The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, comprised of 26 students' unions accross Canada, is lobbying the federal government to reduce fees for international students. The federal government and university administration say international students are not taxpayers, and therefore should not receive subsidized rates for tuition.
International students pay tuition fees three times higher than domestic students. Additionally, most student visas do not come with a multiple entry permit. Each time a student leaves the country the student has to re-apply for another visa. International students are also not allowed to work off-campus unless they have a work permit visa, an application process that costs $150.
These difficulties are faced by the 190,000 international students attending post-secondary institutions across Canada.
"With 30,000 students attending [U of C] it can be very tough getting a job on campus. Therefore, by not being able to work off-campus my chance of getting a job is almost next to none," said first-year international student from Malaysia Nazmi Sharaani.
Reasons for high international student fees are due to the fact that the government subsidizes up to 80 per cent of domestic student fees.
"The premise is that post-secondary education is a public good and each student is subsidized by the taxpayers of Alberta and Canada to get their education," said associate vice-provost enrolment David Johnston.
The government defines a domestic student as any student who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, in other words, a tax-paying member of society.
"A positive aspect for international students in Canada is that they are allowed to work. There are many countries where international students are not allowed to work at all, and we feel that this is one of the advantages of being an international student in Canada," said Johnston. "You have opportunities that you don't have elsewhere."
Johnston said that the university would prefer not to charge international students high fees, but that is currently not an option.
The su believes, however, that subsidizing part of international student fees should not be viewed as fiscal drainage. Instead, it should be viewed as an investment.
"Alberta and Canada are world leaders when it comes to retention rates of international students. Thirty-three per cent of the people who come here as international students end up seeking residence after they've completed their education," said su vice-president external Matt McMillan. "Not only does it benefit international students but it also substantially benefits our economy by equipping us with a much-needed supply of trained labour. It also helps diversify our culture."
There has not been much interest in lowering international student tuition. McMillan said the political will for an issue to be addressed depends on if election votes will be garnered.
"Unfortunately international students are not eligible to vote," he said.
While the reduction of international student tuition fees is far from fruition, introducing multiple-entry student visas and the reducing work permit application fees for international students are efforts that are deemed within reach.
"Unavailability of multiple-entry visas to some students is a very archaic and western system. You'll notice that students from developed countries get multiple-entry visas while ones from developing nations don't," said McMillan. "I had a friend who went to her mother's funeral in Mexico and wasn't allowed back in the country because she had a single-entry visa."
McMillan said lobbying has been done with almost a third of parliament members in Ottawa about this issue, with hopes the $150 work permit fee will be dropped.
One of the most prominent advocates of these efforts in Ottawa has been the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism representing Calgary Southeast, Jason Kenney.
"There is going to be competition for trained foreign labour. When it comes to luring trained foreign workers, Canada's advantage is that, unlike Europe, where multiculturalism struggles to take hold, we're a mosaic society made up of diverse cultures," said McMillan. "Now another way to have a competitive advantage when it comes to luring these trained foreign workers is having a lower international tuition fee. We can foresee this and therefore must act on it because when the labour shortage arrives it is going to hold catastrophic consequences for the economy."