Through higher education-migration (‘edugration’) systems, many immigrant-dependent countries have become structurally reliant on the retention of post-secondary international students as a source of the so-called global talent. This emerging area of research focuses primarily on the potential economic contributions international students may perform post-graduation. However, the labour international students perform during their studies—both within the broader labour market and, more specifically, the higher education sector—is relatively absent in the academic and public discourse, despite its growing significance. Drawing on the theoretical underpinnings of the modern/colonial global imaginary and the ways in which this imaginary frames international students as ‘cash, competition, or charity’ in the Global North (Stein & Andreotti, Higher Education, 72, 225 239, 2016), we call for a renewed understanding of governments’ engagement with—and higher education’s complicity in—the framing of international students as workers. Utilizing collaborative autoethnography (CAE) as a method of inquiry, we explore ways the ‘cash, competition, or charity’ framing impacts international graduate students’ experiences in the Canadian post-secondary context. We suggest an update to Stein and Andreotti’s framing by adding ‘labour’ as a fourth dominant trope framing international students in Canada and, increasingly, across the Global North.