Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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“Discriminatory” and “unfair:” International students react to  change in health insurance policy 

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Dominique Martinez-Powell | @dmartinez_powell.photography

Set to take effect in the Fall of 2024 semester, all international students, particularly those students who are also TA’s and GA’s, will no longer have the right to choose a private health insurance company and to opt-out of the school health insurance. Up until now, the international student population(s) has retained the same right as all other SIU students where you can choose to opt-out of the school insurance if you can prove that you will still be insured just by another company or agency.  

“As an international person, this decision makes me feel discriminated against, it makes me feel that our needs and concerns are not important and are not listened to at SIU,” said an international graduate assistant who asked to remain anonymous.

The Daily Egyptian reached out to the administration for comment and did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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According to the school health insurance plan information packet, the cost to be insured through SIU would be $1,139.00 per person per semester as an added fee to the school tuition bill if the student should choose to be insured. 

“Being forced to enroll in the school’s health insurance would significantly impact my financial stability,” said another international student, a teaching assistant who asked to remain anonymous. “I would have to depend on community pantries to have some food, since the remaining funds after paying for insurance and general student fees, would barely cover rent, leaving me with less than $50 monthly.”

The optional fee is already a substantial amount of money for many younger university students that are from the United States, however the benefit of being an American citizen and resident is that people from the United States have the ability to get loans, whether from a bank, a private company or even from federal student aid loans. 

However, internationally born individuals, especially those who are younger and may come from a less developed country, don’t have the option to independently receive or even the privilege to ask for a loan, due to the facts that they most likely don’t have a credit score, as in less developed countries lines of credit are either not common or just don’t exist. Finally, international students are often seen as high risk by banks or government lenders because they lack credit scores and may not be staying in the country.

Most of the international students who are going to be affected by this policy change from the school will predominantly be international graduate students who are TAs along with GAs, as international students who rely on their teaching positions for their scholarship, have a visa that’s known as an F1 visa. These international students cannot legally be employed anywhere else, even at the school they attend. Therefore the students are limited to a rigidly tight budget of whatever they make each month. 

The average TA monthly salary at SIU is between $1,000 and $2,000 before taxes. For example, a TA who spoke anonymously makes $1,389.47 each month after taxes. However that amount is before paying the schools fees, which can range a bit over $100 per month, leaving little to pay for housing rents which can vary between as little as $200 a month to as high as $1,000 a month depending on if they live with roommates, location, along with if the place rented is a house or an apartment. 

“I still have to pay rent and utilities, and also save to pay student fees during the summer, since my program requires me to enroll in credits during the summer, even though they do not pay me. [I]t is no secret to anyone that the salary that SIU pays us as TA’s is low. When I was paying SIU insurance, I had a hard time financially, I had to pay the university almost $240 a month for the insurance alone, that plus student fees, equivalent to approximately $400, almost 30 percent of my salary, each month.”

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A large struggle outside of paying for rent and associated utilities for international students, which is similar to the arduous financial endeavors that domestic students struggle with, such as rent and food. Many internationals rely heavily on the local food pantries to have enough food to eat. It is worth noting that international students rely on local food pantries that are not associated through the school or the government. The three people consulted and interviewed for this story noted the same common complaint, that the school food pantry is not largely accessible due to its hours of operation overlapping with either their associated class or teaching schedules. 

It is worth noting that in most food pantries, you can only attend one time per month and there is a quota on how much each person is allowed to take. For a group of people who might live alone and for the most part don’t have a car or enough money to pay for a ride through Uber or Lyft, even accessing these pantries can be a task that can take all day, with walking to each pantry, waiting their turn at each pantry in the number que, which can take several hours, and finally walking back to their homes carrying bags and/or boxes of food., depending on what’s available.

 Regardless, it’s not an easy task that can be done on a school or work day. Many of these students or people of less financial means have to go to a different pantry each week or so in order to have enough food to survive and be healthy, as their salaries do not meet the cost of living. 

The teaching assistant said, “I truly feel that this is going to affect my academic process considering that I would now have to find out ways to get food, leaving me with less time to focus on my studies (take into consideration that going to a pantry can take an entire day). And, given the high stakes that we, internationals have in maintaining our academic standing, there is no opening to failing or getting a low grade. If that were to happen, the school would take away our assistantships and we would have to go back to our countries.”

The policy would greatly impact the lives of countless international students, and thus as a result would have substantial long lasting effects in the quality of education being given to students by financially and academically stressed student workers.

“Many of us constantly deal with our mental health. The implementation of this policy only exacerbates the problem, and leaves us in an even more vulnerable position, without options,” the graduate assistant said.

Another result that would impact SIU as a whole would be the decrease in equity of opportunities for individuals from all of the globe to have the option or ability to come to SIU and the States to receive their higher masters or doctorate education. The ability to come to SIU would be limited to those individuals who predominantly come from financially more secure family situations and from more first or second world countries, which would be denying the realistic chance of education to those from a lesser financial background; like individuals who come from third world nations or with no family to help give financial assistance. 

“We deal with many processes related to our immigration grief. On top of all that, we add all the economic worries we have due to not being able to comfortably cover all our needs.,” the graduate assistant said.

The student workers who spoke with the Daily Egyptian agreed the new insurance policy is misguided.

“I do feel I am being extorted because of my international status, I do not know the reasons why this policy only applies for international students but not domestic students. Without clear reasons, I will continue to consider this policy as unfair and discriminatory against the international community.”

 

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  • G

    Gage McPhailMay 6, 2024 at 9:57 am

    Shameful of SIUC, how dare they

    Reply
  • D

    Danillo LeiteMay 1, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    SIU should listen to its international students community and reconsider this policy. Perhaps they could offer financial aid to help offset the cost. There has to be a better way to ensure students have health insurance without creating such a hardship.

    Reply
    • C

      Calvin ChaseMay 3, 2024 at 2:55 pm

      What the article fails to mention, possibly intentionally, is that any student on an F1 visa is required by
      law to maintain health insurance. For SIU to mandate that the student purchase the insurance from
      them makes a lot of sense because they can ensure that the student has the required coverage and that
      they aren’t being overcharged for it. I feel like the university is acting in the best interest of the
      international students in this situation. I also feel like the reporter, Cian Lehtonen, could have conducted
      some research, like a quick Google search, to figure out that health insurance is mandatory. Instead, they
      just took the easy way out and said they ‘reached out to the administration for comment but didn’t
      receive any in time for publication.” In my opinion, this is typical of most “journalists” nowadays.

      Reply
      • I

        isleMay 13, 2024 at 6:40 pm

        I think you should have conducted more research, Calvin. The students already have insurance. You cannot be admitted to school without insurance in this country. What the students are asking is that let’s not make the United Health Insurance mandatory which is very expensive — this is what the school is trying to do. Instead, let the international students choose alternative insurance companies which they have been able to do until now. We’re not discussing the mandatory part. Have a better understanding of the article and the problem.

        Reply