Sep 5, 2023

The Right-to-Food should not be determined by immigration status

Food is a human right, yet almost every university and college in Toronto has an on-campus food bank to support post-secondary students who are experiencing food insecurity.

International students in particular have high rates of food insecurity. On top of coping with a high cost of living, they face additional challenges due to high tuition, with those in Ontario paying an additional $37,322 on average in tuition above what domestic students pay.

The number of international students has been steadily growing in Canada, and Ontario’s Auditor General found that public colleges rely on international students to subsidize domestic student education.

Daily Bread’s newest report from the Click/Hear program, through which we regularly survey participating food bank clients, asked international students about their own experiences with food insecurity and what can be done to better support them. Here is what we learned:

There was a disconnect between what international students were told would be the cost of living, versus the reality that they face in Toronto.

When applying for a temporary visa to study in Canada, applicants must prove they have $10,000 to support themselves on top of their tuition fees, which amounts to $833 per month.

In contrast, when we asked survey respondents how much they were spending per month on living expenses, excluding tuition, they reported an average of $1,517 per month, which is close to double what the Government of Canada advertised as the cost of living.

More than 1 in 5 respondents said they learned about studying in Canada from recruiters in their home country.

The Auditor General found that the public colleges they reviewed had limited oversight as to whether these agencies are providing services with honesty and integrity.

Many international students are still struggling to find work, and when asked what should be done to better support them, respondents noted first and foremost that they are looking for increased access to job opportunities.

Even though a pilot from the Government of Canada to allow international students to work full-time off-campus is in place until Dec 31, 2023, the majority (69%) of employed respondents reported working less than 20 hours a week. For 22% of respondents, it took more than 5 months to be able to find a job.

One client shared how their inability to find work has contributed to worsening mental health which became a barrier to finding work, illustrating a vicious cycle:

“I was expecting that I could easily find a job right away. It’s been nine months, and I can’t even find an entry level job. Now, I’m relying on my family to financially support myself. My mental health has suffered while I’ve been in Canada. I used to be healthy, but now I feel constant anxiety. My college expects me to find a placement, but they haven’t supported me in the process. My mental health is also a barrier to me finding a placement.”

To learn more about the recommendations for all orders of government, universities and colleges, click here to read our full report.

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