'I’ve Seen the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an International Student' - New Canadian Media

‘I’ve Seen the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an International Student’

There are hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada, and they contribute a significant amount of money into Canada’s economy. Despite the large presence they have in this country, there isn’t the right infrastructure or support for international students.

“Why do Canadians need to care about international students?” is a question I’m frequently asked when I’m advocating for the rights of international students.

In addition to being an international student at Western University, I’m also the International Students Representative of the Canadian Federation of Students. Before I arrived in Canada, I pictured having the perfect student-life experience, but it didn’t take long before I started struggling because of a lack of support and infrastructure. Through my unique perspective I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to life as an international student.

International Student Struggles

When I ask my Canadian friends, “Have you ever thought about whether or not you should pay a visit to the doctor?” The answer is always, “No — I go whenever I need.”

However, as an international student, I need to think twice before going to a physician. We assess our treatment options based on whether or not they’re affordable because most of us have to pay upfront then hope to get reimbursed. In a country with universal healthcare, it is unethical to put anyone in a position where their health is dependent on what they can afford.

All international students are treated like residents and pay taxes, yet only 5 of 10 provinces provide public healthcare for foreign students. If they aren’t covered by provincial health care plans they must get private health insurance. Our health and well being should be important to Canadians. We are not just a source of income for Canada, international students are people too.

The decisions of Canada’s post-secondary institutions to accept ever-increasing numbers of international students exacerbates the problem. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 572,415 international students held Canadian study permits in 2018, a 16.25% increase from 2017. The disproportionate growth of the international student population has resulted in insufficient staffing in universities. International students need staff to help them navigate important issues like immigration, housing, the job market and healthcare. 

International students need staff to help them navigate important issues like immigration, housing, the job market and healthcare. Credit: [Wikimedia Commons]
The unregulated increase in tuition fees is another example of the struggles we face. Universities have the power to set their own tuition fees, so they’re able to determine how much it increases and when. According to Statistics Canada, the average cost of an undergraduate degree for an international student is $17,744, three times the amount for Canadians. At the University of Waterloo, international students in the computer science program faced a whopping 62% tuition increase, when fees skyrocketed from $15,823 to $25,653 in one year. 

Lives Not Numbers

Like Canadians, many international students take out loans in our home countries and depend on our family’s financial support. A significant increase in tuition fees impacts our lives and the lives of our families who are struggling to cope with the rising costs. 

Last February, during the Canadian Federation of Students’ Lobby Week, I met with Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Parliament. We advocated for a “Fairness for International Students” policy which recommended a cap on tuition fees, health coverage for students with valid study permits, and allowing students to use the time they spent pursuing their post-secondary degrees towards their applications for Canadian citizenship. Unfortunately, the majority of Canadian lawmakers did not support the recommendations.

According to the Government of Canada, international students, including their visiting families and friends, contributed $21.6 billion to the economy in 2018. We should not be treated as second-class citizens. Post-secondary institutions take so much pride in the numbers of international students, but we are more than just statistics. Increasing international student populations, tuition fees, rent, the cost of healthcare; these are numbers that directly affect our lives. 

Until there’s public awareness of the issues international students face, Canadians and elected representatives will not feel the urgency to act. Without the proper controls and supports in place, I’m concerned that the number of international students will continue to rise like water pouring into an unmonitored glass, throwing us to the floor.


This story has been produced under NCM’s mentoring program. Mentor: Marcus Medford 

About the author

Wesam is an international student from Egypt completing his Master's of Engineering Science at Western University. He is also Vice-President of Advocacy for the Society of Graduate Students at Western.

19 Replies to “‘I’ve Seen the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an International Student’”

  1. I strongly agree to the points highlighted in this article coming from the perspective of international students going through the same ordeal. I am from Centennial College. I think there is no other time to let our voices be heard and be acted upon promptly and judiciously by the government of Canada our respectable and generous host.

  2. While making a decision to study in Canada, you should understand all cost associated with it. You can choose to study locally, no one forces international students to study abroad.

    1. We are aware of our choices to study where we want. This is a point of view much needed for students who are first timers and need to be aware of what they may need to face and be prepared for it if they go .

      1. It is a big undertaking for students and their families to decide to study abroad. Maybe their should be a special health care card you could apply for that would cover some of the health costs for students studying here. I hope that you find other positive experiences of your time in Canada.

    2. Agree
      When an International student decides to study in Canada they have to critically think about all the expenses that they may have to incur during their study stay in Canada. It should be no surprise. Studying in Canada is not a right, it is a privilege.
      My sense is that most of these students’ main goal is to use the student route to become permanent residents at the least cost possible.
      Yes, these students can always stay home and get a higher education or go to another country if they wish to do so.
      Yes, these students are not on par with permanent residents or citizens of Canada and rightly so. Similar to permanent residents who are not 100% on par with Canadian citizens, re: voting rights.
      Enough of the whining.

