered a full-time student. International students can work full-time or overtime if during a scheduled break at their school, such as the summer or winter breaks. 

Employers of international students also collect the employer health tax, but according to the MSU, there is no subsequent deduction “counted against international student health fees owed.” 

“This represents double-dipping to various extents,” according to the MSU website. “A student working 20-hours a week at $15 per hour will generate approximately $25 per month in revenue for the B.C. government.” 

At the Kwantlen Student Association’s council meeting on July 15, Kusa represented the MSU to give a presentation to council members about the campaign. The council passed a motion in support of eliminating the international student health fee. 

“[There] has been really positive responses. We organized a town hall for international students, not just for SFU international students but for all international students. Kwantlen Polytechnic University students who attended talked about the fee and how it affects them,” Kua says. 

The KSA discussed hosting the MSU for an on-campus event, but no date has been set yet.