The B.C. government says it’s working with Ottawa to ensure the cost of required medical exams are covered for Ukrainian newcomers in the province.
Since their arrival roughly three weeks ago, some Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion have spent hundreds of dollars to get the health test, a condition of their federally-issued visas or work permits.
“This should have been something that was taken care of by our federal partners, frankly, some time ago,” B.C. Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen told Global News.
“There is a certain amount of time from the point of entry until the test has to be completed, so we do have a bit of time to work with, but we just need to resolve this.”
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Ukrainians admitted under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) are not eligible for coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program.
That program covers the cost of medical exams for refugees, but Ukrainians admitted through the CUAET, granted temporary resident visas or open work permits, are not considered refugees.
Without coverage, one Ukrainian in B.C. told Global News she paid $400 for the exam using donated funds meant for food, shoes, clothes and other essentials for her family.
“I’m grateful that a lot of Canadians help us here because without them I don’t know how we will live here,” Christina Sivolap said Monday.
“I hope that in future, government can somehow change it because in future, a lot of Ukrainians will come here and not everyone will have those donations like I do.”
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Through the CUAET, Ottawa waived a requirement for Ukrainians to complete an immigration medical exam before their arrival in Canada. Instead, those newcomers may need to take a diagnostic test after they arrive, if they lived in Ukraine or another country with higher rates of serious communicable disease than Canada, for six consecutive months in the year before their arrival.
“In the current context, some provincial and territorial governments have put in place special programs in response to the extraordinary situation in Ukraine,” wrote Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron, addressing the medical exam fees in a Monday email.
“Individuals may wish to contact the provinces and territories directly for more information about the scope of these provisions.”
On Monday, the B.C. government announced date-of-arrival Medical Services Plan (MSP) coverage for Ukrainians in B.C. with CUAET visas. The coverage doesn’t include federally-required medical exams, which was not made clear in the statement.
“Somebody’s got to pick up the baton here,” said Sandra Robinson, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business and sponsor to several Ukrainians newcomers.
“The feds are saying that the province should cover it, the province is turning to the feds saying they should cover it, and who is falling in the cracks is the generous hosts who are going to be on the hook because the Ukrainians just don’t have that kind of money.”
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Robinson oversees a group of about 60 volunteers who are currently hosting and supporting five Ukrainian families. They aim to support another 14 in the coming weeks, she added, as visas are granted and the newcomers begin to arrive in B.C.
Medical exams must be completed within 90 days of their arrival. Robinson said some of the Ukrainians she knows are waiting to see if the province or federal government will cover the cost, and others may not know about the requirement at all.
“Most people were under the impression that their MSP coverage would include these assessments and that’s not the case,” she explained.
Asked whether the province could wrap the tests into MSP coverage, Cullen said “that’s an interesting question.”
“It’s something we just want to see done,” he said. “We will work to solve it and make sure no one is disqualified from a permit that we gave them to come to Canada fleeing the war in Ukraine.”
He said he had a phone call with a federal minister on Tuesday to emphasize the importance of fixing the issue, and is in communication with settlement groups and the Ukrainian community in B.C.
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In its announcement on Monday, the health department said displaced Ukrainians in B.C. with CUAET visas “will now have access” to date-of-arrival MSP coverage.
In a written statement however, a senior public affairs officer in Cullen’s department said the MSP coverage eligibility begins May 25. Backdated coverage to an applicant’s date of arrival will be available upon request, wrote Alanah Connie.
The office of Health Minister Adrian Dix declined to comment on Monday’s MSP statement, referring questions to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
Since mid-March, Canada has received more than 163,000 applications from Ukrainians under the CUAET and over 56,000 applications have been approved.
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