    3. No one is disputing the costs. All they are saying is “be reasonable”.

      What the government is doing is to support local students at the cost of international students. If the international students stop coming, many colleges will close down affecting the local students.

      I am sure you will agree the international students do not have the responsibility to fund the local students.

  3. Hello Mohamed,
    I agreed with your point of view about international student and the system we have in the Canada. Rising Fees is a biggest challenge for any international students, I guess. University is making lot of money with second class education. Sorry to say but it’s not an education, it is their business

    1. Mr Mohamed,

      International students should have access to Canadian healthcare through a student card; however, should/will not have full access unless you are a Canadian citizen. Student visas and Canadian citizenship rightfully are 2 separate criteria and treated as such as there are costs associated to putting immigration, housing, job market and healthcare on Canadian citizens. Universities have the right to set tuition fees much like you have the right to choose where to study. A Canadian university degree and Canadian citizenship on the international market is gold. Thank you for your choices and respect.

  4. In the midst of the pandemic international students are the most badly affected, paying 2/3 times tuition fees, not getting any financial support from the authorities, doing survival jobs, to remain alive. God when will our struggle end .

  5. I really don’t like how they are treating international students during this pandemic. We should be treated as Permanent Residents since most of is ends up turning PRs and Citizens. We spent so much money in tuition fees, rent, buying furniture to furnish apartments and it shows now that during a crisis you don’t count. We have to pay taxes like everyone else when work here. Come on we are humans. Also for our spouses and kids to be reunited with us we have to send for authorization from IRCC and wait forever to get a response, when simply documents to show yhe relationship could be done at boarding and border services when they enter just like the US. Come on treat us with more care. We are humans and we have feelings. We do contribute to Canada’s economy.

  6. Education has become a luxury commodity. The more expensive it is the more people desire it, simply because it is expensive, and therefore, must be desirable.

    The only reason to move for education is if there are no opportunities in your hometown. If you do move, don’t go unnecessarily far.

  7. I came in 2010 as International Student, I payed my annual tuition fee before coming and worked just 10 hours per week. I payed Health Care Insurance too! Paying taxes is part of any democratic country! Canada has one the cheapest tuition fees and allows students to become Permanent Residents! Colleges is a freeway to become PR and the quality of education is not the best is just to get a diploma to be able to get a job in a new area. If I had more money I would have be able to study in USA, but I didn’t so it is struggle because I dont belong to first 3 minority groups in Canada and probably if I had stayed in home country, I would have better quality of life, so think twice about spending your savings! Universities and Colleges use market strategies to sell you a dream! For a dream you have to work hard in a foreign country! Welcome to adulthood!

  8. I came in 2010 as International Student when I had already a Bsc and Masters in Science, I payed my annual tuition fee before coming and worked just 10 hours per week. I payed Health Care Insurance too! Paying taxes is part of any democratic country! Canada has one the cheapest tuition fees and allows students to become Permanent Residents! Colleges is a freeway to become PR and the quality of education is not the best is just to get a diploma to be able to get a job in a new area. If I had more money I would have be able to study in USA, but I didn’t so it is struggle because I dont belong to first 3 minority groups in Canada and probably if I had stayed in home country, I would have better quality of life, so think twice about spending your savings! Universities and Colleges use market strategies to sell you a dream! For a dream you have to work hard in a foreign country! Welcome to adulthood!

  9. As an immigrant and now a Canadian Citizen, I understand your issues. Unfortunately, to the government of Canada, your just a number LIKE ALL OF US! So don’t feel like you’re the only ones being treated like numbers and not human beings. We all feel it, and we are CANADIAN CITIZENS.

  10. International students are a source of cash for Canadian public universities. These universities also do not require competitive entrance exams like the U.S (SATs) or the U.K (A levels). I suppose from the perspective of the Canadian university, they believe they since you could pay the exorbitant tuition without concerning yourself with having to compete for admission based on an entrance exam.
    ….you are on your own.

  11. Nick, if you turn the tables around and for a better education, you go invest your time, energy and funds to commit to a Country with full intention to contribute to it’s progress; will you not expect to be treated with respect and dignity and not just a source of revenue to be fleeced?

  12. You buy your permanent residency enrolling as an International student, isn’t it ? Why should Canadians care ? Well, the healthcare system is broken: I’ve been waiting for 4+ years to get a family doctor (and still waiting), waiting 14+ hours at the triage in the hospital just to be told that I have to return the next day, wait list of 2+ years for an MRI etc.
    Do you think there is room for 500K more people ?
    If you complain about high tuition costs, why you don’t go back to your country, graduate there and then apply as self-immigrant (merit based) like millions others ? You want to jump the queue, that’s why …

  13. I agree with Robert 100% These students not coming for higher education but permanent residence. Under Harper govt, nobody hear about international students because they have to be grade 12 not like Trudeau govt who brings students with grade 10.

  14. I have a very strong belief the same God that blesses in these countries is the same in my country I confess and believe it till it happens. Hope for you all the strength needed for the struggles which comes with the transition.

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