On April 22nd, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $9-billion investment for emergency support for students and recent graduates through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). Eligible students receive $1,250/month or $2,000 if they have a dependent or are a student with a disability.
Though CESB is considerably and unfairly less than the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the program is still a huge step towards ensuring that students can make it through the current crisis. Unsurprisingly, international students, who pay 4.5 times the tuition of their domestic counterparts and contribute over $800,000 to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, are left out of this benefit, as well as many others.
Crises do not affect us all equally — marginalized communities will be the first excluded from response measures and the worst affected by the economic downturn of the current pandemic. International students already face many barriers to accessing postsecondary education, from exorbitant differential fees, lack of supports and services and barriers to finding and accessing work. These barriers are currently heightened as well as reflected in the exclusion of international students from the Canada Student Emergency Benefit and the Canada Summer Jobs program.
Crises do not affect us all equally — marginalized communities will be the first excluded from response measures and the worst affected by the economic downturn of the current pandemic.
Advay Khaitan, an international student at Memorial University who is beginning a Migrant Students United Chapter at MUN, said that expecting international students to work through a pandemic and excluding them from CESB puts them “in harm’s way” as they are forced to find work during the pandemic if they need income, in comparison to Canadian students who could avail of CESB if eligible.
Khaitan says, “We come to Canada for stability, education, and many of us come here with hopes for a better future. The current laws and restrictions discriminate against us purely based on our country of origin. To the government, we are only human if we have loads of money to bring into the country, and will not need any support from the country to help with housing, food, or medical care, which are bare necessities.”
Allowing international students to participate in the Canada Summer Jobs program would help thousands of students earn money, gain additional work experience, defray the cost of their education, and help them find meaningful, experiential work during their time in Canada. Moreover, food and retail work, common jobs for students, were unlisted as valid Canadian work experience that would count towards a permanent residency application, making it even more crucial for international students to have access to work opportunities that count towards a permanent residency application, such as Canada Summer Jobs.
The Canadian Federation of Students launched a Fairness for International Students campaign in 2018 in an effort to regulate international student tuition fees, ensure international students are covered under health insurance, increase and simplify immigration pathways to permanent residency and, most recently, expand the Canada Summer Jobs eligibility to include international students. The campaign also recognizes that international students are also confronted with racism and xenophobia in daily interactions in their classrooms and communities and aims to put an end to racism, xenophobia and create equity for all.
For a provincial government that has focused on immigration as a way forward, neglecting international students is not only counter-intuitive but counter-productive. In a province that faces a shrinking and aging demographic, we need to be providing the necessary supports for youth to stay here or move here for opportunities. If the government plans to increase the number of international students in the country, they need to step up and provide services and supports that make Canadian universities attractive and accessible to incoming students.
The Canadian Federation of Students has been working with the Migrant Rights Network who have put together a list of demands to protect migrant workers, undocumented people, students, poor people and refugees.
The Canadian Federation of Students — NL represents every public post-secondary student in the province with over 25,000 members.
Bailey Howard, chairperson
Canadian Federation of Students, Newfoundland and Labrador