By Milan Korcok
As America prepares to pare down its recruitment of international students—citing tighter immigration controls, job protection for homegrown graduates, concerns about China’s infiltration of intellectual properties, and the lingering consequences of COVID —Canada’s colleges and universities are polishing the welcome mat, beefing up online alternatives, extending post-graduate work guarantees, and ultimately strengthening Canada’s position as the world’s third most favoured destination for international students.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), international students to Canada have more than trebled their numbers since 2009, peaking at 642,000 in 2019—behind only the US and Australia. Of these, 48 percent have chosen to study in Ontario, 23 percent in British Columbia, 14 percent in Quebec and the remainder have spread across all of Canada’s other provinces.
Clearly, the onset of COVID will impact those numbers going into 2020/2021. But in May, IRCC announced accommodations to shield international students from major disruptions by expanding their options for distance learning, allowing them to complete up to 50 percent of their programs abroad while waiting for clearances and documentation to fly to Canada, easing other entry requirements for those who have already been approved for study permits, and also allowing them to retain their eligibility for the highly-sought Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP) even if they were absent from Canada for some of their allotted time.
The PGWP program allows eligible international graduates to work in Canada after their studies for a period of up to three years as part of the government’s efforts to retain them as skilled workers, and ultimately tax-paying citizens.
The following links provide detailed updates from the Canadian government and the Canadian Bureau for International Education for international students already enrolled, as well as those interested in applying to post-secondary educational institutions.
Different provinces, different rules
Navigating the Canadian post-secondary educational landscape can be challenging as the individual provinces have their own rules, admissions requirements, fee structures, and not to be overlooked–health insurance options that can’t be ignored. Though the quality of Canada’s health care is regarded highly, it’s not a single unitary system, but a consortium of individual provincially-administered plans—only some of which are available to foreign students.
In the western provinces–British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and Yukon territory, as well as Prince Edward island and Newfoundland and Labrador on the east coast, international students may be eligible for or buy into the publicly-funded provincial health insurance available to Canadian residents. These plans provide comprehensive medical and hospital coverage and doctors’ services. But even in some of these provinces, students might need private insurance to cover initial residency requirements—perhaps 90 days—before the provincial coverage kick in. Again, it differs from province to province.
In Quebec, international students are not eligible for publicly-funded provincial insurance unless they normally reside in one of 10 countries* that have reciprocal social security agreements with Quebec. If they do, their health coverage is free. *Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Finland Luxembourg, Romania. If they don’t, they will have to enroll in the private group health plans offered by their chosen schools.
In the remaining provinces, including Ontario, international students must sign up for private group plans available through their schools of choice and pay the designated fees.
Out of country travel coverage is a priority.
Though the publicly–funded provincial plans are quite comprehensive, many Canadians buy supplementary plans to cover dental, vision, drugs and ancillary services not covered by their basic provincial coverage. The great majority of Canadians in all age groups also buy private travel health insurance for out-of-country trips as provincial plans cover less than five percent of hospital or medical bills generated in other countries, including the United States, where bills of five to ten thousand dollars per day or more are routine. The province of Ontario, in fact, pays zero dollars for any foreign medical bill, so even a short half-day shopping trip across the border needs to be covered.
Fortunately, private travel insurance is widely available from brokers, banks, credit unions, travel agencies, even organizations catering to students—foreign or domestic.
International students have a broad range of choice in selecting health insurance to fit their educational and social needs in Canada. But it takes planning at the earliest stages and possibly with the assistance of Canada’s health insurance vendors to make sure they get it right. The securing of health insurance should not be considered a last-minute item or add-on.
© Copyright 2020. Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.